The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Does Your Aging Pet Show Signs of Dementia? The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Does Your Aging Pet Show Signs of Dementia?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Does Your Aging Pet Show Signs of Dementia?

Is your aging pet showing some curious behavior changes? Senior pets, like humans, experience changes in the brain that can affect memory and comprehension. Dementia and senility are broad terms used to describe these changes. In dogs, the disease is called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and it affects a growing number of senior dogs.

In cats, however, our understanding of cognitive dysfunction is still an ongoing research in the field.


Possible Signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction:

Similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction is caused by physical changes in the brain and its chemicals. Past studies have shown that some older dogs with CCD have brain lesions similar to those that physicians see in Alzheimer's patients. The result of these changes is a deterioration of how your dog thinks, learns, and remembers, which causes behavioral changes that can disrupt the lives of both you and your dog. If your senior dog doesn't seem to be herself, she may be part of the large percentage of dogs age 10 and older who experience some symptoms of CCD, which include various stages of confusion and disorientation. Your dog may have CCD if she has a number of the following behaviors:

  • Becomes lost in familiar places around the home or backyard
  • Becomes trapped behind familiar furniture or in room corners
  • Has trouble finding and using doors and negotiating stairways
  • Does not respond to her name or familiar commands
  • Is withdrawn and unwilling to play, go for walks, or even go outside
  • Does not recognize or is startled by family members, toys, etc.
  • Frequently trembles or shakes, either while standing or lying down
  • Paces or wanders aimlessly throughout the house
  • Has difficulty learning new tasks, commands, or routes
  • Frequently soils in the house, regardless of the frequency she is brought outside
  • Sleeps more during the day, less during the night
  • Stares at walls or into space and is startled by interior lighting, the television, etc.
  • Seeks less and less of your attention, praise, and play
  • Is hesitant to take treats, drink fresh water, or eat fresh food

In the meantime, you can help your dog cope with CCD by considering her needs when it comes to your home, its surroundings, and the environment it creates for your dog. By incorporating a little care and a modified, veterinarian-recommended lifestyle, you may be able to increase your dog's brain activity and halt further CCD advancement. In fact, the latest studies have found that regular, moderate physical activity, mental stimulation with interactive toys, and a diet rich in antioxidants may help maintain your aging dog's mental health. Again, your veterinarian should be consulted before changing any of your dog's exercise or feeding regimens; but also try to keep your senior dog's environment familiar and friendly, and:

  • Try not to change, rearrange, or even refurbish furniture
  • Eliminate clutter to create wide pathways through your house
  • Consider purchasing or building a ramp for any stairways
  • Know your dog's limits when introducing new toys, food, people, or other animals
  • Develop a routine feeding, watering, and walking schedule
  • Keep commands short, simple, and compassionate
  • Encourage gentle and involved, short play sessions
  • Most importantly, keep your patience and compassion. Your dog's world has changed, but every effort should be made to show her that your love, respect, and pride of her past and present abilities has not changed and never will.


Every cat has a certain level of "talkativeness" some are always quiet and purring, some meow about everything. The change seen with senior dementia is one of increased or excessive vocalizations, and not just a simple meow.

They may appear confused and not totally sure of their surroundings while vocalizing, and this behavior is more common at night, often waking up the household.

It is important to remember other possible causes of new or odd vocalizations, such as pain (arthritis or injury) or in some cases, changes related to hyperthyroidism.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a widely accepted diagnosis in dogs, with established treatment options. In cats, however, our understanding of cognitive dysfunction is still being shaped by ongoing research in the field, and limited treatment options are available. Recent clinical studies indicate that old age in the cat is accompanied by increased behavioural signs such as wandering, vocalization and night-time activity that are not attributable to identifiable medical problems. It is essential, therefore, that veterinarians include behavioural well-being in the routine care of senior cats.

The main signs of dementia in cats are:

As with humans, dementia leaves cats confused and distressed. Your cat may become disorientated, and find it difficult to locate her litter tray or food bowl. The cat may even forget she has just eaten and will keep asking for more food (even more than usually happens!)

  • Night terrors may mean that a cat becomes especially demanding at night and may keep you awake by loud crying.
  • Alternatively, cats with dementia may become more aggressive or attention-seeking.
  • They will be much less eager to play games and will choose to doze instead. They may also be found wandering aimlessly.
  • Grooming much less frequently is also another sign of problems.

As with all behavior changes in your pet, please see your veterinarian first to rule out a medical problem first, as many diseases can have the same signs.


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