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Pet Dementia: Symptoms & Treatments for Dogs and Cats

Elderly dog

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, then you know how heartbreaking it is to witness their cognitive decline. Dogs and cats get something similar, called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), which closely resembles human Alzheimer’s. 

It’s estimated that CDS in dogs affects approximately 28% of dogs between 11 and 12 years old and 68% of canines 15 to 16 years old. Roughly 28% of cats experience cognitive decline when they are 11 to 14 years old, but the percentage jumps to over 50% when cats are 15 years or older.

There is no way to guarantee your pet won’t develop CDS. However, understanding the early warning signs of pet dementia gives you a better opportunity to slow the rate of cognitive decline and improve your dog or cat’s quality of life.

What Causes Dementia in Pets?

The exact cause of pet dementia is unknown. Most research points to the primary source being a build-up of certain proteins forming amyloid plaques in the brain, similar to what causes Alzheimer’s in humans. 

Several risk factors can potentially increase your pet’s chances of developing dementia. These factors include age, genetics, and certain health conditions. Although CDS can begin at any age, it is much more prevalent and likely in older dogs and cats.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to dementia, particularly smaller dogs that tend to live longer. Some studies also suggest that Siamese and Burmese cats seem to be more susceptible to cognitive decline. Health conditions that affect the brain’s overall health, like diabetes and heart disease, can speed up cognitive decline, increasing your pet’s risk of developing dementia.

Symptoms of Pet Dementia

If you know a person with dementia, it’s important to understand that the signs of CDS in pets aren’t as noticeable as they are in humans. Therefore, if you’re looking for similar symptoms, you could prolong getting your pet the necessary treatment.

The signs of pet dementia aren’t always easy to spot, since they can often begin as subtle changes in your dog or cat’s typical behavior.

Signs of Cognitive Decline in Dogs

Dogs dealing with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) exhibit several behavior problems and changes. Talk to your vet if you notice your dog doing any of the following:

  • Excessive barking or other vocalizations
  • Potty accidents in the house
  • Increase in aggressive behavior
  • Separation anxiety
  • Waking during the night
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Heightened stress
  • Disorientation, staring at walls, wandering
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Change in overall disposition — for example, a dog that loves to play or be around people may no longer show an interest in playing or become more withdrawn when others are around

Signs of Cognitive Decline in Cats

Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD) also presents itself via several behavioral changes. Is your cat showing any of the following symptoms of pet dementia?

  • Wandering aimlessly
  • Getting trapped in corners
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Temperament changes (if they were once aloof, now they’re clingy or vice versa)
  • Not using the litter box
  • Excessive vocalization, especially at night
  • Decrease in self-grooming (you may notice more matted fur, an odor, etc.)
  • Appetite loss
Elderly cat laying down

What Do You Do if Your Pet Has Dementia?

It’s easy to slip into denial that your faithful friend has dementia. You may try to convince yourself that the symptoms are a fluke or that they’re no big deal since they can begin so subtly.

But failing to acknowledge that something is wrong ultimately jeopardizes your pet’s chances of living a good life. If you notice any symptoms and suspect that your dog or cat is experiencing cognitive decline, the sooner you get them help, the better.

Schedule an appointment with your vet and let them know your concerns. Inform them of any changes in your pet’s behavior. Your vet will perform a complete assessment to rule out any other potential health problems.

Tests include cognitive exams, behavioral assessments, and medical tests, like bloodwork and imaging. If your vet determines that your dog or cat has dementia, they’ll discuss treatment options with you to begin helping your pet immediately.

Treatment and Tips for Dementia in Dogs and Cats

It can be hard to accept the possibility that your beloved pet is changing, moving away from the furry friend you know. However, getting them help as soon as possible makes a big difference. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for pet dementia. But there are treatments and changes you can put in place to improve your pet’s quality of life and help slow the disease’s progression.

Your vet may prescribe certain medications to give your pet, including anti-anxiety medicines, anti-depressants, or ones to enhance cognitive function. In addition, the following tips can help slow cognitive decline and make your pet’s life as happy and comfortable as possible.

1. Provide Your Pet with Mental Stimulation

Help your pet maintain an active mind by providing them with interactive toys and puzzles. Training exercises are another good way to encourage your dog or cat to stretch their mental muscles.

2. Maintain a Regular Routine

A routine helps provide your pet with consistency that makes it easier for them to go through their day. A regular schedule for feeding, playtime, exercise, and sleep helps limit confusion.

3. Feed Your Pet a Healthy Diet

Talk with your vet about a prescription diet geared toward cognitive health. Several nutritional supplements, including antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins C and E also support brain health.

4. Make Sure Your Pet Gets Adequate Exercise

Ample physical activity is also vital for your pet’s overall health. Exercise helps promote blood flow which supports a healthy brain.

5. Schedule Regular Vet Visits

Regular vet visits are critical. If your pet has dementia, you’ll likely have additional visits to ensure your vet stays on top of your pet’s disease progression and can adjust treatment as needed.

6. Reduce Your Pet’s Stress

Help ease your pet’s anxious feelings with calming sprays or diffusers. Play soft music or use a white noise machine to help mask startling sounds, and give them ways to self-soothe, like a licking mat. Provide your pet with a comfortable, secure place to rest.

7. Create a Safe Environment for Your Pet

If your pet has dementia, they will have days when they are confused. Your pet will also start struggling with finding their way around your home. In a sense, you need to go back to your pet’s puppy or kitten days and pet-proof your home. Limit your pet’s access, use baby gates, window screens, cabinet latches, etc.

Moving Forward: How to Handle Pet Dementia 

Not every pet experiences dementia, but there’s no way to prevent it from happening to your pet. The best thing you can do is put certain practices in place to help reduce your pet’s risk of developing CDS. 

Making sure your pet gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation and follows a healthy diet are big contributors to reducing their risk. Keeping up with routine vet visits is another must when it comes to your pet’s overall well-being.

For more insight into the best way to care for your dog or cat, check out the rest of the Neater Pets blog. Being the best pet parent possible means staying informed and always learning about your furry friend.


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