As veterinary medicine improves, pets are living longer. It’s wonderful to have our furry friends in our lives longer, but older pets mean a greater responsibility to improve our pets’ golden years. Pet parents are more commonly having to address the changing health concerns of their aging pets. As pets remain physically healthy longer, more pet owners are encountering cognitive dysfunction in their senior dogs and cats.

What Is Cognitive Dysfunction?

Cognitive dysfunction in pets is sometimes referred to as dog dementia or cat dementia. While it’s normal for pets to slow down a bit, as they age, it’s normal for them to become confused and disoriented. Similar to dementia in people, pets with cognitive dysfunction suffer from chronic degeneration of their cognition.

How to Recognize Cognitive Dysfunction in Pets

Cognitive dysfunction goes beyond a pet’s natural physical decline to affect the brain’s ability to function normally. In pets, cognitive dysfunction expresses in a variety of ways. Veterinarians use the acronym, DISHAA to remember all the symptoms. Each letter of DISHAA stands for a different symptom of cognitive dysfunction, including:

  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Interaction (change in interactions with owners)
  • Sleep-Wake Cycle Alteration (waking up at night and sleeping during the day)
  • House Soiling
  • Activity Level (extreme changes level of and interest in activities)
  • Anxiety Level (heightened anxiety)

While older pets might naturally experience some of these symptoms from time to time, pets with cognitive dysfunction will consistently display behaviors that are inconsistent with their normal behaviors.

Diagnosing Cognitive Dysfunction

Sometimes another disease or age-related medical problem can cause symptoms that are similar to those of cognitive dysfunction. Before a veterinarian definitively diagnoses a cat or dog with cognitive dysfunction, he or she will first rule out and/or provide treatment for other medical problems that could potentially be present.

How to Manage Cognitive Dysfunction in Pets

When a pet is diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction, most veterinarians will recommend a multi-faceted approach to treatment and management. While cognitive dysfunction cannot be cured, it can be managed and its progression can be slowed. Cognitive dysfunction is best treated by addressing both medical needs and by improving your pet’s environment.

Medical approaches might include dietary supplements, changes to your pet’s diet, and/or the administration of sedatives to help regulate anxiety or sleep cycle.

You can also help your pet cope by improving his or her environment by providing more enrichment activities, such as exercise and puzzle toys. You can also try aromatherapy, pheromone therapy, music, white noise machines, and night lights. It’s also a good idea to provide pets with puppy training pads near doors.

Schedule a Check-Up for Your Geriatric Pet Today

The early diagnosis and treatment of age-related medical conditions is essential to your pet’s quality of life. Senior pets should have a wellness appointment every six months. We welcome you to schedule a convenient at-home checkup with Capital Home Veterinary Care for your pet today.