Heathside Veterinary Surgery Blog

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Do Pets Get Dementia?

Many of us have the privilege of owning older pets. When an animal slows down and isolates him or herself, we may think they are just ageing, but often they may have hidden health problems that we can cure or manage. For example, if a cat is slowing down, less keen to go out, missing the litter tray or less keen to interact with the family, they may be experiencing joint pain from osteoarthritis. Managing the joint pain can return them to their normal behaviour. Both dogs and cats tend to hide pain so behavioural change may be our first clue. Similarly, a dog with an underactive thyroid gland may become quieter, stop meeting you or visitors at the door, sleep often and be reluctant to leave their bed. This can look like an age related change but is treatable. So, when your pets’ behaviour changes it is worth visiting us for a consultation so we can check for any underlying disease. But what if the change in behaviour IS the problem, rather than a sign of one?

Many older pets will start showing signs similar to dementia in humans. The dog or cat may be disoriented, getting stuck in corners or behind the sofa, forgetting the way to food, water or litter trays. They may forget how to get back into the house or their way on familiar walks. Often they become anxious, restless and confused. Your pet may be less keen to play and interact with the family. A common sign is a disrupted day/night rhythm, they may sleep all day and be awake all night, barking or yowling for company, perhaps pacing, unable to understand why everyone else is in bed. Normal rules may be forgotten, toilet training may be severely affected with frequent ‘accidents’ in the house as they forget the proper place or cannot ask to go out.

If your pet is exhibiting these signs, please visit us, we will take a full history and examine him or her. We may need to do some investigations to make sure that there are no hidden conditions making the signs worse. If there are, then these can be treated. If no other medical reason is found then your pet is likely to be suffering from ‘cognitive dysfunction’ (CD). Sadly, this is fairly common in older pets. It is a progressive disease but there are many measures that we can take to improve quality of life and manage the symptoms. Treatment is lifelong and the aim is to slow the progression of the disease.

Together we can discuss the best management of your pet as each one is an individual.

Environmental measures may be best for some pets, making them safe, using stair gates and barriers to prevent confusion. Taking them to food and water, helping them to navigate their environment, limiting contact with other pets or visitors. Measures that reduce anxiety and confusion can make a huge difference. Food dispensers that involve interaction can stimulate brain function while feeding.

Establishing a routine often makes them calmer, especially managing their stimulation. Keeping them active but not overwhelming them is ideal. Play is important and they may require some re-training, if they have forgotten rules or toilet training. Stressful situations should be avoided as they can make confusion worse.

Diet may form part of the management in these cases. We can offer nutrition advice that may slow the progression of the disease. Pets may need higher levels of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids to aid brain function.

Medications can help slow the disease and manage the signs. Pets are often calmer and less confused when medications are used. As these pets may have other medical conditions it is essential that any supplements, medications or diets used are discussed with us prior to starting as sometimes they may interact together and be less safe.

Regular reviews with you and your pet allow us to assess their progress and change anything that may not be optimal.

We are here to help with anything that affects your ageing pets and are keen to help them have active, healthy lives whatever their age.