Dementia in pets

We all know that dementia affects so many people, but our pets can suffer from something very similar too.

Our pets can't get dementia in the way that humans can, but what they do get is similar in lots of ways. Our pets actually get something called ‘Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)’ which is commonly thought of as dementia in pets.

It’s a bit more difficult to recognise dementia in pets, but there are signs you can look out for as your pet gets older. Just like with people, it’s more common in older pets and young pets are unlikely to suffer from it.


What is pet dementia?

Dementia in pets, or CDS, affects ageing pets. It causes problems with their memory, confusion, anxiety and disorientation – much like Alzheimer’s in humans.

There are lots of different factors that cause dementia in pets and it is associated with the build-up of certain proteins in the brain. Unfortunately there is no cure, but there has been great progress in research. There are now medicines available that can help to reduce some of the symptoms and can slow the progression of the illness, so do ask your vet. You can help your pet too by keeping them fit and healthy, with plenty of games to keep their brain active.


What are the signs of dementia in pets?

Although hard to spot, there are a few signs of dementia, or CDS, in pets:

  • Confusion or disorientation. Your pet might get lost in familiar places. Or they could get trapped in a room in your house because they’ve forgotten how to get out.
  • Loss of toilet training. Your pet might start having accidents indoors, or wanting to go out to the toilet at unusual times. In cats, they might forget where the litter tray is or forget where the cat flap is
  • Change in sleeping pattern. Your pet may start sleeping a lot during the day but being awake more at night.
  • Change in ‘themselves’. You might notice your pet not behaving like, well, your pet. They might become more withdrawn and seem depressed, or even forget family members and other pets.
  • Memory loss. They might stop responding to familiar commands, forget things they’ve learnt and have difficulty learning new things.
  • Change in activity. Your pet might stop being as active as they used to, or pace around and stare into space a lot.
  • Changes to noise levels. You might notice that your pet is more vocal than usual, howling, barking or meowing, often for no clear reason and usually at night.
  • Change in appetite. Your pet might suddenly stop eating as much. They may also start eating far more if they forget they’ve already eaten.


What should I do if I think my pet has dementia?

Dementia in pets can’t be completely cured, but vets now have medication they can prescribe to help reduce some of the symptoms.

You’ll need to take your pet to the vet to get your pet properly diagnosed, if you’re worried about CDS or dementia, and they’ll give you advice on managing your pet’s condition. The earlier you start with medication the better, to try to get the illness under control.

Some steps you can take to help your pet include:

  • Keep each room your pet is in as familiar as possible. Try not to move things around the house as this can confuse them.
  • Don’t get angry with your pet if they get confused or have an accident.
  • Increase environmental cues, for example keeping a radio on in a certain room your pet goes to a lot to help them find their way.
  • Keep interaction with family members a positive experience, even if your pet appears to have forgotten them.
  • Provide lots of things to keep their brain active, like training (if they can manage it) or puzzle games.
  • Gently retrain some things they may have forgotten, like where to go to the toilet.

Sometimes, your vet may prescribe medication as well as brain function-supporting supplements for their food or a special diet. Follow your vet’s advice and make sure your pet takes anything that they are prescribed.

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