Help needed!! My pet looks “lost”!

Day by day we are all getting older and older. Our pets are no exception.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a scientific name for the condition commonly known as dementia. It may occur in any pet and typically affects older pets over 11 years of age. Unlucky ones can start showing symptoms as early as 6 years of age. Scientific literature states that more then 50% of dogs and cats will be affected with dementia. It tends to be progressive with over 50% of dogs getting worse after 12 months of being diagnosed.

Why does it happen?

 There are many theories trying to explain the cause of dementia.

  1. Decline in the number of neurons (brain cells)
  2. Accumulation of toxic products and free radicals in the brain (byproducts of brain cell metabolism)
  3. Compromised blood flow in the brain
  4. Reduced nerve impulse transmission in the brain

How do I know my pet suffers from dementia?

The most common symptoms are

  1. Disorientation (the pet looks confused, lost and unable to do things it used to be able to do with ease e.g. going through doggy door/cat flap
  2. Loss of interactions with the owner
  3. Sleep wake alterations (e.g. very vocal at night, restless, not sleeping well, spending more time sleeping during the day)
  4. Change in activity (reduced appetite, compulsive disorders e.g. excessive licking , pacing, wandering, restlessness)
  5. Loss of house training (urinating and defecating in house)

Is there a test to diagnose dementia?

Unfortunately there is no test to confirm this condition, although a blood test is usually done to make sure there are no other health concerns. The blood test for pets affected by dementia usually comes back normal. The only means of diagnosis this condition is the history of the disease.

How can I help my pet overcome this problem?

It is important not to have unrealistic expectations. There is a high possibility that the condition will progress gradually but it can be slowed down a little.

  1. Behavioural treatment - It is important to keep your pet mentally fit and stimulated as much as possible. Regular walks, plays, socializing with other animals, games and toys can all help. Make your pet “work” for food (treat balls, scatter or hide food in backyard) and use the toys that stimulate brain activity; there are quite a few on the market and your local vet can help you with this. Dog training and obedience could also keep the dog stimulated for longer.
  2. Good nutrition can help to a certain degree. There are some prescription diets on the market which can help with brain aging like Hills b/d diet.
  3. Medications are the last solution but most of them are available for dogs. Some of them can have serious side effects so it is important to have your pet monitored by your vet. Six monthly revisits are needed to make sure the treatment will not affect your pet in a bad way. The medications increase the production of brain chemicals, improve the blood supply or in some cases they are used to treat separation anxiety and other concurrent problems occurring secondary to dementia.

It is important that prevention of dementia starts when your pet is young by providing them with a healthy and active life style.