We all want our pets to live long, healthy, happy lives. Wouldn’t it be great if they could have the same health and activity level at 12 years old as they did at 3 years old? Unfortunately, getting older does mean that sometimes things can get a little more difficult for our pets. In addition to the aches and pains that can come with getting older, sometimes our aging pets can experience what is known as cognitive dysfunction. Researchers estimate the prevalence of cognitive dysfunction in geriatric dogs at 68 percent, and a third of all cats between 11 and 14 years of age have age-related cognitive decline. That number increases to 50 percent for cats 15 years and older.
Diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction in a pet is a diagnosis of exclusion. There are many conditions older animals acquire that mimic the signs of cognitive decline, so it’s important to rule out all other physical reasons for a change in behavior. For example, a small seizure can cause a pet to stand still and stare. If your pet seems detached, he could be in pain. Inappropriate elimination can be due to kidney disease or a bladder infection. These disorders and many others can result in a change in behavior unrelated to cognitive decline. That’s why it’s so important to rule out all possible alternative reasons, especially in aging pets.
Do pets get Alzheimer’s?
Many of the same changes and lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease in people have also been recognized in dogs and cats. If multiple behavior problems develop and these changes progress to the point where the dog or cat is no longer a “functional” pet, the condition may be consistent with senility or dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. While canine dementia isn’t exactly the same disease as Alzheimer’s in people, the development of ß-amyloid plaques in pets results in confusion, memory loss, and other symptoms related to mental function.
Often you and your veterinarian may not realize that your pet is suffering from cognitive dysfunction. The signs can start off very slowly and can sometimes we attributed to “just getting older”. Some things to watch out for are:
Disorientation – Such as getting lost in familiar areas, not recognizing familiar people, and going to the wrong side of the door.
Interactions – Social interactions might be altered between the pet and owner or pet and other pets; some pets may appear to be more clingy, while others might be disinterested or even irritable when petted or approached.
Sleep-wake cycle changes – Your pet may sleep more during the day, wake at nights, or have irregular sleep-wake cycles.
House soiling – Pets begin to soil in areas where they were previously unlikely to soil, including indoors or unusual places outdoors; dogs may stop signaling when they need to eliminate.
Activity levels – Initially, there may be an overall decrease in activity levels or a decreased interest in play. However, with increasing age, some pets become more active in that they are restless, cannot settle, wander aimlessly, or develop repetitive behaviors such as licking.
Anxiety – An increase in anxiety and agitation, which might be expressed as vocalization, newly emerging fears, or phobias or becoming more clingy and overly dependent on owners.
How to keep your pet’s brain sharp
You may be wondering if there is anything as pet owners we can do to keep our older animals acting young. You bet there is! While we can’t stop the aging process, we can take action and try to slow it down.
Weekends, Holidays and After-hours we are available 24 hours daily 365 days a year at our location for local service by your veterinary team. Please call our office in case of emergency.
Please note - Weekend, Holiday and After-hour service is offered only to current clientele who have not transferred their files to another facility and whose animals are a patient of our practice that has been examined by one of our doctors in the past 24 months.
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Egan Fife Animal Hospital