Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs and Cats

It is easy to appreciate when a senior pet is suffering from the effects of wear and tear on the joints, but it’s not so simple to recognize degenerative changes in his brain. Sometimes the signs are subtle – your friend may forget which side of the door opens or he may fail to remember a well-loved toy.

In more advanced cases, a perfectly housetrained companion may start defecating and urinating in your home, or worse yet, he may fail to recognize you or other family members. Loss of brain function may pose a slight inconvenience to you as a caregiver, but to some people, the symptoms are severe enough that they contemplate euthanasia.

Many older pets suffer from cognitive dysfunction (CD). In the past, the symptoms of CD were attributed to natural aging, but they are now considered by many to be linked to a brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s in people.

A classic history we see is that the dog doesn’t really have any pressing health issues, but starts to have difficulty navigating. They may get stuck in corners or their coordination is so poor they fall down stairs. They may pace for hours, especially at night. They may become clingy with the caregiver or they want to be by themselves. Their appetite is good as long as the food is pointed out to them. They sometimes begin to urinate or soil in the house.

Elderly cats show similar signs. A common symptom is crying as if they are in pain when nothing is wrong. They usually do this in solitude, but it is a loud cry and you might think they are in pain. The same sound can be heard in cats that have hyperthyroidism, which can be treated.

Supplements such as S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is used for liver disease and it can also help with CD. We can also look at vitamins E and C. These antioxidants counter the effects of free radicals and are widely believed to prevent or slow the rate of brain cell deterioration.

While supplements definitely play a role in reducing brain aging, researchers have pointed at the importance of mental stimulation. Human interaction, such as playing with the animal, talking to him, and petting him, are the first steps in keeping your friend’s mind alert.

Dr. Louise Janes D.V.M. & Dr. Jeff Grognet D.V.M.