Growing old is a tough pill to swallow, and the situation can be exceptionally difficult for pets because they do not understand the physical and mental changes they are experiencing. Cognitive dysfunction is a common condition that develops in senior and geriatric pets, and the issue can be difficult to identify, diagnose, and manage. As your pet grows older, you can help them age gracefully by learning more about cognitive dysfunction. Follow our Town & Country Animal Hospital team’s guide to learn how to monitor your senior pet’s mental health.

Know the signs of cognitive dysfunction in pets

Being able to identify cognitive dysfunction in your pet is key to slowing the disease’s progression and keeping your furry pal’s mind sharp. Rather than chalking up their signs to normal aging changes, learn to recognize the altered behaviors that may indicate your furry pal’s cognitive function is declining.

To help remember cognitive dysfunction’s signs, remember the acronym DISHAAL. Your elderly or geriatric pet may have cognitive dysfunction if they exhibit the following signs:

  • Disorientation — Pets can appear lost and confused, get stuck in corners or behind doors and furniture, or stare into space.
  • Interactions — A decreased interest in interaction is common, and your four-legged friend may become irritable, fearful, or aggressive with visitors, family, or other pets.
  • Sleep-wake cycle — Oftentimes, a senior pet will exhibit altered sleeping patterns. They will sleep more during the day, and appear restless at night, pacing and vocalizing.
  • House soiling — Despite perfect house-training, your pet may begin having accidents inside, miss the litter box, or signal less to go outside.
  • Activity level — You may notice a decrease in play and interaction with other pets and people, but an increase in aimless wandering or pacing. Your furry pal may also develop repetitive behaviors such as circling, chewing, licking, or stargazing.
  • Anxiety — Senior pets commonly exhibit increased anxiety and fearfulness. Your pet may become stressed when you are out of sight, or they may become fearful when faced with unfamiliar people, pets, sounds, sights, or environments.
  • Learning and memory — Forgetting previously learned commands is common, and your pet will have difficulty learning new things. You may struggle to get and keep their attention, and they may not respond to their name.

Understand how cognitive dysfunction is diagnosed in pets

As with other behavioral conditions, cognitive dysfunction is a diagnosis our Town & Country Animal Hospital team makes by exclusion, eliminating other potential causes to reach an accurate diagnosis. Conditions that can cause similar signs include hypothyroidism, osteoarthritis pain, dental disease, urinary issues, separation anxiety, organ dysfunction, endocrine diseases, or cancer. To rule out other potential medical issues, we will conduct diagnostic tests, which may include:

  • A physical exam
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Blood chemistry profile
  • Thyroid hormone testing
  • Urinalysis
  • Imaging (i.e., X-rays, ultrasound, computed tomography [CT] scan, or magnetic resonance imaging [MRI])

Support your pet with cognitive dysfunction

Although cognitive dysfunction can’t be cured, our Town & Country Animal Hospital team can treat an affected pet’s signs, and you can provide your furry pal with mental enrichment at home. Your pet’s cognitive dysfunction progression can be slowed through these disease management strategies:

  • Medication — Medication is available to help treat dogs’ cognitive dysfunction, but no medication is available for cats. Research studies have reported that the drug for dogs is effective at restoring their cognitive function to normal.
  • Diet — Several high-quality diets with powerful, brain-boosting ingredients are available, as well as a variety of supplements to help pets with cognitive dysfunction. Depending on your furry pal’s current health status, a diet change and supplement addition may be beneficial.
  • Environmental enrichment — Enrichment should be part of your pet’s daily life from the moment you bring them home, as various activities, toys, and treats are essential for warding off boredom, inactivity, and problem behaviors. By spicing up your pet’s life through training, food puzzles, interactive toys, and opportunities to exercise natural behaviors (e.g., scratching, digging, sniffing, climbing), you help keep their mind sharp.

Early diagnosis is key to slowing your pet’s cognitive dysfunction progression. Schedule an appointment with our Town & Country Animal Hospital team if your elderly four-legged friend has been exhibiting behavior changes, because their cognitive function may be declining.