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Cognitive dysfunction syndrome: Could my senior pet have dementia?



Senior dog Cheyenne is at Rimrock Humane Society in Roundup, MT.

Did you know that pets, like people, can suffer mental decline as they age? And this decline is not considered a normal part of aging.

Studies have found signs of cognitive impairment in 28% of dogs ages 11-12 and 68% of dogs 15-16, and in 28% of cats ages 11-14 and 50% of cats 15 and older. (See an overview of this research on the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine website.)

What is cognitive dysfunction syndrome?
Maybe your senior dog suddenly seems confused during his daily walks, or your cat begins having accidents around the house. Perhaps your pet has developed a sudden fear of thunderstorms even though he’s always been okay with them before.

These all may be signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) and merit a trip to the vet.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s, CDS is “a degeneration of the brain and the nervous system in dogs, roughly comparable to Alzheimer’s disease in people.”

Does CDS affect both dogs and cats?
CDS in dogs is better-documented than in cats, but “the few studies do indicate that cats develop behavior changes as they get old,” Melissa Bain, DVM, writes in “Cognitive Dysfunction in Older Cats” on

Research indicates “that affected cats show changes similar to dogs with cognitive dysfunction and people with Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Bain writes. “Excessive amounts of a specific type of protein are deposited in the brain, which impairs its ability to function as effectively.”

Stay tuned for more about CDS in coming weeks, including common symptoms and info on how to treat and prevent CDS.

Have you noticed signs of mental decline in your senior pet? Tell us below.

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