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How is dementia in pets diagnosed?



Senior Paddy is at Paws and Claws Humane Society in Rochester, MN.

Aging pets, like people, can suffer mental decline that is not considered a normal part of aging. Last week we wrote about the signs and symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS. This week we’re looking at how it’s diagnosed. (Read all our CDS posts.)

Diagnosing cognitive dysfunction syndrome can be tricky. “There is no specific test for CDS,” says Karen Johnson, DVM, of Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, OR. “The diagnosis is made based on age, symptoms and ruling out medical issues that can cause cognitive changes.”

Since CDS is a “diagnosis of exclusion,” your vet will test for a
variety of other conditions to see if they can be ruled out. According
to Dr. Johnson, tests would typically include basic blood work, a
thyroid test, urinalysis, a neurologic exam and possibly x-rays or

“Some types of liver disease can cause changes that could mimic CDS, as
could other types of brain disease, including cancer,” Dr. Johnson says.
“Any illness has the potential to cause changes in mental status when
normal physiologic parameters — blood pressure, electrolytes, etc. —
are affected.”

The tests can be expensive, but they’re worth it — they may identify a
treatable condition. “The earlier a correct diagnosis is made and
treated appropriately, the better the chance of being able to manage
it,” says Dr. Johnson. “Also, it’s usually less expensive for the client
and traumatic for everyone if a correct diagnosis can be made early.”

If your vet ultimately diagnoses your pet with CDS, don’t despair:
“The pet owner should understand that while treatment — medical
and environmental — doesn’t change the progression of disease, it can
make a difference in quality of life for both the pet and family,” Dr.
Johnson says.

After the jump: Questions to ask your vet.

Questions to Ask Your Vet if Your Pet Is Diagnosed with CDS

  • Should I change my pet’s diet or give her any supplements?
  • What medication might help, and what are its risks and benefits?
  • What dose of the medication should I give my pet, and how often?
  • How much does the medication cost?
  • Do you recommend any games or exercise to increase my pet’s mental stimulation?
  • How else should I adjust my lifestyle or routine to make things easier for my pet?

Next time: How environmental enrichment can prevent CDS and delay its progression.

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