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What are the signs of dementia in pets?



SonnyBoy is a healthy senior dog who is adoptable from Redcliff, AB’s 
Save Old Souls Senior K-9 Rescue.

Aging pets, like people, can suffer mental decline that is not considered a normal part of aging. Recently we wrote about cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS, in senior pets. This week we’re looking at its common symptoms.

Recognizing and diagnosing cognitive problems in pets can be tricky. “Many pet owners think their older dog is losing his vision or hearing when in fact the pet is having a hard time recognizing or identifying certain sights or sounds,” says Calabash, NC-based veterinarian Ernie Ward.

Is your pet showing signs of CDS? Only your vet can tell you for sure, but it’s important that you carefully observe any changes in your pet’s behavior. According to the
the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, these are the key symptoms to look out for:

  • Disorientation – Has your pet suddenly “forgotten” how to climb the stairs? Does he get “lost” on walks or walk into corners that he could navigate well before?
  • Interaction changes – Is your lap cat suddenly aloof, or has your independent dog become clingy?
  • Sleep/wake cycle changes – Has your pet started pacing at night when he used to be a good sleeper? Does he sleep more during the day than he did before?
  • House soiling – Is your cat missing the litter box or has your dog stopped letting you know when he needs to go out? Does it seem like he’s lost control of his bladder?
  • Activity-level changes – Does your pet become upset when you leave or seem generally more anxious? Has his appetite decreased? Has he stopped loving his favorite toy, game or treat? Has he stopped grooming himself?

With all changes in your pet’s behavior, your vet will want to rule out illness as a cause. “What may be seen as a loss of housetraining — a sign of cognitive dysfunction — may actually be signs of kidney failure or urinary tract infection,” says Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM, veterinary medicine columnist for “These may occur as separate conditions or be concurrent.”

Next time: How your vet will diagnose cognitive dysfunction syndrome and what questions you should ask him or her.

Tell us: Do you have questions about cognitive dysfunction syndrome, its prevention or treatment? Ask them below and we might include them in this series!

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