Like humans, pets may experience brain function changes as they grow older. Many senior pets experience a cognitive decline, and while the process often occurs gradually, this condition can seriously impact all aspects of your pet’s life. Learn about this common condition by reading our Wales Animal Clinic team’s account of cognitive dysfunction from a pet’s perspective. 

A day in the life of a pet with cognitive dysfunction

Max is 12 years old, and his owner became concerned about Max’s behavioral changes. Max visited the veterinarian and was diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction, a condition that affects many pets as they age. Take a look at Max’s daily life since his veterinarian diagnosed this condition, and consider whether your pet may be suffering from a cognitive decline. Consider these cognitive dysfunction signs:

  • Morning — Max is awakened by the first light of dawn streaming through the window. While he used to sleep until the sound of his owner’s alarm clock stirred him, Max’s sleep patterns have changed. Max spends more time napping during the day and prowling restlessly at night. Of course, he isn’t trying to be difficult. He is just a bit confused. Max begins to whine and pace until his owner gets up and feeds him breakfast. While Max is usually a voracious eater, these days he often stands over his bowl feeling puzzled rather than digging into his meal. After breakfast, it’s time for Max’s morning walk, but some days, he feels disoriented and hesitant to leave the house. His once-familiar neighborhood now seems like a confusing maze. After Max and his owner return home from their walk, Max retreats to his bed for a snooze, and his owner heads to work. 
  • Afternoon — Max spends most of his day sleeping, interrupted by periods of restlessness and confusion. During the day, he often wakes up and wanders into a room, only to stand there staring, unsure of his surroundings. After work, Max’s owner tries to engage his four-legged friend with toys and games that Max used to enjoy. However, Max loses interest quickly or becomes overwhelmed. Sometimes, Max doesn’t seem to recognize his owner. 
  • Evening — After Max’s dinner, he and his owner go for their evening walk, which is more of an amble now. Max used to greet other neighborhood pets along the way, but lately, he is less interested in socializing, and more anxious around other pets and people. As night falls, Max becomes more restless. He often stares blankly at the walls or paces restlessly, occasionally getting stuck behind furniture or closed doors, feeling disconnected from the world around him. Sometimes, Max forgets his house training, and elminates inappropriately on the carpet or furniture.

Despite the challenges that come with cognitive dysfunction, Max still enjoys moments of clarity and joy. He savors the delight of a good belly rub, the thrill of a game of fetch, and the comfort of curling up in his owner’s lap. 

Identifying cognitive dysfunction signs in your pet

Pets can experience brain function changes as they grow older. Many senior pets experience a cognitive decline. Max’s story is a common one, highlighting these cognitive dysfunction behavioral changes:

  • Disorientation — Affected pets may become lost in familiar places, or fail to recognize familiar people and pets.
  • Interactions — Pets may interact differently with their owner. Some pets hide more and avoid contact, while others become more needy and attached.
  • Sleep cycle changes — An affected pet’s sleep-wake cycles commonly change, causing them to sleep more during the day and remain awake at night.
  • House soiling — Many affected pets forget their training. A dog may forget to signal that they need to go outside, inappropriately eliminating indoors. A cat may stop using their litter box.
  • Activity levels — Affected pets may be less interested in play, and they often become restless, wandering aimlessly. In addition, some pets develop obsessive, repetitive behaviors such as licking.
  • Anxiety — Cognitive dysfunction often causes pets to be more anxious, which may be expressed through vocalization, excessive panting, destructive behavior, and clinginess.
  • Learning and memory — Affected pets may forget known commands, and they typically have a difficult time adjusting to changes in their environment

Managing cognitive dysfunction in your pet

While cognitive dysfunction is a progressive condition that has no cure, through early identification and intervention, you can help support your pet’s cognitive function and slow the degenerative process. Your veterinarian can help manage your pet’s brain health by providing one or more of the following therapies:

  • Dietary changes — Specialized prescription diets that are rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients are formulated to boost and support your pet’s cognitive function and overall health.
  • Supplements — Our veterinary team may recommend dietary supplements to provide energy for your pet’s brain, helping improve function.
  • Mental enrichment — Mental enrichment, through interactive toys, puzzles, training exercises, and social interactions, can help your pet maintain cognitive function. 
  • Medications Certain veterinarian-prescribed medications can help improve your pet’s memory, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep patterns.

Learn to recognize the signs of decline in your pet’s cognitive abilities. Through cognitive dysfunction’s early detection, you and your veterinarian can provide your pet with effective management, helping your four-legged friend enjoy a good quality of life. If you suspect your furry pal is experiencing declining cognitive function, schedule their wellness exam with our Wales Animal Clinic team.