RememberPetLossAtHome.com co-founder, Rob Twyning, acknowledges there isn’t a precisely defined condition like Alzheimer’s when it comes to aging pets. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t common. More than half the cats and dogs older than 11 years have some degree of cognitive decline. For dogs, depending on breed, the decline can start as early as age 6.”
Feline cognitive dysfunction and a broader cognitive dysfunction syndrome – covering both dogs and cats – are ways to classify the memory, awareness, and agility impairment from aging in pets. The decline can disrupt sleep patterns and result in disorientation or reduced activity. They seem to forget things they knew (e.g. litter box location) or have increased anxiety (e.g. more barking).
Delaying the onset
Prevention isn’t always possible when it comes to avoiding an age-related mental/emotional decline in pets. Just like with humans, maintaining as much exercise, play, training, work, and other daily routines as is age-appropriate will help stave off decline. Twyning adds that mental and physical stimulation have been shown to reduce or slow progression of cognitive decline.
“Ask your veterinarian about specific science-based diets formulated for brain-related illness, too.”
Getting older isn’t easy for any of us
“The hard thing,” says Twyning, “is that the cognitive decline pets experience can also change their social relationship with you, other family members, or other pets. It’s one of the five thing veterinary professionals look for. Understanding the changes your pet is undergoing can help you compassionately and effectively deal with behavior problems that may arise in his/her senior years.”
DISH-A is the acronym to remember
Remember the signs of cognitive dysfunction by the acronym DISH-A.
Disorientation or confusion even in familiar environments.
Interactions with humans and other pets have changed.
Sleep cycle changes such as increased sleep during the day or waking during the night.
House training and learned behaviors may deteriorate.
Activity levels change. “This can even include aimless wandering or compulsive disorders such as excessive licking,” says Twyning.
Some effects of aging aren’t related to cognitive dysfunction. Often these effects can contribute to behavior changes that only look like cognitive decline. Be sure to report all changes you see to your cat’s veterinarian. Don’t assume that your dog or cat is ‘just getting old’ and nothing can be done to help her. Many changes in behavior are signs of treatable medical disorders, and there are a variety of therapies that can comfort your cat and ease her symptoms in the golden years and beyond.
To ask more questions, please reach out to Rob Twyning – Co-Founder, and include your city, state, or ZIP code so we can direct your questions to our local veterinarian team member in 50 metro areas.