Does it ever seem like your dog or cat is “mentally lost” as it has aged? Pets’ brains can develop degenerative dysfunction similar to people who develop Alzheimer’s disease. In pets, this disorder is referred to as canine or feline cognitive dysfunction.
The signs and symptoms of canine or feline cognitive dysfunction may include:
- disorientation in familiar surroundings
- a change in the interaction with family members
- changes in the sleep-wake cycle such as night walking or vocalization
- inappropriate house soiling
- forgetting learned tasks
- increased restlessness, pacing or walking aimlessly
Some pets can even be more anxious. Typically this disease affects pets that are elderly; the highest incidence occurs after age 11 but can happen as early as 6 years old.
The exact cause for canine or feline cognitive dysfunction is not well known, however the brain undergoes many transformations as it develops this disease. The brain can undergo atrophy, the loss of neurons, decreased blood flow, and the formation of plaques in the brain that prevent normal activity. Advanced imaging such as an MRI can detect changes in the brain structure that occur with cognitive dysfunction, but unfortunately there are no direct definitive tests that can diagnose this disorder, and many other diseases can mimic similar signs and symptoms.
Treatment of canine or feline cognitive dysfunction targets three major approaches. These methods are environmental enrichment, diet and neutraceuticals, and the possible use of medications. Environment enrichment includes playing with your pet to get more mental stimulation. Slowly developing a more routine schedule such as more trips outdoors or more playtimes with toys can help. Also developing a routine of being more exposed to natural light during the day and less artificial light during the night may help. Specially formulated diets such as Science Diet B/D and Purina Pro Plan Bright Minds can help. Pharmaceuticals such as omega 3 fatty acids, SAMe and apoaequorin (a protein naturally found in jellyfish) can help. There also are some medications that have promising results on the integrity of the brain.
It has been estimated that approximately 85 percent of pets with this disease are not identified. Many owners attribute these signs to just getting old. However, this may not be the case. Please consult your veterinarian for an evaluation and possible therapeutic plan to help pets with this disease.
By Dr. Jonathan Gilvarry, an associate veterinarian at BridgeMill Animal Hospital.