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Older pets and dementia in animals

It is very distressing for owners to see their once vibrant and energetic pets become slower and less enthusiastic as they enter old age.

In some cases, specific problems ensue that can be severe enough for owners to even consider euthanasia. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a well-documented disorder in dogs and cats whereby there is a progressive loss of higher mental functions such as awareness, memory and learning.

Symptoms include reduced interaction, disorientation, irregular sleep patterns, and failure of house or litter box training. Cats will repeatedly vocalise often at night. In 2006, it was discovered that older cats could also develop deposits in their brains consistent with a form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Most owners tend to accept these changes as part of the ageing process and rarely seek veterinary advice regarding this problem. In addition, owners are often unaware that there are several treatment options available. After a veterinary examination to exclude physical causes of dysfunction such as brain disease, high blood pressure or an overactive thyroid gland, a diagnosis of CDS can be made.

Treatment options include drugs that improve blood flow, increase nerve transmission and promote neurotransmitter substances within the brain. Diets and supplements are available containing antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, coQ10 and carnitine), phospholipids and essential fatty acids. Environmental enrichment is an important part of therapy.

Treatments can take time to work and response to medications can vary between animals. Overall these strategies can significantly improve the quality and quantity of an older pets’ life.

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