As our pets start to age, they can start to show signs of diseases. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is one of those diseases prone to older pets. This disease is similar to dementia in people and might be the most underdiagnosed disease in veterinary medicine. Studies indicate that about 14% of dogs ages 8 and over have cognitive dysfunction syndrome(CDS). The older the animal gets, the higher the percentage of pets with CDS. The same study indicates that vets only diagnose about 2% of the older dogs with CDS.
With CDS the grey and white matter in the brain gets less over time. These changes in the brain cause symptoms like disorientation and confusion, altered learning and memory, changes in activity, altered social interactions, changes in their sleep-wake cycle and less of a response to stimuli.
Things you might notice at home would be wandering, staring, house soiling, inability to perform certain tricks, either a decline in activity or an increase in purposeless activity can be seen, anxiety, responding differently to family members or pets, waking up or being restless at night and less interest in food, playtime and going for a walk.
Lately, more studies are being done to find out what causes the disease and what we can do about it, to either prevent it or slow down the process. So far, there is no way to cure dogs or cats with CDS, but there are some things we can do to help.
An important part of treatment is environmental enrichment. This way we can stimulate the brain to keep making connections and slow down the disease in the process. Examples are food puzzles and toys. Trying to teach a new trick to your pet and regular exercise.
Recently a new dog food has been launched to support the brain. This food is high in antioxidants, specific vitamins, and fatty acids to support brain function. Additionally, the diet can be supplemented with SAMe, proven to help reduce clinical signs as well. In some causes, additional medication can be started to help control anxiety, soiling or other clinical signs.
Are you curious if your pet might start to have symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome? Discuss it with your veterinarian during your (annual)exam or give us a call and ask for our cognitive dysfunction questionnaire.
Written by Dr. Larissa Vermin, DVM