overheating dogThanks to better care and nutrition, our pets are living longer than ever before. Senior pets can be a great addition to any household, but with age comes a few new challenges.

We are learning more about caring for older animals as the pet population ages. We understand that, much like in older people, pets can suffer from mental changes, in addition to physical ones, as they enter their geriatric years.

Cognitive care for senior pets is an important part of animal care that can greatly impact quality of life.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Senility is a real issue that we see in our animal friends. The veterinary term used to describe this is cognitive dysfunction, or CD. Many liken this condition to Alzheimer’s disease, which occurs in some people as they age. In fact, there are studies that show that brain changes in older pets exhibiting signs of cognitive dysfunction are quite similar to those seen in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Animals who are suffering from cognitive dysfunction may exhibit symptoms, such as:

  • Loss of housetraining
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Getting stuck in corners
  • Pacing at night
  • Waking up at odd times
  • Restlessness
  • Barking
  • Separation anxiety
  • Panting
  • Excessive licking

Symptoms may start off mildly enough that they are often initially overlooked. Any change in behavior should be investigated, as many of these symptoms may be indicative of other problems. If cognitive dysfunction syndrome is diagnosed, there are treatments that may help improve the pet’s quality of life and slow down the progression of the syndrome.

Cognitive Care for Senior Pets

While we aren’t sure what causes cognitive dysfunction in pets or people, our Oakland Veterinary Referral Services staff know that some things can help to slow or even prevent its progression. Nutritional and environmental changes can be very beneficial so cognitive care for senior pets should include:

Mental stimulation – Contrary to popular belief, old dogs can learn new tricks. Keep your pet’s brain working by teaching a trick or two, providing interactive toys, taking him or her for walks or car rides, and keeping your routine fresh.

Touch – Grooming, petting, or even massage can be a great way to help stimulate your pet and make his or her brain work in a different way.

Environmental enrichment – Social interaction with other animals or people, toys, and interactive play can all help keep the brain sharp.

Good diet – A quality food designed to support brain function can help your pet. These therapeutic diets often contain antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other ingredients shown to help an aging mind.

With good care, older dogs and cats can manage any cognitive changes that they may experience and live full, happy lives. Your family veterinarian can work with you to help you stimulate your older pet and help them age gracefully.