Wednesday, May. 5th 2021

Sundowners and Senility in Fluffy and Fido

Cognitive Dysfunction (CD) in Cats and Dogs

Did you know your pet can suffer from senility?  Studies have found that a quarter of pets are so afflicted by the age of 12-14 years, and half by age 15.  This disorder in pets is the analog of Alzheimer’s in humans.  Pets exhibit a slow deterioration.  Dogs may show anxiety, disorientation, house soiling, confusion, changes in sleeping patterns, and decreased interactions with family.  Cats may show aimless activity or pacing and excessive or odd vocalization.  It is often underdiagnosed because owners think it’s just an age change, and vets don’t think to ask about it.  There is no specific test.  Senility in pets is a diagnosis of exclusion, where testing is done to make sure it’s not due to other disorders.

In order to positively diagnose a dog with cognitive dysfunction, the pet must show changes in one of the following categories at least once weekly for a month.  These categories are disorientation, changes in social interactions, decline in house training, and alteration in sleep-wake cycles.  Symptoms may also include new anxieties, abnormal mentation, vestibular episodes (dizziness, loss of balance), and seizures.

For proper diagnosis, a vet needs a detailed history, and exam for medical problems, orthopedic and neurological exams, pain evaluation, and diagnostic test such as blood tests, urine test, x-rays, and perhaps even advanced imaging like MRI or ultrasound.

Medical problems that can affect behavior that can be confused with cognitive dysfunction include dental disease, poor GI function, obesity, kidney failure, bladder infection, high blood pressure, muscle atrophy, joint disease, endocrine (glandular) disorders, sensory decline such as vision or hearing loss, and other central nervous disorders.  All of these must be ruled out before a CD diagnosis can be made.  Some diseases may occur at the same time as CD and make it worse, such as diabetes, join disease, thyroid conditions, obesity, kidney disease, liver disease, Cushing’s disease, and chronic infections.

To help determine if your pet may have CD it may help to remember the acronym DISHAA which stands for Disorientation, Anxiety, Activity, Housetraining, altered Social Interactions, Sleep/wake cycles

To treat CD, the whole pet must be evaluated and treated.  Medical issues need to be managed.  Medications may need tweaking and checked for interactions.  Some drugs should be avoided in senior pets with CD.  These include phenobarbital, diazepam, chemotherapy drugs, certain flea/tick/heartworm medications, corticosteroids, and gas anesthesia.  Instead of gabapentin, amantadine or minocycline may be better.  Avoid Benadryl or steroids for allergies. 

If you think your pet is showing signs of CD, track their behaviors for a month or so making note of how often they show the behaviors listed above. Then bring the notes to your vet and ask for a full senior pet workup with exam, bloodwork,  and urinalysis. If you come to our clinic, you should schedule this as a comprehensive exam with labs, so we can also do a chiropractic evaluation and Chinese exam to see if acupuncture may be indicated.  We may also want to do a nutritional consult to address possible dietary changes to help feed the brain.  Cognitive Dysfunction doesn’t have to disrupt your pet’s life!  We can work on management together.


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