Do Dogs and Cats Get Dementia?

Posted by Katherine Ripley
Flickr/TheGiantVermin

This is important information for all pet owners.

If you have an older dog or cat, you might start seeing odd behaviors, like walking in circles, staring at walls or sitting in corners, hearing loss, heightened separation anxiety, forgetting familiar places like their bed or the litter box, and unexplained aggression. These signs of cognitive decline might prompt you to wonder: do dogs and cats get dementia or an animal form of Alzheimer’s disease?

The answer is yes, they can. Unlike wild animals, domestic pets live in safe environments and get regular veterinary care, so they can actually live long enough to develop what veterinary behaviorists call “cognitive dysfunction” in their old age.

Other symptoms of dementia in dogs and older cats include changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in family members, and incontinence, almost like they forget how to be housebroken.

So what should you do if you suspect your dog or old cat has dementia?

It’s a good idea to take your pet to the vet to make sure there is not a more serious problem going on like hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Similar symptoms for cognitive dysfunction syndrome can also be signs of a neurological condition like a brain tumor or other medical problem. But if the vet finds that there are no other medical conditions with a blood test or x-rays, you can conclude your dog or cat likely has cognitive dysfunction and suffering from normal aging.

There is no cure for the condition, but you might be able to reduce the effects by changing their routine and their diet to improve cognitive function.

catTry not to let your pet just sit in the corner. Make sure she gets regular exercise, and frequent social interaction with family members, including other pets. Try to also keep her brain active by giving her new toys, going on a long walk, and teaching her new tricks.

You can improve your pet’s diet by adding antioxidants, good fatty acids, and L-carnitine, an amino acid which helps transfer fatty acids in the cells of the body. You can ask your vet for a prescription diet specially formulated to treat canine cognitive dysfunction, or you can add in the nutrients yourself. Blueberries and red beans are high in antioxidants, salmon, mackerel, and herring are good fat sources, and red meat has high levels of carnitine which aid in brain function.

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There are also some medications which can treat cognitive dysfunction, which you can ask your veterinarian to recommend for feline dementia or canine dementia. Dog owners and cat owners must pay attention to the signs and behavioral changes as their four-legged friends gets up there in years.

It is important to remember that pets only develop cognitive dysfunction because they have lived long and otherwise healthy lives, so be thankful that you still have them with you, and just do your best to make your senior dog or elderly cats happy for the rest of their years.

Have you ever seen an animal suffer from dementia? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Do Dogs and Cats Get Dementia?