Just like us, animals experience some classical signs of aging. When our cats and dogs reach their senior years, it is normal for them to develop a few grey hairs and spend a few more hours sleeping on the couch. There is no need to worry if your pet slows down a little bit with age—in fact, many owners appreciate spending these relaxing years with their older pets. But while you are adjusting to having a older pet in your home, it is important to know that not all behavioral changes can be attributed to the normal aging process.
Like people, animals can experience a more serious age-related cognitive disorder similar to human Alzheimer’s disease. A pet that seems strangely distant, confused, or disoriented, may be suffering from a condition known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Since CDS occurs mostly in older pets, its signs are often confused with what people consider to be normal aging. However, the physical and chemical changes that occur in animals with CDS are far from normal. Like Alzheimer’s disease in people, CDS results from the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain which ultimately lead to accelerated degeneration of the brain tissue. This causes the significant cognitive changes associated with the disorder.
Some common behavioral signs to look out for include:
- Aimless wandering or pacing
- Not responding to their name
- Staring into space
- Becoming easily lost in familiar places (i.e.: within the house or yard)
- Failing to recognize or interact with familiar people
- House soiling
- Sleeping less during night-time hours (but more overall)
- Ignoring known commands
- Forgetting to eat or drink
Obviously, some of the behavioral issues listed above can lead to more serious health issues. Most of them, however, lead to psychological distress for the pet and owner affected. It can be extremely difficult to watch your pet go through the changes associated with CDS. Fortunately, there is a way to help relieve some of these symptoms. The current treatment for CDS involves a daily tablet of medication that is prescribed by your veterinarian. The drug works to slow the degenerative processes occurring in the brain of CDS patients. Studies on canine subjects have shown that it is possible to improve the symptoms of CDS, but because the disorder varies widely between patients, no two animals will respond to treatment in the exact same way. If your pet has been displaying one or more of the above symptoms, or if you think that something doesn’t seem right, make sure to contact your veterinarian and ask about CDS. Whether or not the current treatment is right for your pet, your veterinarian can be a source of information and support for both of you during this difficult time.
Provided by Creatures Corner reader Alison Norwich