Cognitive Dysfunction and Aging in Dogs

Nobody likes seeing their pets get older. You may find that they sleep more, are less active, and have more difficulty walking up the stairs. They may also have trouble sleeping at night, which most of the time means, that you, as an owner, are ALSO not getting a good night’s sleep. If occurring long-term, this issue can be very distressing and can affect the bond between you and your pet.

As pets get older, it is a good idea to have twice yearly check-ups in order to ensure that they are happy and healthy. At Norwalk Animal Hospital, we offer a “Senior Profile” work-up which includes an exam, basic bloodwork (complete blood count and chemistry), a thyroid test, and a urinalysis. This will evaluate your pet’s blood cells, electrolytes, and organ function. If requested, this can be combined with abdominal and chest x-rays and/or an abdominal ultrasound in order to increase the likelihood that possible issues are caught early.

With advanced age, dogs can develop cognitive dysfunction, which is a slowly progressive disorder similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Symptoms can include restlessness, changes in sleeping habits, anxiety, disorientation, and/or incontinence. It is always important to have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out possible medical reasons for symptoms such as these. If nothing medical or behavioral can be found, often managing the symptoms with medication and diet change is enough to keep pets comfortable.

Goals of treatment are to slow the progression and improve cognitive function as well as to relieve any pain and stress that may be associated. Treatment options include:

  • Avoiding events that may cause your pet distress.
  • Avoiding punishment when your pet does something unfavorable and rewarding them for good elimination behavior.
  • Keeping your pet contained to a small room or area of the house without stairs so that they cannot injure themselves.
  • Placing them on a regular feeding schedule and a diet high in antioxidants and fatty acids, such as Purina Pro Plan “Bright Mind” or Hills b/d to promote cognitive health.
  • With the assistance of your primary veterinarian, adding melatonin or anti-anxiety medication to your pet’s routine can help improve their sleep cycle and quality of life.
  • Encouraging mentally stimulating activities, such as treat balls, puzzles, and interactive exercises can help slow progression.

If diet change is contraindicated for your pet, the addition of supplements and antioxidants, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may have a protective effect and improve behavioral function. If pets are maintained on medications long-term, it is important to have them checked at least twice a year to be sure liver and kidney function is not being compromised.

If you believe your pet may be struggling with cognitive dysfunction, please consult your primary veterinarian or make an appointment with Norwalk Animal Hospital today to learn what you can do to help them.