It is a wonderful and emotionally rich experience to feel our hearts open to our pets during their senior years. So often, providing special care and support to an aging pet deepens and intensifies the human-animal bond.

However, caring for a pet suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome can cause erosion of that bond, rather than cause it to strengthen. In this situation, we may lose the ability to compassionately care for our pets. Instead, we may resent our aging pets, feel too embarrassed to seek veterinary care, and make end-of-life decisions out of desperation. Your veterinary staff wants to help you reconnect with your pet and share with them the precious last months and years of their life. We are hopeful that available treatments for cognitive dysfunction can bring peace and quality of life back to your companion, and to you.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) describes a neurodegenerative disorder affecting brain function in aging dogs and cats. The disorder is progressive and is characterized by a patient’s difficulty performing routine tasks and behaviors, compared to unaffected pets. Symptoms vary among individuals, and often overlap other age-related diagnoses. Common owner complaints include:

  • Spatial disorientation/confusion: wandering, seeming “lost” in home environment
  • Altered memory/learning: lapses in trained obedience/command recognition; house soiling
  • Physical symptoms: panting, increased thirst, increased vocalization
  • Altered level of activity: increased (restless), or decreased (uninterested in walks/play)
  • Changes in level of social interactions: decreased (less interactive), or increased (clingy)
  • Altered sleep/wake cycles

Diagnosis of CDS is not so straightforward. But the good news is most of us know it when we see it!

…the elderly pet who seems confused or disoriented in his favorite room; the aging cat who yowls loudly through the night even if we get up to soothe her; or the previously impeccably obedient dog who now stands in one place outdoors and then comes in to pee on the floor...

A suspicion of CDS is confirmed by a compatible history (reporting of owner observations), patient response to treatment, and elimination of other causes of reported symptoms. The last point is critically important! Many elderly pets have more than one problem ongoing at the same time. The veterinary staff is specifically trained to interpret physical exam findings and exam room behaviors. Information we gather allows us to differentiate CDS from concurrent diseases with overlapping symptoms, for example: chronic or acute pain, anxiety, blindness/deafness, hypertension, hormone dysregulation, and lack of environmental stimulation.

A variety of science-based medications and nutritional supplements are available to treat cognitive dysfunction. These treatments are used in conjunction with therapy for other underlying problems, and along with environmental/sensory enrichment to improve quality of life. We are ready to work in partnership with you to offer options to achieve the best possible quality of life for your treasured companion.