Both dogs and cats can suffer from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). It is sometimes referred to as doggie or kitty Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The cause of CDS is not known at this time. It is thought to be similar to human aging, where brain function is affected by the physical and chemical changes that occur with the aging process of pets. The body stops or reduces the production of dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter. But scientists do not understand why that happens. The accumulation of proteins or plaque is also thought to be a cause of CDS.

When CDS is age-related, the onset generally starts around the age of 11. Symptoms for pets are similar to those experienced by people and may appear in any combination and frequency.

CDS Symptoms

  • Disorientationis often the first symptom that owners notice. It includes such behaviors as walking aimlessly, staring at walls, getting “stuck” in corners, inability to figure out how to exit through a doorway, or losing balance.
  • Their social interactions They are no longer looking forward to the arrival of family members after a long day. This pet may ignore those around them or even hide. Providing a den for them will make it easier to find them when they do hide. A den could be covered crate with a door that is always kept open or a private corner of the room where the pet’s bed may be.
  • There may be a change in sleep Pets that once slept through the night are now up at all hours and, conversely, the pets—especially cats—that used to play all night are now sleeping instead.
  • They forget their housetraining.They lose the connection that they need to go outside to the bathroom or may begin to void before they even realize they have to go. Cats may forget how to use the litter box.
  • Their eating habits may change. They may have forgotten they have already eaten and beg for more. On the other hand, they may “forget” they’re hungry and food may simply hold no appeal for them.

If a pet exhibits any of these behaviors, a thorough work-up at the veterinarian is warranted.  Many easily treatable health conditions may have similar symptoms, such as arthritis, urinary tract infections, hypertension, Cushing syndrome and other health issues.

Managing CDS

  • Feed diets high in antioxidants, such as lean meats, fish, berries and fish.
  • Provide more activity in the form of walks and interactive games to keep the brain more active.
  • Add supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, SAMe and melatonin. These have been shown to improve cognitive function.
  • Set up a consultation with a veterinarian to discuss dosing the right supplements for the pet, along with setting up a treatment plan that may include homeopathic treatments, herbal remedies, Chinese herbs and/or acupuncture.

All the above have been proven to boost brain activity, which, in turn, slows the progress of CDS.

While there is no way to prevent CDS in pets, its progress can be slowed and managed through diet, exercise and medication. A high quality of life can be maintained for a pet while living with CDS.

Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master tech pet first aid instructor. She is the owner of Pawsitive Education. She can be reached at