When your pet reaches their golden years, the occasional senior moment is natural and expected. But, persistently abnormal behavior, personality changes, and confusion may indicate a more serious cognitive decline (i.e., dementia).

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is an age-related neurodegenerative condition that affects the pet’s memory, awareness, and comprehension. At least 22% of dogs older than 9 years and 28% of cats between 11 and 14 years of age show at least one CDS sign. Sadly, many pet owners are unfamiliar with CDS and therefore don’t recognize the signs.

Is your pet at risk for CDS? Find out by answering the following questions in this Neighborhood Veterinary Centers quiz.

Yes or no? Your senior pet seems disoriented or confused

CDS-affected pets can become confused or disoriented in familiar surroundings. Common examples include wandering, becoming trapped behind furniture, stuck in corners, getting lost in the yard, or going to the wrong side of a door to be let in or out.

Confused pets may struggle to recognize familiar family members or friends or stop responding when called, which can be exacerbated by age-related vision or hearing loss. 

Yes or no? Your senior pet is less social and easily irritated

Senior dogs and cats may stop seeking interaction with people or fellow pets. Previously affectionate pets may not rush to greet their owners or solicit petting and physical contact. When these pets engage in social activities, they may appear less tolerant and can easily become agitated. Pets who feel threatened may try to end the interaction by growling, hissing, air snapping, or swatting.

Yes or no? Your senior pet sleeps during the day and stays awake at night

Similar to human Alzheimer’s patients, dogs and cats with CDS change their sleep and wake cycles, resting during the day and becoming active at night, generally pacing, circling, and vocalizing.

Prolonged sleep disruptions not only negatively affect your pet’s health but also can ultimately harm the pet-owner bond, so speak to your veterinarian if your pet’s behavior is keeping you up at night. 

Yes or no? Your senior pet has forgotten their basic training and struggles to learn new things

Pets with dementia often cannot recall well-established behaviors, such as their house or litter box training, and may no longer be able to learn new concepts or negotiate physical challenges, such as navigating rearranged furniture. 

Pet owners are often alarmed when they see their previously impeccably behaved pet urinate or defecate on the floor—often right in front of them and immediately after returning inside or exiting the litter box. If this happens, you must not scold or punish your pet, which will only heighten their stress.

Yes or no? Your senior pet’s energy levels have changed drastically

Some CDS-affected pets increase activity to levels disproportionate to their advancing age. These pets may appear hyperactive, seeking constant movement, and pacing or circling, or repetitively chewing or licking. Other pets will behave exactly the opposite and withdraw and disconnect from their surroundings.

Yes or no? Your senior pet is anxious, nervous, and easily frightened

CDS is a stressful condition for pets, and creates a constant state of confusion and uncertainty. Affected pets may seek frequent reassurance from their owner and experience separation anxiety during their absence. Previously confident pets may become fearful and reluctant to visit new or familiar places, or respond with exaggerated fear to common stimuli such as loud noises.

Helping your senior pet

If you agreed with any of the above statements, your dog or cat may be suffering from CDS. No cure exists for this degenerative condition, but you can take several steps to slow its progression. Your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers veterinarian will make specific recommendations, such as medication, supplements, or diet changes, but your small daily actions can also make an impact.

  • Track your senior pet’s behavior in a quality of life journal.
  • Spend time with your senior pet every day.
  • Visit Neighborhood Veterinary Centers every six months for a senior pet wellness exam.
  • Engage your senior pet’s mind with puzzle toys, trick training, new experiences, and sniff walks.

If your aging pet is struggling with senior moments, schedule a visit to Neighborhood Veterinary Centers. Our compassionate veterinarians and support staff will  assess your pet’s physical, mental, and emotional wellness, and develop a plan to ensure they feel safe, supported, and comfortable throughout their golden years.