Dealing With Memory Loss in Pets

Charity vets PDSA offer advice during World Alzheimer’s Month

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month and vet charity PDSA wants to raise awareness of dementia, memory loss and the impact it can have on pets as well as people.

Globally it’s estimated that nearly 50 million people live with dementia and pets can also suffer from a very similar condition as they age. During Alzheimer’s Month, and World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September), PDSA is aiming to educate pet owners about the signs and symptoms to look out for.

While our pets don’t suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia in exactly the same way as people, they can develop a similar condition called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) caused by age related changes in the brain and a gradual loss of brain function. Symptoms are varied but can include memory loss, anxiety, confusion and poor attention. CDS generally occurs in old age.

Spotting this disease in pets can be difficult, as many of the signs are subtle and may be considered a normal part of aging. PDSA’s vets have put together a list of signs to look out for that could indicate your pet is affected.

Signs can include:

  • Confusion or disorientation – getting lost in familiar places or getting ‘trapped’ in a corner and not being able to find their way out.
  • Anxiety – some pets may develop separation anxiety
  • Loss of toilet training – soiling indoors or forgetting where the litter tray is.
  • Change of sleeping patterns – sleeping more during the day or less at night.
  • Change in social interaction and relationships – becoming withdrawn, seeming depressed or forgetting family members or other pets.
  • Loss of memory – not responding to familiar commands, forgetting previously learnt behaviours and difficulty in learning new tasks.
  • Changes in activity – reduced levels of activity or aimless pacing and staring into space.
  • Changes in vocalisations – howling or crying more, often at night
  • Change to appetite – usually a decrease, but sometimes they may ask for more as they seem to have forgotten they’ve already eaten.

PDSA vet, Lynne James, said: “These signs can indicate a dementia-like condition in pets, but there can be other causes, so it’s important to contact your vet as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis. Early detection is important, as this can often result in more successful treatment and management of the symptoms, so regular check-ups for elderly pets are key.”

While CDS can’t be completely cured, once your pet is diagnosed your vet may prescribe medication and dietary supplements to help them. They will also offer you tips and techniques to manage the condition, with the aim of improving your pet’s quality of life.

Owners can also take steps to help pets suffering with this condition by keeping the home as familiar as possible (avoiding moving furniture around). By using certain triggers, such as keeping the radio on in one particular room, your pet is reminded of where they are, helping them get around and know where to go next. Pets living with CDS need love, affection and understanding from family members more than ever.

The exact causes of the condition aren’t proven, but veterinary specialists suggest that a good diet, regular mental stimulation (e.g. exercising and playing outdoors) and companionship (for social animals like dogs) can all help to reduce the risks of animals developing the disease.

PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information: www.pdsa.org.uk/appeal.

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