Dementia in Pets

How to recognise the signs this Dementia Action Week (17 – 23 May) and what you can do to help

We know that dementia significantly affects the lives of many, and the outcomes can have a huge impact on individuals’ day-to-day lives. But unfortunately, most of us aren’t aware that our pets can experience a similar condition too.

PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing said: “Our pets can get something called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), which many people can relate to as dementia in humans. It’s a heart-breaking disease, but there are things you can do to help your pet continue to live a happy life.”

What are the signs of dementia in pets?

“The first symptoms most people spot are confusion or disorientation, their pets crying or barking at strange times of the day or night. Your pet might start to get lost in familiar places, stop responding to commands they usually respond to, and have difficulty learning new things.

“You may also notice a change in routine and activity – CDS can affect your pet’s sleeping pattern, toilet training and even their appetite. They can become less active, or start to pace around more and look as if they’re staring into space.

“Many of us are very in tune with our pets, so you may begin to notice a shift in their personality. Your pet can become more withdrawn and seem depressed, or appear less interactive with family members and other pets. You may find that your pet becomes increasingly anxious, especially if left alone. Coming to terms with these behavioural changes is not easy, but it’s really important to take your pet to the vet to be properly diagnosed in order to move forward.”

What should I do if I think my pet has dementia?

“Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a cure for CDS, but great progress has been made in research. Medication is now available to help reduce symptoms and slow progression of the illness, and there are helpful steps you can take at home too. The earlier you start with medication the better, to try to get the illness under control.

“Keep your pet’s environment as familiar as possible. If you’re planning on making any changes to the layout of your house, even just moving your sofa, try to do this gradually and give your pet time to adjust. You can even leave cues to help them find their way around, such as keeping a radio on in a room they often go into.

“Though it can be frustrating, don’t get angry with your pet if they keep getting confused or have an accident. Gently retrain some of the things they may have forgotten (like toilet training) and keep interactions positive, rewarding them with treats when they correctly respond to a command.

“Even in old age, it’s important that our pets stay fit and healthy. Encouraging fun activities and playing games with them can really help to keep their brain active and help to enhance their quality of life.”

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.

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3 thoughts on “Dementia in Pets

  1. Jennie @ Ragdoll Cats World says:

    My 18 year old Ragdoll Cat recently passed away and he was showing signs of mild dementia towards the end of his life. He would walk into a room and just look so confused and was constantly staring into space. So distressing to see.

  2. Willow Croft says:

    I kinda thought my cat Lettuce was having some of this issue. I’ve very rarely had positive relationships with vets in terms of getting proper diagnoses, but I could tell she was acting a little forgetful and such, even without a proper vet diagnosis. She was about twenty-one years old.

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