How to recognise the signs this Dementia Action Week (20–26 May) and what you can do to help
There are an estimated 850,000* people living with Dementia across the UK and, thanks to raised awareness and support services available, those diagnosed with the disease can live long and fulfilling lives. While many of us can recognise the signs in humans, most of us aren’t aware that our pets can also experience similar symptoms.
PDSA Vet Nurse, Shauna Spooner, said: “Similar to Dementia, our pets can develop a condition called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) as they reach older age, which can affect their memory and lead to confusion, anxiety and disorientation. It can be distressing to witness but, by taking time to understand how this affects our pets, we can help them to continue living happy, healthy lives.
Spotting the signs of CDS
“The first symptoms of CDS in pets can be confusion or disorientation. They may start to get lost in familiar places, stop responding to learnt commands, or have difficulty learning new things. Observing a change in routine and activity is also not uncommon with CDS, as it 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 appear as if they’re staring into space.
“Many of us are very in tune with our precious pets, so you may begin to notice a shift in their personality. They can become more withdrawn and appear less like themselves, interacting with family members and other pets less frequently. You may find that your pet becomes increasingly anxious, especially if left alone. Coming to terms with these behavioural changes isn’t easy, but it’s important to visit your vet for a proper diagnosis in order to move forward.
What should I do if I think my pet has Dementia?
“Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for CDS and the symptoms will sadly get worse over time, but progress has been made in research. Medication is now available to reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the illness, and there are helpful steps you can take at home. There are also some special diets and supplements which may help. Your vet will advise you on the best course of support.
“Try to keep your pet’s environment as familiar as possible. If you’re planning on making changes to the layout of your house, even as small as moving your sofa, try to do this gradually and give your pet time to adjust. You can even leave clues to help them find their way around, such as keeping a radio on in a room they often go into.
“Though it can be difficult adjusting to their condition, don’t get angry with your pet if they continue to become confused or have an accident. Gently retrain some of the things they may have forgotten, such as toilet training or basic commands, 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 remain fit and healthy. Encouraging fun activities and playing games with them can help to keep their brain active and enhance their quality of life.”
PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk
*Estimated number of people with dementia according to NHS England