Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS)


Did you know that dogs and cats can develop behaviors in their old age that are the same as dementia in humans?  We know that we (humans) are prone to cognitive impairment as we age and that it affects our memory, attention, problem solving, and language.  We also can suffer from disorientation as the condition progresses.  Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia in people and some of the brain lesions that are found in human Alzheimer’s patients are the same type as we see in our pets.

Behaviors that you may see with CDS:
Inappropriate elimination
Memory loss (forgetting commands)
Irritability
Sleep disturbances
Restlessness
Barking/crying
Separation anxiety
Panting
Drooling
Obsessive licking or decreased grooming
Neediness or aggression
Changes in activity
Altered interest in food
Staring
Going to the wrong side of doors
Getting stuck in corners
Wandering
Forgetting they just ate
There are a few things we can do to help our pets maintain their cognitive function for longer.  Supplements such as SAM-e and Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been proven to diminish clinical signs of this syndrome or to improve performance in cognitive tasks.  There is a medication called L-Deprenyl that is used to treat CDS – it can take anywhere from 1 week to 3 months for changes to be noticed.  The earlier this medication is started, the better it works on pets.  Finally, just as with people, brain games can help pets.  In the case of pets, we call it “environmental enrichment”.  You can teach your dog or cat new tricks or you can teach them new signals for known tricks.  This comes in handy if, for example, you teach your dog hand signals for obedience commands and then he/she progressively loses hearing.  You can play daily with toys or play hide-and-seek.  Examples of these exercises include naming the toys your pet plays with, hiding in the house and then calling your pet to come find you, or showing your pet a toy, hiding it, then ask them to find it.  Finally, use laser pointers or electronic toys to keep your pet stimulated.  Even games of fetch require some effort from our pets.
When your pet seems to be just “getting old”, keep in mind there are things you can do to help him/her.  Ask your veterinarian to be sure there is not an underlying medical condition leading to the behavior changes you are seeing in your pet and if he/she gets the all-clear, then work to keep things stimulating to slow the progression of the syndrome. 
Dr. Amy Hellard
West Chester Veterinary Care