Dementia is not exclusive to humans, but can also affect our four-legged friends too – and pet charity PDSA is helping to educate pet owners about the signs and symptoms to look out for in older pets.
Dementia is an umbrella term which is used to describe a set of symptoms caused by a gradual loss of brain function. Symptoms are varied but can include memory loss, confusion and poor attention, and onset is generally associated with growing older.
What are the signs of dementia in animals?
- Confusion or disorientation – getting lost in familiar places or getting ‘trapped’ in a corner of room because they seem unable to find their way out.
- Loss of toilet training – soiling indoors, wanting to go out at unusual times including at night, 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- Change in social interaction and relationships – becoming more withdrawn, seeming depressed or forgetting members of the family.
- 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.
- Vocalising differently or for no apparent reason – howling or crying more than usual, often at night.
- Change to appetite – usually a decrease, but sometimes an increase occurs as the pet appears to forget they have already eaten.
“While it can be tricky to spot the signs, recognising them and taking your pets to the vet as early as possible for a diagnosis is important,” explains PDSA vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan.
“These signs can indicate a dementia-like condition in pets, but a number of them can also be caused by other diseases, so it’s important to visit your vet.
“Regular check-ups for elderly pets are key to spotting health problems early and getting them under control before they become stressful or unmanageable for you.”
Managing dementia in pets
Cognitive dysfunction can’t be cured, but it can be managed.
If your pet is diagnosed, your vet will recommend ways of managing the condition which could help your pet have an improved quality of life.
They may also prescribe medication as well as brain function-supporting supplements or food.
Steps owners can take include avoiding moving things in the house suddenly; increasing other environmental clues, like keeping the radio on in a room to help navigation; encouraging interaction with family members by making it a positive experience; providing mental stimulation, such as training, play or foraging activities; and gently retraining some skills like where to go to the toilet.
For more advice and information, visit www.pdsa.org.uk