page header image

Your Happy Pet: Is Your Pet Confused?

Original Publication Date: November 17, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

You may notice personality and behavioral changes in your cat or dog as he or she ages.

We used to call the condition old pet syndrome. It is now recognized in cats and dogs as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a disease that is similar to Alzheimer's in people.

Recent studies estimate 50 percent of dogs over 10 years of age and 55 percent of cats over 11 years of age exhibit symptoms of CDS. The percentages grow with increasing age.

A pet may exhibit one or more of the symptoms of CDS. Disorientation is a primary indication of cognitive dysfunction.

A pet may appear lost in their own home or yard, get stuck in corners or under furniture, or go to the wrong door or the hinge side of the door when wanting out. Other noticeable signs of CDS are a pet's failure to recognize familiar people and to respond to his name.

Sleep patterns may also change noticeably. A pet may begin to sleep more hours than they did in their youth but may begin to prowl and vocalize at night rather than sleep. Many pets become less attentive to attention and affection from their humans while some seek human contact 24 hours a day. Others lose interest in food and eat little.

Housetraining often becomes a forgotten art. A cat may neglect to use the litter pan, and a dog may forget to signal they need to go out. They are not getting sloppy in their senior years. They are simply becoming absentminded.

Disorientation, loss of recognition, changes in the sleep-wake cycle, and loss of house training indicate your pet needs a physical exam. There is no test for CDS, but your veterinarian can rule out cancer, infection, drug side effects and other medical conditions that might be prompting the altered activity. When other causes are eliminated, CDS is the diagnosis.

The exact cause of CDS is not known, however, several modifications have been identified in the brains of aging pets. A protein called beta-amyloid accumulates in the brain and forms abnormal protein deposits called plaques. Nerve cells die off, the brain shrinks, and cerebrospinal fluid fills the space left by the atrophied brain. Neuropsychological testing suggests these changes lead to CDS.

There is no cure for CDS, but intervention can slow the progression of the disease. Your veterinarian may recommend an antioxidant-rich diet or supplements including ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, selenium, L-carnitine, Omega-3, flavonoids, carotenoids, or SAMe which support cognitive function. The drug, Anipryl, may be prescribed for dogs. A daily routine of exercise, play, and training are also helpful.

Be patient with your aging pet if he develops a few personality or behavioral quirks. Pets with cognitive dysfunction syndrome require life-long therapy and support. Keep in mind that we humans also become a bit absentminded with age.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at