Life expectancy in dogs and cats is increasing, which is great news
What isn't so great is that our elderly beloved pets are more likely to develop behavioural problems associated with brain changes (Cognitive Dysfunction, CD) - just like in the aging human population.
The UK dog population is approximately 10 million, of which a third are considered to be seniors. Most of these will be small to medium breed dogs, as these have the longest life expectancy.
The senior cat population in the UK has been estimated at 2.5 million, with a study indicating that over 50% of cats over the age of 15 have signs of cognitive dysfunction.
What are the signs to look out for?
There are 5 groups of signs, affected pets will show one or more of the following:
ACTIVITY - more wandering/pacing/restlessness (increased purposeless activity) with less 'purposeful' activity ie less energy, more apathy.
DISORIENTATION - not recognising family members, getting lost in familiar locations, going to the wrong side of the door
INTERACTIONS - less social contact/play, less greeting behaviour, barking or yowling at night for no apparent reason, fearful of familiar people or pets
SLEEP-WAKE CYCLE - restless sleep, waking at night, increased daytime and total sleep (ie sleeping more but at the wrong times)
HOUSE SOILING - indoor elimination at random sites, without giving owners any warning. Going outdoors then coming inside and messing in the house.
What can be done to help my pet with this problem?
If you think your pet may have cognitive dysfunction, please come and see us. Our vets have all received extra training in how to help recognise this condition, and can make recommendations.
Our approach is to thoroughly check your pet over to rule out other diseases, which can then be treated in many instances.
Your pet may benefit from medication that studies have shown to improve the signs of CD.
Environmental enrichment helps eg practicing voice commands with your dog, playing with them, grooming and other owner-pet interactions.