Dealing with dementia in pets

National Dementia Awareness Week takes place from 18 to 24 May and aims to raise awareness and understanding of the condition, which affects as many as 800,000 people in the UK. But vet charity PDSA is alerting owners that pets too can suffer from a very similar condition as they become older.

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Dementia is an ‘umbrella’ term that is used to describe a set of symptoms that are 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 old age.

Spotting this disease in pets can be more difficult than with humans, so PDSA has put together a list of signs to look out for that could indicate your pet is affected.

Signs can include:
· Confusion or disorientation – getting lost in familiar places or getting ‘trapped’ in a corner and not being able to find their way out.
· Loss of toilet training – soiling indoors 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· Change in social interaction and relationships – becoming more withdrawn, seeming depressed or forgetting members of the family or other pets.
· 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.
· Changes in vocalisations – howling or crying more than usual, often at night
· Change to appetite – usually a decrease, but sometimes an increase occurs as the animal appears to forget it has already eaten.

PDSA vet, Vicki Larkham, said: “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 as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis. Early detection is important, as this can often result in more successful treatment or management of many conditions, so regular check-ups for elderly pets are key.”
If a pet is diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction syndrome, then your vet may prescribe medication, or recommend ways of managing the condition, which can help pets have an improved quality of life for some time after the original onset of illness.

Owners can also take steps to help pets suffering with this condition including avoiding moving things in the house; increasing other environmental clues, such as keeping the radio on in a particular room to help navigation; encourage interaction and retraining.:

The exact causes of cognitive dysfunction syndrome aren’t proven, but veterinary specialists suggest that a good diet, regular mental stimulation (e.g. exercising and playing outdoors) and companionship (for social animals like dogs) can all help to reduce the risks of animals developing the disease.

PDSA is on a mission to educate the nation on pet wellbeing and is delighted that funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is helping the charity to continue this vital work.