age-old conundrum

Thanks in part to advancing veterinary medicine, our four-legged friends are living longer than ever. But as your pet reaches her “golden years,” you may notice behavior changes that leave you scratching your head — like a potty-trained cat having frequent accidents or a lounge hound howling and pacing the floor at night.

Changes like these are typical in older pets who are experiencing cognitive dysfunction, a condition similar to senile dementia in humans that occurs in cats and dogs alike. Common signs of cognitive dysfunction in pets include: changes in the sleep/wake cycle

  • increased vocalization
  • separation anxiety
  • inappropriate urination or defecation
  • disorientation and confusion
  • pacing and anxiety

Before assuming that your pet’s mental health is in decline, it’s important to rule out other medical problems that could be clouding the situation. Bladder issues, pain, arthritis and even metabolic disease (like under- or overactive thyroid function) could cause similar signs and can be treated medically.

If your pet is diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction, there are things you can do to help. Start by feeding a diet high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, as these have been shown to increase cognitive function. Over-the-counter and prescription medications can also be brain boosters, so if your golden oldie is showing signs of confusion, reach out to your vet for advice.