Pet Dementia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Pet Dementia

Believe it or not, Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome – commonly known as dementia – affects both humans and animals, especially in the later years of life. More often than not, the disease will present in behavioral, habitual and/or personality changes, but because these changes are so generalized, it’s important to seek diagnosis from a medical or veterinary professional.

White dog smiling with teeth showing

Symptoms of Pet Dementia

-          Confusion over ordinary events/actions

-          Unusual irritability

-          Anxiety or restlessness

-          Disregard of housebreaking or other rules

-          Inability to follow known routes or paths

-          Lack of interest in playing

-          Loss of appetite

-          Problems sleeping

-          Excessive licking

-          Urinary/fecal incontinence

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Animal brains age much like human brains. In fact, researchers have found the brains of cats and dogs experiencing cognitive dysfunction have the same type of protein plaque deposits found in human brains that are experiencing similar cognitive dysfunction. Aging itself may cause some of this decline. However, it is possible that some animals may be genetically predisposed to producing these abnormal brain deposits.

Dogs 8+
Cats 11+


While there is no cure for dementia, there are treatments available to help reduce symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. However, treatment will not return the animal to his younger days. A number of treatment options are available:

Anipryl, generic name selegiline, is a medication that is used to treat Parkinson’s disease in humans and can also be used to stop worsening symptoms of cognitive dysfunction in pets.

Special diets, manufactured by pet food companies such as Hill’s brand and Purina One,
contain ingredients that, according to their claims, help to boost cognitive function.

Herbal, natural treatment for dementia such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, SAM-e, and gingko biloba can provide reduction of the symptoms of cognitive decline.

Providing toys that encourage problem solving, such as treat-releasing toys and puzzles can help to stimulate mental activity.

Regular exercise is important to provide sensory stimulation and active interest in what’s going on around the animal.

Treatment by a behavioral therapist can help to remind and reinforce housebreaking and other house rules.


You can help your pet cope with many mental changes by keeping a regular schedule and a stable physical environment that reduces confusion and anxiety. Providing the right diet and medications s/he needs can help slow the progress of the disease. Stimulating the animal with regular play sessions and outings will help keep him/her alert and interested in things going on around them. Going for rides and visits to the park can also be beneficial.

Because pets receive better care and live longer than ever before, cognitive dysfunction is becoming a bigger problem within the pet population, so it’s important to stay vigilant! Medication, whether conventional or natural treatment for dementia, combined with proper care can help these animals maintain function and quality of life for a longer period of time.

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