Could your pet’s behavior changes be caused by a physical problem? Often the answer is yes, and those problems include dementia. Here’s what you should know.
Q: I inherited my mother’s 15-year-old cat, and I notice that she wanders and yowls in the middle of the night. My veterinarian said pets can get dementia, and this might be one of the signs. Is there anything we can do for her?
A: Your veterinarian is correct. Cats and dogs with dementia tend to show signs such as disorientation (getting “lost” in corners or staring into space); their interactions with people may change — for instance, maybe your cat doesn’t seek out your lap as often; sleep disruption, such as the night wandering and yowling you’ve noticed; housetraining misses; and changes in activity level. (The acronym to help remember dementia-related changes is DISHA.)
There’s no test for identifying dementia in pets, but veterinarians usually diagnose it after ruling out other health problems that could cause similar signs. For instance, aching knees or hips (leading to difficulty or pain getting in and out of the litter box) or urinary tract infections could cause housetraining issues. Pets with kidney disease or diabetes often have urine that looks sterile under a microscope but may actually be teeming with bacteria. Hypertension (high blood pressure) takes a toll on blood vessels in the brain, which may contribute to development of dementia.
The good news is that diet and medication may help. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and medium-chain triglycerides can enhance brain health. Medication is available to control hypertension in cats, lowering blood pressure to safer levels. And a drug called selegiline (Anipryl), which affects attentiveness and the sleep-wake cycle by altering the concentration of brain chemicals, sometimes helps. For pets with painful joints, we have medications that can ease the aches. These changes can help to slow the progression of cognitive dysfunction in pets and improve their quality of life.
There’s more – including managing and preventing heat injury – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.