As beloved members of our families, our pets bring joy and companionship into our lives. However, just like us, dogs and cats also age, and with age, they can experience cognitive dysfunction and senility. Though are pets do not get Alzheimer’s Disease, they can experience a significant decline in their cognitive health. Understanding these issues can help you, the pet parent, provide the best care and support for their aging furry friends.

What Is Cognitive Dysfunction?

Cognitive dysfunction, often referred to as senility or dementia in pets, is a condition that affects the cognitive function of geriatric dogs and cats. It is similar to the human condition of Alzheimer’s disease. Just as with humans, pets can experience a decline in mental abilities as they age.

Common Signs and Symptoms

  1. Disorientation: Older pets may become disoriented, frequently getting lost in familiar surroundings or staring blankly into space. This can be distressing for both pets and their owners.
  2. Changes in Sleep Patterns: Senile pets may experience changes in their sleep-wake cycle, leading to restlessness at night and increased daytime sleeping.
  3. House Soiling: Inappropriate urination and defecation can be a sign of cognitive dysfunction, as pets may forget their housetraining habits.
  4. Altered Interaction: Geriatric pets may become less interested in interacting with their owners, display changes in temperament, or even exhibit aggression.
  5. Decreased Activity: A noticeable decline in physical activity and playfulness can be an indication of cognitive dysfunction.


Recent research has shed light on cognitive dysfunction in geriatric dogs and cats, helping veterinarians and pet owners better understand this condition. Some key findings and studies include:

  1. Prevalence and Risk Factors: A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that cognitive dysfunction is more common in older pets, with an estimated 68% of dogs aged 15 and older affected by some level of cognitive decline. The same study identified specific risk factors such as breed, age, and medical conditions.
  2. Neurologic Changes: Research using advanced imaging techniques has provided insight into the neurological changes associated with cognitive dysfunction. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of senile dogs have shown alterations in brain structure and blood flow, which correspond to cognitive deficits.
  3. Nutritional Interventions: Research conducted by the National Institute on Aging has explored the potential benefits of dietary interventions. Certain nutrients, such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, have shown promise in slowing the progression of cognitive dysfunction in older pets.

If you suspect that your dog or cat is experiencing cognitive dysfunction, there are several steps you can take to provide support and improve their quality of life:

  1. Consult Your Veterinarian: The first step is to consult with your veterinarian. They can perform a thorough examination and recommend treatment options, which may include medication or dietary changes. Laboratory work is needed as well to rule out any underlying metabolic, endocrine or inflammatory processes.
  2. Mental Stimulation: Engage your pet in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzle toys and interactive play. These activities can help keep their minds active. I’m a huge fan of lick pats, puzzle bowls and snuffle mats. Look them up and then get them!
  3. Maintain a Consistent Routine: Establishing a consistent daily routine can help reduce anxiety and confusion for your senior pet. Thought some pets get their days and nights confused, it’s helpful in maintaining a consistent routine.
  4. Quality Nutrition: Ensure your pet receives a well-balanced diet, and consider discussing with your veterinarian the potential benefits of specific nutrients known to support cognitive function. Diets high in medium chain triglycerides and omega fatty acids may help delay the onset of cognitive dysfunction.
  5. Medication. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medication (Selegiline for example) to manage the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction. It’s essential to follow their guidance closely. Not every dog or cats responds the same way.

Cognitive dysfunction in geriatric dogs and cats is a challenging condition, but with awareness and appropriate care, pet owners can make a significant difference in the lives of their aging companions. Recent research continues to advance our understanding of this condition, offering hope for better management and treatment options. If you suspect your pet is suffering from cognitive dysfunction, consult your veterinarian for guidance and support to provide the best possible care in their golden years.

Adam Christman, DVM, MBA

Chief Veterinary Officer
MJH Life Sciences


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