Dog and cat

Farmers might want to consider having dogs and cats together on the farm to discourage rodent pests, says a University of Florida researcher.

Have you ever noticed that your elderly dog or cat sometimes forgets where they are, what they are doing, or sometimes even who you are – almost like they have dementia or Alzheimer’s? If so, a trip to your veterinarian to discuss Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is warranted.

What is CDS?

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a degenerative disorder of the nerves in the brain resulting in a gradual decline in cognitive ability.

What happens with CDS?

Multiple changes happen when a pet’s brain ages. The brain will decrease in total weight and size which in turn, means less neurons in the brain. The extra space is then filled with cerebrospinal fluid. An accumulation of amyloid may occur, which results in degeneration of the synapses between neurons and cell loss. Blood flow can be compromised by microhemorrhages and infarcts. Metabolic processes are altered, resulting in increased free radicals that can be toxic to cells.

What are the clinical signs of CDS?

Elderly pets with CDS may become confused as to where they are and may wander, stare off into space or walk to places they usually don’t go. They may forget previously known tricks and commands and forget to ask to go to the bathroom. Sometimes repetitive activity or purposeless activity may be seen. Conversely, a decrease in activity may be seen. Pets with CDS often times will have decreased or altered interactions or responses to family members. They may have changes in their sleep cycles with increased nighttime walking, restlessness, anxiety or irritability.

How is CDS diagnosed?

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome can be diagnosed with clinical signs, eliminating medical causes of clinical signs, and by demonstrating a positive response to treatment. Video cameras in the home or cell phone video can help your veterinarian better understand your pet’s behaviors and habits, which in turn helps them diagnose CDS.

How is CDS treated?

Although there is no cure for Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, we can try to improve their clinical signs. Antioxidants are important to decrease the metabolites that are toxic to cells. We can put antioxidants in their food or can give it to them as a pill. Some practitioners will add an anti-inflammatory to decrease inflammation in the brain. Environmental enrichment by the addition of new toys, playing with other dogs, and more outdoor activities may also help.

What is the prognosis for pets with CDS?

Pets with CDS can live to their expected lifespan if that decision is supported by their owners and their veterinarian. We see a handful of patients with CDS every year, but the more we look for it and educate our clients, the more we find it. If you suspect your pet has CDS, contact your veterinarian sooner rather than later to start them on medications that can help slow down the process.

Dr. Lainie Kringen-Scholtz is Associate Veterinarian at Animal Medical Care, based in Brookings, South Dakota.

The Vet Report is provided in conjunction with Prairie View Veterinary Clinic with locations in Miller, Redfield, Wessington Springs and Highmore, S.D. Questions? Send an email to owner Eric Knock, DVM, at or write 321 E. 14th St., Miller, SD 57362.

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