Therapies and Treatments for Dogs and Cats with Dementia (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome)

Realizing your pet may have dementia can be confusing for pet and pet owner! Understanding what are the next best steps to help your pet are key to helping slow progression and maximing the quality of time that you have with your pet. Its important to be familiar with signs and symptoms of dementia so that you recognize it quickly, consult with your veterinarian and begin therapy. Hospice veterinarians are specially trained to compassionately help your pet and guide you with the latest therapies. Below is a list of therapies and treatments that may help your pet enjoy life more and slow down dementia progression.

Best selling author Eileen Anderson of “Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction” shares her personal experience and knowledge about dog dementia in this blog, as well as therapies helped her dog Cricket, who had dementia for several years.

Eileen suggests the best place to begin:

“Learn what your pet still enjoys doing, make modifications so they can continue to do them.”

  1. Make a list of what your pet still enjoys doing:

What does your pet presently enjoy? Is your pet able to safely and comfortably do these activities? If not, think about how you can modify the activities so that they can continue to enjoy them. Be mindful and aware that the activities should not be physically or mentally difficult or cause fear or stress. For example, a pet that loves to fetch and retrieve a ball can still enjoy these activities, even as their mental and physical capability declines. Be sure the terrain is safe and easy to navigate. When tossing the ball be sure it is not going to far or becoming camouflaged by other objects making it difficult to detect. If you have other pets, also consider that that they may want to also retrieve and compete for the ball, so it may be beneficial to separate pets for this time so your pet with dementia doesn’t become frustrated by having to compete. As pets age, often times mobility is affected, so you may also consider rolling the ball to them.

2. Stimulate your pet’s nose and sense of smell:

Your pet has an amazing sense of smell. Did you know that the average dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us humans? There is also a portion of a dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing and interpreting smells, which is proportionally 40 times greater than our! Scientists estimate that the dog’s brain can identify smells 1000 to 10,000 times better than humans. Felines also have an impressive sense of smell. Cats have 4x the amount of odor sensitive cells compared with humans and they also have a scent organ in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal (or Jacobson's) organ. Simply put your pet smells the world and environment much differently than we do!

Combine your pet’s extremely powerful sense of smell and keep them mentally stimulated, to help slow brain aging. Scenting and tracking nose games are a fun way to engage your pet. They can also preserve problem solving skills. Begin with an easy scent game that ensures quick success & reward for your pet. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Purchase a food puzzle, encouraging your pet to sniff for their treat or meal. There are several options online for dogs and cats. If the food puzzle has slots where your pet has to find the slot with food, it is best to put food in all the slots so your pet can easily find the food and not become frustrated

  • Make your own food puzzle, such as filing a cookie sheet or muffin tin with treats or food. Hide a few pieces of kibble or a treat in a cardboard box or empty paper towel roll. Watch your pet to be sure they don’t eat the cardboard!

  • Hide a treat or kibble under a blankie, around a corner, etc and watch your pet sniff to find it

#3 Stimulate your pet’s other senses:

By stimulating your pet’s senses, you can continue to help and encourage them be to engaged with family and their environment and enjoy life more. Many pets with dementia have some level of anxiety, by stimulating your pet mentally and exercising them, you can help them get some energy out, often helping decrease anxiety. Always be mindful of when your pet needs a break physically or mentally, all of these activities should be pleasurable for them, not strenuous or difficult, physically or mentally.

  • Increase one on one interactive play and quality time with your pet

  • Introduce new toys to keep you pet stimulated

  • Increase the frequency of walks and play, especially if the duration is shortened

  • Create new exercise routines that are easy for you pet to enjoy and complete

  • Introduce new smells; Take your pet to a new place to sniff around or simply allowing your pet to smell grocery bags after a shopping trip can be mentally stimulating

  • Calming music and sounds can stimulate your pets hearing and help calm anxiety. The vibrations may be helpful even if your pet is deaf!

  • Tactile stimulation and changes can exercise your pet’s brain and balance, such as walking over novel surfaces like bubble wrap, foam cushions, sand, mulch or smooth pebbles

  • Install window ledges for cats so they can view the outside

  • Add bird feeders so pets can watch the birds and hear their songs

  • Keep the window blinds and curtains open for visual stimulation

  • Add pheromones to your pet’s environment to help reduce anxiety

#4 Create a Safe Environment for your Pet

Make sure your pet has a safe environment make modifications to prevent trauma, including modifying your own behavior as a pet owner. Many pets with dementia and cognitive dysfunction have a more difficult time with restlessness and anxiety during the night time hours, so its important to also think their nighttime environment.

  • Install nonslip flooring

  • Block off stairways

  • Shut doors to decrease access to areas of the home that could pose dangers

  • Round off corners with padding

  • Make food and water more available by placing bowls in additional locations and / or by raising exciting bowls

  • Monitor food and water intake

  • Block off areas that your pet could get stuck

  • Open doors carefully and slowly

  • Keep your pet in sight

  • Go outside with your dog every time he/ she is out

  • Change your family’s schedule so someone is home more frequently with your pet

  • Take your dog out frequently to go to the bathroom to help curb or decrease accidents in the home

  • Have absorbent blankets or padding out and available if your pet is housesoiling frequently

  • Night lights may help reduce anxiety and increase visibility for your pet

#5 Supportive Supplements

There are some supplements that may be helpful in slowing down cognitive decline, by reducing oxidative damage, clearing free radicals and overall supporting brain health. Many of these supportive supplements are high in antioxidants.

  • Omega 3 fatty acids may may help protect brain cells against the damaging effects of aging. There are formulations for cats and dogs, in liquid or capsules. Fish oils also are helpful with a variety of other conditions that may affect your pet.

  • Senilife by Ceva: Contains a naturally occurring membrane phospholipid, provides neuronal protection, helps maintains neuron function in the aging brain, has antioxidant activity and aides in improved cerebral blood circulation. A study demonstrated it improved short term memory in older beagles.

  • Denamarin by Nutramax: Best known for supporting the liver in dogs and cats, however research has shown that the S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) in Denamarin may help support cognitve function in dogs. Denamarin provides SAMe in a stabilized form to help with brain health and act as a neuroprotector, as well as a bioavailable form of silybin which supports oxidative balance. Available in Tablets or chewables.

  • Solliquin by Nutramax: Includes a combination of L-theanine, Magnolia and Philodendron extracts, helping reduce signs of anxiety in pets, a common sequelae of pet dementia. Comes in a soft chew or tablet for dogs and cats.

  • Vetriscience Composure: Contains Purified l-theanine, a calming supplement to support relaxation in situations that cause nervousness, anxiety or stress. Formulations for dogs and cats.

#6 Be Proactive with Pain Control

Pain that your pet may be experiencing can contribute to restlessness, a common symptom of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, and compromises your pet’s quality of life. Unmanaged pain in your pet could even mimic dementia in pets, making it all the more important to have pain addressed. Consult with a hospice veterinarian about the best pain reliever options for pet.

#7 Beneficial Diets

Diets that are high in antioxidants, long & medium chain omega 3 fatty acids may be beneficial in slowing progression of brain aging. There are several prescription diets available (these require a prescription), consult with your hospice veterinarian to discuss the best options for your pet.

#8 Tackle Anxiety, Sleep Disorders & Night Waking

Anxiety, sleep disorders and night waking are common issues for pets with dementia. Always speak with your veterinarian first before starting a supplement or medication and remember that aging pets may be more sensitive to drugs.

  • Melatonin is a hormone that may be used for sleep disorders, it is typically given 30 minutes prior to bedtime.

  • Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (benadryl), hydroxyzine and chlorpheniramine may help some affected pets.

  • Thundershirt may help with anxiety and overall calmness for your pet, available in a variety of sizes for dogs and cats. #9 Medications to help with pet dementia & cognitive dysfunction syndrome

    • Anipryl (Selegiline): Used to help control of signs associated with canine Cognitive Dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Is a selective monoamine oxidase -B inhibitor, which could enhance catecholamine neuronactivity and increases dopamine levels in dogs. Cur

#9 Medications to help with pet dementia & cognitive dysfunction syndrome

  • Anipryl (Selegiline): Used to help control of signs associated with canine Cognitive Dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Is a selective monoamine oxidase -B inhibitor, which could enhance catecholamine neuronactivity and increases dopamine levels in dogs. Currently the only drug approved for use in dogs with CDS. The American Association of Feline Practitioners supports its use in cats with CDS diagnosed by a veterinarian. Anipryl® has several drug interactions, be sure to discuss all medications and supplements, including flea and tick products with your hospice veterinarian so that he/she can determine if it is safe for your pet to take this medication concurrently. Blood and urine testing are often preformed before starting this medication to ensure your pet is healthy enough to take it.

On the horizon, stem cell research in dogs is promising! It may even be able to reverse cognitive dysfunction! In the meantime, dog dementia guru and author of “Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction” Eileen Anderson has thoughtful, timeless advice:

"Love the dog in front of you. Focus on what your dog can do. Don’t focus on what your dog can no longer do.”

Special thanks to Eileen Anderson for her contributions to this article and sharing her story with us.