Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Do Pets get Senile? Cognitive Dysfunction in Pets


Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a syndrome, so there are a group of signs that develop in pets as they become geriatric. It has been recognized in the dog for approximately 20 years, and in recent years has been studied in cats.As we discuss on the show, CDS has a number of signs that can be confusing for an owner to interpret. If there are other aging or health problems, the signs that look like CDS may be due to another problem, so it is essential to have your older pet keep up with health maintenance checks and screening tests yearly.

What are the signs of CDS? Think of DISH - Disorientation, Interaction, Sleep, Housetraining. So if your dog walks into the family room and stops, staring into space like "why did I come in here?" or stands at the hinge side of the door to go outside like they are confused, it may be CDS. If your cat is going towards the room where the litter box is, then stops and paces around like she is looking for something, it may be CDS. Does your cat or dog greet you when you come home? Do they bark or meow and seek attention from you or housemates like they usually would? Some dogs and cats will wake in the night as if they need to relieve themselves but don't. They may want to be fed or just meow loudly. This is the sleep cycle interruption we can see with CDS. It is very irritating to owners. Housetraining problems can be seen as well in both dogs and cats. If your dog is by the door but suddenly goes, it may be CDS. In cats they may get lost finding the litter box. There are forms with screening questions that you can use to see if your pet may be affected.

If you go on facebook, we have this posted there too.

In the photo is Amazing CJ - she likes her exams now at 16 years young.

These signs could also happening a blind, arthritic pet or one with kidney disease. This is why it is so important to bring any of these signs up to your veterinarian. There are a lot of ways to help your older pet with medical problems and they will  feel better, relieving some of these symptoms. Our cats seem to suffer the most before an owner brings them in  for care. Please do not wait. Age is not a disease. When they are showing these signs, it is difficult for you and your pet. Find a veterinarian who offers senior pet care, and is knowledgeable in senior pet behavior to help you and your senior pet. I have had a number of senior pet patients where it was not clear if they had early CDS or other problems. With a little investigation we were able to adjust pain medication and diet which helped a number of them.  Just focusing on signs is not enough.

In my 30 years experience as  a veterinarian, the most common early to mid stage signs of CDS in dogs is disorientation and interaction. From this I have also seen an older dog become anxious about noises, or being left alone unlike the past. My own dog Trooper developed a lick granuloma, a spot that he chronically licked on his back leg despite good pain management for his arthritis. When he went on Anipryl, one of the approved medications for CDS, he stopped licking his leg and was less upset about loud noises. In cats the most common signs I see are problems finding the litter box and nighttime vocalizing. Both of these problems really upset the owners and they may think the cat is just being naughty. Many of these cats are also dealing with arthritis in the lower back or elbow making it difficult to get to the litter box or sleep normally through the night. This is why it is essential to bring any cat over the age of 10 to regular yearly checkups. I know, your cat may not like coming in - there are ways to make it better for your cat! CJ is an example of an older cat who changed her mind about us with our gentle handling - I have a video of her exam, taking rewards and not struggling at all for us on our youtube channel DrSallyJFoote.

Seek a veterinarian who offers less stressful, fear free visits for cats (and dogs!) when you need to bring your pet in. I have many videos on low stress handling on my youtube channel that you can see and even try some of the ideas with your veterinarian.

 There are many treatment options for your dog or cat to help with CDS. B/D diet by Hills, supplements such as Novafit, Neutricks and Senilife are available. Anipryl by Zoetis is also an option. A veterinarian knowledgeable in senior pet health and behavior can help you and your pet make the last few years good years. You and your best friend will feel a whole lot better. Thanks and here's to wonderful days with your super senior pet.

- written by Dr. Sally Foote

Okaw Veterinary Clinic
140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953
(217) 253-3221


Mon & Fri 8 am - 6 pm
Tues & Wed 8 am - 5 pm
Sat 8 am - noon
Closed Thurs & Sun

Search our website:

Click the paw for our

online pharmacy