Can My Pet Have Alzheimer’s?

Our geriatric pets can get a disease that is very similar to Alzheimer’s in people, and it’s called cognitive dysfunction. We are seeing this condition more and more now because our pets are living longer and longer. This is thanks to increased access to preventative veterinary care and better nutrition. It’s not uncommon to see cats living to 16 years of age and dogs living until 14 years of age now, and still be in good physical condition. But the mind sometimes will not be.  In fact, mild symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome are found in 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11, and 50 percent of cats over the age 15!

Signs of cognitive dysfunction in your older pet:

  1. Disorientation: Owners usually notice that their pet is acting strange- staring at the wall in a room they don’t usually venture into, walking aimlessly or in circles, getting stuck behind couches/furniture and being unable to free themselves.
  2. Interaction: A once happy go lucky pet may become reserved and interact less with family members. They will stop reacting to a doorbell, or even a toy like they used to. Sometimes a drastic personality change can be seen and they easily growl or snap-in situations where, in the past, they never would have.
  3. Changes in sleep cycle: Pets may sleep all day, and then pace and be vocal (whine or meow) all night.
  4. Loss of housetraining/litter training: a once perfectly trained pet may start having accidents in the house like they are a puppy or a kitten.


Cognitive dysfunction is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning your veterinarian will run blood and urine tests, as well as a full physical exam, to make sure there is no medical reason for your pets change in behaviour. If all is well, then a diagnosis of cognitive dysfunction can be made based on history and clinical signs.


There is no specific treatment for cognitive dysfunction, but one thing that does help is to keep the brain active. Getting them to perform their known tricks for their treats, or even teaching them new ones is a great way to stimulate the brain. Regularly schedule play or cuddle sessions with your senior pet every day.  In addition, for dogs, getting them outside- even a short 10-minute walk around the block does wonders! A diet high in antioxidants, fatty acids and L-carnitine will help as well. Talk to your veterinarian for specific diet recommendations for this disease.

There is one medication, as well, called selegiline, and that along with keeping the brain stimulated can help lessen the signs of the disease.

If you think your pet is experiencing cognitive dysfunction please don’t hesitate to contact us at Acadia Veterinary Hospital. We would be happy to talk further about the disease and help you to improve the quality of life of your geriatric pet.

Written by Acadia Veterinary Hospital