Pet Dementia: The signs and advice I wish I'd known
Vets4Pets has recently revealed that more than a quarter of pet owners don’t know the signs of pet dementia.
Now, one woman has shared the signs and symptoms she missed, admitting that she didn’t know pet dementia existed before her dog was diagnosed.
Cathy Owen is a Head Nurse at Vets4Pets in Cambridgeshire and has had her labrador, Louie, since he was around two years old.
Cathy explained: “I first noticed something wasn’t right when Louie was seven and a half. He had always been an outdoor dog, but he gradually went outside less and less and stopped playing with our other dogs.
“We noticed Louie would regularly stand and stare blankly in the garden or at a wall, he would often walk into things and started to become aggressive which was entirely out of character.
“We were increasingly concerned about Louie, so I brought him to the vet practice where I work for advice. My boss initially thought Louie might have a brain tumour based on his symptoms, but this was ruled out with a scan, and he was later diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction syndrome.”
Now, four years later, Cathy says she doesn’t think Louie would still be here without his early diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
“At the time, I didn’t realise dogs could get dementia but when I started to research it, I recognised a lot of the signs in Louie.
“Once we had the diagnosis, we were able to treat him with the correct medication and supplements, and saw a huge difference in him. Not only did his symptoms reduce, but he went outside to play again and became the happy dog he used to be.”
Dr Huw Stacey, Director of Clinical Services at Vets4Pets, added: “We believe there could be close to one million senior cats and dogs in the UK living with dementia undiagnosed. Cathy’s case is proof that early diagnosis is the key to helping our pets live longer, healthier and happier lives, so it’s important pet owners can spot the signs.
“Confusion, anxiety, restlessness, and a decreased desire to play can all be symptoms of dementia. And, as in Louie’s case, other symptoms can include staring into space when there is nothing there and getting stuck behind furniture.”
Cathy added that since Louie’s diagnosis, pet dementia is something they quite commonly diagnose at the practice and having a case at home has helped her to be acutely aware of the warning signs in patients.
“I’d estimate we’ve seen around a 30 per cent increase in dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome at the practice. We see it much more frequently in dogs than cats, and it seems to be mostly in dogs over the age of nine.”
Both Cathy and Dr Huw have reassured pet owners that with the right treatment there are many ways pet owners can help to alleviate the symptoms of dementia for their pets.
Dr Huw Stacey advised: “Both improvements in diet and increased mental stimulation can help to improve brain health, which can slow the progression of pet dementia, and there are specific medications and supplements that can also help.”
Cathy added: “We were advised to try to keep everything the same for Louie so we avoided changing room layouts and tried to maintain as much of a routine as possible. We also use snuffle mats to keep his mind active and engaged.
“I’d encourage all pet owners to be aware of the signs and symptoms of dementia and for anyone who notices their pet acting differently to visit their vet.”
Vets4Pets has been working to raise awareness of the condition in cats and dogs to empower pet owners like Cathy to spot the signs and symptoms.
Dr Huw Stacey has also shared his top five tips on pet dementia for pet owners:
- Know the signs: Vets4Pets has created online symptom trackers for cats and dogs to help identify symptoms, but key signs include confusion, anxiety and restlessness.
- Speak to your vet: Regular visits to the vet are important to keep your pet healthy, happy and safe, but remember to speak to your vet if you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior too.
- Be empathetic: If your pet is diagnosed with dementia, it’s important to be patient with them and try to keep their home surroundings as familiar and friendly as possible.
- Keep them engaged: As well as giving your pet plenty of love, make sure to continue walking and playing with them to keep them active and engaged.
- Talk about it: Help Vets4Pets to raise awareness of pet dementia by telling friends and family with older pets about the signs and symptoms to look out for and to help more pets live longer, healthier and happier lives.
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Vets4Pets is part of the Pets at Home Group plc, which includes Pets at Home, Vets4Pets and The Groom Room. Together, we are the UK’s leading pet care business, providing pet owners with everything they need to be able to look after their pets.
Vets4Pets is one of the largest veterinary groups in the UK with a national network of practices run by partners who enjoy clinical freedom and the autonomy to do things their way.
Each Vets4Pets practice offers a comprehensive range of treatments for small animals, from vaccinations, neutering, general healthcare and advice to the more specialised services of intensive care medicine and surgical procedures.
The majority of practices are accredited on the RCVS Practice Standards scheme, and several have also received Cat Friendly Clinic Gold and Silver accreditation from ISFM and Rabbit Friendly Gold and Silver accreditation from the RWAF. Some Vets4Pets practices have also received awards from outside the veterinary industry. Vets4Pets Alsager, became the first veterinary practice in the UK to receive the Autism Friendly Award from the National Autistic Society in 2019, and Vets4Pets Milton Keynes was awarded Silver in Investors in the Environment 2021.