Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a decline in brain function without any underlying medical disease. Cognitive dysfunction is similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s in humans, where we can see degeneration in the brain lead to disorientation and changes in behaviour.

CDS has been shown to occur in 28% of dogs between the ages of 11 and 12, and 68% of dogs between the ages of 15 and 16. In cats, research suggests that 28% of cats between the ages of 11 and 14 years old will show at least one sign consistent with CDS. Like dogs, as cats become 15 years of age or older, the probability of them showing at least one sign of CDS significantly increases.

So what exactly are the signs of CDS? The acronym DISHAA has been created to help owners and veterinarians recognize the signs of CDS in their pet.

  • Disorientation: wandering, unfamiliarity with furniture and objects, loss of awareness
  • Interaction changes: decreased interaction with people and animals in the household
  • Sleep/Wake cycle changes: inability to settle overnight, increased sleeping during the day
  • House soiling: urinating or defecating indoors when previously housebroken
  • Activity level changes: aggravation, decreased appetite and responses to stimuli
  • Anxiety: increased restlessness, development of fears, development of separation anxiety

Diagnosis of CDS is generally one of exclusion: this means that any other medical explanation for the changes described for DISHAA is ruled out first. With age, many pets can experience pain-related aggression from osteoarthritis, house soiling from incontinence, and disorientation from neurological conditions. Your veterinarian should first investigate these conditions before diagnosing CDS in your pet.

Treatment of CDS is mainly focused on supporting your pet and changing their environment. Toys and games that are puzzle-based, as well as exercise, can help to stimulate your pet’s mind. There are a few veterinary diets that contain ingredients including various antioxidants that have been shown to help increase brain function, as well as daily supplements that your pet can take.

If you believe your pet has CDS, please consult with your veterinarian.

Written by Dr. Justine Antunes, DVM