Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome

CDS is analogous to Alzheimer's disease in people.

Cognitive behavior issues include difficulties with spatial orientation (a sense of direction while moving around); problems with memory, learning, housetraining; and difficulty in recognizing and reacting to human family members.

Common signs seen by owners

  • Confusion (getting trapped in corners or forgetting the location of the litter box)
  • Increased attention seeking (or less commonly, aggression)
  • Increased irritability or anxiety
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Forgetting commands
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Changes in activity, such as wandering or pacing, or reduced activity
  • Altered interest in food (either increased, or more commonly, decreased)
  • Decreased grooming
  • Forgetting they've just been fed

Diseases can be common causes of behavioral changes in older pets, so it is important to rule out other medical problems. Examples of diseases that can cause some of these signs include:

  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Kidney disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Deafness
  • Brain tumors


There are many supplements and changes you can make for your pet to support their cognitive health and improve brain function.

  • Diet changes:
  • Dogs:  Pro Plan Bright Mind or  Purina Neurocare both support brain function with anti-oxidants, brain supporting nutrients, and appropriate levels of essential fatty acids. Neurocare is a prescription diet that was formulated with medium chain triglyerides to help control seizures, but has also been show to improve function for dogs with CDS.
  • Cats: a diet enriched with antioxidants and other supportive compounds such as Vitamin E, beta carotene and essential fatty acids is ideal. Purina Pro Plan Age 7+ is an example of a diet with these attributes.
  • Fish oil supplements balanced for peak cognitive support (balanced with appropriate levels of DHA/EPA). We recommend  VRS Cognitive.
  • Supplements:  Senilife (dogs and cats),  Feline Senior Vitality Pro Chews, Cell Advance antioxidants, SAMe antioxidants
  • Medications: Selegiline ( Anipryl) can help some animals with CDS, especially those with sleep/wake disorders.
  • Environmental Enrichment - As with humans, the adage "if you don't use it, you lose it" applies when it comes to older animals' mental acuity. Environmental enrichment, such as regular exercise and introduction of new toys, can improve cognitive function and delay cognitive decline. In a laboratory study of older dogs over a 2-year period, environmental enrichment (e.g. housing with another dog, daily playing with toys) was shown to be an effective tool for task learning. Dogs that were given both dietary and environmental enrichment had the greatest improvement in learning ability when compared to dogs who did not have enrichment.
  • Stress alleviation
  • Pheromones:   Feliway,  Adaptil
  • Supplements:   Zylkene,  Composure
  • Medications as prescribed by your veterinarian

Discuss these options with your pet's veterinarian to come up with the best plan to support them.  With proper care, senior dogs and cats can be helped to manage the cognitive changes they will encounter. Old age is not a disease.

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