Golden oldies. Wizened whiskers. Sage snouts. Grey-muzzled angels. No matter what you call them, senior pets are aged to perfection. However, age-related cognitive dysfunction syndrome ([CDS] i.e., pet dementia) can mar your pet’s golden years with confusion and fear. Preserve your fond memories by following our Bayview Animal Hospital team’s tips on protecting your four-legged friend’s cognitive health.

Feed your senior pet a brain-fortifying diet

As they age, your pet’s brain undergoes certain deteriorative changes, including atrophy (i.e., shrinkage) and neuron (i.e., brain cell) reduction. Pets with CDS experience severe degenerative processes, including oxidative damage, harmful free radicals, and plaque-like deposits, that disrupt normal functions such as learning, memory, and awareness.

Brain-fortifying diets rich in antioxidants (e.g., vitamins C and E), omega-3 fatty acids, and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) have been proven to be advantageous for aging pets. These ingredients work synergistically to fight free radicals and promote healthy brain function.

Your Bayview Animal Hospital veterinarian can recommend a brain-fortifying diet for your golden oldie or advise you on how to supplement their current diet.

Keep your senior pet active with low-impact physical exercise

If your wizened whiskers has arthritis and other age-related mobility issues, you may believe they can’t or shouldn’t exercise. However, regular low-impact activity can actually help preserve and strengthen your sage snout’s physical and mental health. 

Physical exercise improves circulation, maintains muscle mass, and preserves your grey-muzzled angel’s joint flexibility. In addition, physical activity releases healthy endorphins that lower your senior pet’s stress and promote memory and cognitive health. By allowing your senior pooch to sniff the grass on walks or letting your geriatric feline friend investigate a new cat tree, you provide them with much-needed mental stimulation and novelty to what may be an otherwise predictable and sedentary lifestyle. Talk to your pet’s veterinarian before starting your golden oldie’s exercise routine to ensure any pain they may be feeling is well-controlled and ask them to recommend activities that would especially benefit your senior pet’s health and mobility. 

Engage your senior pet’s mind with enrichment

As pets age, they tend to interact with people and other pets less frequently, enjoy fewer learning opportunities, and rarely encounter novel situations, which leads to a boring daily routine, causing their mental faculties to decline. In other words, what your pet doesn’t use, they lose.

Rather than relegating your sage snout to the sidelines, help your elderly companion develop new cognitive pathways and neural networks by giving them regular opportunities to learn and engage with the world. To enrich your senior pet’s mind, follow these tips:

  • Training and learning — Devote five minutes each day to training your wizened whiskers. Teach them a fun new trick, such as shake or spin. Your senior pet might also enjoy making their way through a child’s play tunnel. When introducing your grey-muzzled angel to a new trick, ensure the activity aligns with their physical ability. To keep training fun and exciting, reward your pet’s efforts by giving them a treat. If you need inspiration, many free online pet trick tutorial videos are available.
  • Social interactions — Dogs and cats are social creatures who derive physical and mental health benefits from regular engagement with their human and animal companions. Unfortunately, senior pets often enjoy fewer social interactions as they age, perhaps because they sleep a lot and their mobility may be compromised. Isolation can cause your golden oldie to become depressed, which increases the rate of their cognitive decline. Decrease your senior pet’s social isolation risk by spending daily one-on-one time with them. Depending on your sage snout’s personality, interaction may include snuggling, petting, playing gently with a toy, sharing a low-calorie snack, or simply being nearby.

  • Enrichment games — Puzzles, treat-dispensing balls, and foraging toys encourage your pet to use their mind and senses to sniff out hidden food. Introduce your golden oldie to beginner level challenges to build their confidence and ensure success. Our favorite introductory food puzzles include:
    • Slow-feeder bowls
    • Lick mats
    • Reach boxes for cats
    • Fleece snuffle mats
    • Nina Ottosson Level 1 puzzle toys

Rotate your pet’s puzzles to prevent boredom. If your wizened whiskers proves to be a puzzle master, level up the challenge or vary the presentation by placing a towel or lightweight laundry basket over the puzzle or wrap it in butcher paper to let your sage snout rip and tear to their heart’s content. Supervise your pet to ensure success and prevent frustration.

Is it time to talk to your veterinarian? Cognitive dysfunction signs in pets

CDS signs are often mistaken for old age, which can make the condition difficult to diagnose. By implementing the strategies we have discussed and keeping an eye out for cognitive deterioration, you help slow this disease’s progression. Consider the acronym DISHAAL as a way to remember which signs can indicate your grey-muzzled angel is developing CDS:

  • D — Disorientation (e.g., going to the wrong side of a door, wandering)
  • I — Abnormal social interactions (e.g., not recognizing familiar faces)
  • S — Sleep-wake cycle alterations 
  • H — House soiling 
  • A — Activity level fluctuations (e.g., uncharacteristically lethargic or hyperactive)
  • A — Anxiety (e.g., separation, noise, or generalized anxiety)

If you’re concerned about your senior pet’s cognitive health, schedule an appointment with our Bayview Animal Hospital team. Because many health conditions can mirror CDS, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination and diagnostic tests to rule out common aging disorders such as kidney disease, metabolic disorders, and cancer. If they suspect your pet has CDS, your veterinarian will help you prepare for the eventual changes and provide tips on how you can help ensure your pet feels as safe, supported, and loved as the day you brought them home.