5 signs your pet is going through age-related cognitive changes — and what to do about it

Korin Miller
Writer

If you’re like most pet owners, you probably talk to your pet all the time, even if you feel a little silly about it. But experts say your pet is actually “talking” back to you, even if you don’t totally understand what they’re trying to say.

“Cats and dogs are extremely cognitive beings and communicate with us all the time,” Brian Zanghi, PhD, senior researcher and nutritionist at Purina PetCare, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Pets’ cognition starts developing as soon as they’re born and changes with age just like humans.”

What is cognition?

Cognition is the ability to learn something and do complex tasks. “It involves memory, the ability to deal with a changing environment and interacting with other individuals,” Zanghi says.

Just like people, pets go through age-related cognitive changes, he says, but they can often be confused with physical issues because they look similar.

How do I spot cognitive changes?

It’s not always easy to notice these, but Zanghi says the following could be clues your pet’s cognition is off:

  1. They have confusion or loss of training. Forgetting tricks or house training can be clues.

  2. Lack of interaction or affection. “If your pet is showing less affection, it may be a sign that they’re having trouble remembering” people, Zanghi says.

  3. Aggression. Sudden aggression toward strangers and even family members can be a sign that they’ve lost the some ability to recognize people.

  4. Lack of appetite. Your pet “may forget where their bowl is or when to expect food,” Zanghi says.

  5. Change in sleep-wake cycle. Sleeping all day and staying up all night “is not normal behavior and may be a sign of something more,” Zanghi says.

What can I do to lower the risk of age-related cognitive changes?

Giving your pet good nutrition is “extremely important,” Zanghi says, adding that “nutrition helps bridge the gap for cognition as your pet ages.” Certain nutrients like antioxidants from vegetables, vitamins and fats from coconuts can all help boost an aging dog’s brain, Zanghi says. And, if your pet is over the age of 7, it’s time to start looking for a senior food.

If your pet is exhibiting strange behavior, talk to your vet about next steps you can take. “We never know how much time we have with our pets, but why not do what we can to make sure we have as much quality time as possible?” Zanghi says.