Senile Problems in Older Pets

Changes in behaviour are common in older pets; confusion, disturbed sleep patterns and a loss of toilet training can all occur. Essentially they are becoming senile and this causes distress to both the owner and the cat or dog. However, there is treatment which can help, and recognising the signs as early as possible will give your pet the best chance of a happy and good quality old age.


Elderly animals can have significant behavioural changes associated with with becoming senile including loss of toilet training (having accidents in the house), forgetfulness, barking or yowling for no good reason & confusion.

What is Cognitive dysfunction?

  • Cognitive Dysfunction is a recognised medical condition in older pets and the the technical term for them becoming senile.
  • It can affect animals as early as 6 years of age and from the age of 12 a quarter of all dogs could be showing some signs of the problem.
  • It shows many similarities to Alzheimer’s disease in people.
  • Animals can vary in how bad their symptoms are, from mild forgetfulness to severe senility.
  • The earlier it is recognised and treated, the better the chance we have of halting or slowing any brain damage and helping the animal
  • It occurs in both dogs and cats, but can be more easily spotted in dogs as they can forget their toilet training or commands.
  • It can be caused by less blood reaching the brain in older pets, and by damage to the nerves in the brain by free radicals.

Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction (Senility)

  • Disorientation – pets can seem lost in houses where they have lived all their lives, or seem to not recognise their owners
  • Confusion – pets can fail to respond to commands they know, or seem ‘lost’ in previously familiar surroundings.
  • Reduced levels of social interaction – previously friendly animals can become withdrawn from their owners or other pets.
  • Altered sleep patterns – pets may have restless nights sleep, find it difficult to settle at night, or wake in the early hours thinking it is time to get up.
  • Loss of house training – this can be the most obvious change, pets will forget to to to the toilet outside, or may forget to tell you they need to go so you can let them out.
  • Aimless barking or yowling – often at night, or at things that have always been there, for example the trees in the garden. In some cases it can be difficult to get the animal to stop.

Treatment options

  • Medication – old age behavioural changes can be a result of poor blood flow to the brain or an increase in free radical causing damage to the brain cells. Recent studies have shown that certain medications can be beneficial in these circumstances.
  • Diet – antioxidants have also been shown to be helpful in these cases. They can prevent age related nerve damage and promote recovery in damaged nerves. Prescription diets are available that contain high levels of antioxidants, and are designed for use in animal senility.
  • Training – pets with behavioural changes often fail to respond to commands, or forget their toilet training. It is possible to retrain them but patience and kindness are required. You should use very easily recognisable commands and also plenty of reward. ¬†Clicker training is a good training method for older dogs as it uses very clear signals to give a command


Please note, this is an advice only website, if you have any specific concerns or queries about your pet, you should contact your vet.

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