Old Dog Blues

Judy Schroeder, DVM   November 7, 2012   Comments Off on Old Dog Blues

As pets live longer, we are more likely to see age-related problems in our senior patients.  Osteoarthritis, kidney disease, cancer, and metabolic changes become more common as pets age.  Progressive loss of cognitive function (senility) is also seen in geriatric pets, and can dramatically curtail quality of life for these individuals and their owners.

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) affects many dogs later in life. Cognitive dysfunction is a result of aging changes in the brain. Oxidative damage to cells, atrophy of neurons, alterations in neurotransmitters, and protein accumulations in the brain (similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s patients) are thought to be responsible for symptoms.

Affected dogs have behavioral changes such as disorientation, decreased or altered responses to stimuli, disruption of sleep/wake patterns, inappropriate elimination, and decreased levels of activity.  Typically, symptoms progress gradually, and often are attributed to arthritis, anxiety, or vision and hearing decline. In all cases, it is important to check for other health problems that may be contributing to the behavior changes.

There is no single treatment for cognitive dysfunction in geriatric animals. Dietary supplements such as anti-oxidants and Omega-3 fatty acid supplements play a major role. Environmental enrichment (play, brushing, petting, exercise) has been shown to help improve cognitive behaviors. In some cases, specialized medications such as MAOIs (mono amine oxidase inhibitors) or anxiolytics may help. Most patients require a combination of therapies to feel their best.

With my older dog Sky, who has cognitive dysfunction as well as renal disease, I have noted improvement in her symptoms with a combination of anti-oxidants, fish oil, SAM-e, melatonin, and the MAOI selegiline (also known as Anipryl or Eldepryl). I also notice that she does better when she gets more attention. She is still an old dog, and she tends to wobble, fall down, and get stuck behind doors occasionally, but she is a wonderful companion and I’m hoping to keep her around for a lot longer!