Does your older dog seem more confused or lost these days? If so, he may be experiencing some mental decline. Advances in veterinary medicine have enabled your canine buddies to live lengthier lifespans. As some dogs transition through their late senior and geriatric years, however, changes in their brains result in canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Find out if your dog exhibits any of the signs of this condition and what you and your veterinarian can do to improve your furry friend's quality of life during his golden years.
You may look back on fond memories of your dog as a playful, alert and cheerful youngster. Dogs, cats and humans all experience some decline in their bodily functions as age-related changes take place. Aging humans can be stricken with Alzheimer's disease, or dementia, as a result of changes in the brain. Dogs can suffer a similar fate, which is referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Changes that occur in the brain include the following:
- The brain atrophies, which results in reduced brain mass and fewer neurons.
- Beta-amyloid, a type of protein, forms plaques in the brain and destroys neurons.
- Reductions in blood flow within the brain deprive the brain cells of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia.
- Reduced amounts of dopamine, which acts as a neurotransmitter, occur.
The exact reason why some dogs develop canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome is still unknown, but genetics may play a role. Depending on the size of your dog, he may enter his senior years between seven and 13 years and his geriatric life stage between 10 and 14. It is during these life stages that some owners may start to observe the results of changes that occur in their dogs' brains.
As changes in the brain continue, mental decline can be observed as changes in your dog's behavior. Some behavioral changes, such as when a dog no longer shows interest in playing, tend to be shrugged off by owners as a sign that their pet is simply slowing down with age. This can also be an indication of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, as can the following behaviors:
- Forgetting housebreaking training and other house rules
- Pacing, especially at night during hours in which he once slept
- Sleeping more deeply during the daylight hours
- Appearing anxious or restless
- Becoming easily stressed in situations that never stressed him before
- Appearing disorientated or confused
- Displaying irritability
- Crying out or barking for no apparent reason
- Losing his sense of cleanliness and interest in self-grooming
- Decreased interest in eating
- Decrease in recognition of family members and in responding to them
- Staring into space
- Excessive panting or licking
- Wandering aimlessly
- Becoming lost within the home or yard
- Increasing inability to learn new things
If you observe any of these changes in your older dog, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for an evaluation. There are treatment options available to improve his cognitive functions, and the results are more favorable when therapy is implemented during the early onset of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
Once your veterinarian has examined your dog and ruled out other possible causes for the behavioral changes, he or she may recommend the use of a medication as lifelong therapy to improve your dog's brain health and slow the progression of your dog's mental decline. Some drug options include the following:
- Selegiline, also known as L-deprenyl, is a monoamine oxidase inhibitor that decreases the breakdown of dopamine neurotransmitters.
- S-adenosylmethionine is a supplement that is commonly used to treat liver disease and can be helpful in treating canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
- Propentofylline aids in improving blood circulation to the neurons.
Not every dog responds to drug therapies in the same manner. Your veterinarian may need to alter the dose or change drug protocols if no improvement in your dog's behavior is observed.
In addition to medication, your veterinarian may recommend a dietary change. A prescription diet is available in the veterinary market that is specifically formulated to improve cognitive function in the aging brain. This diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, carotenoids, antioxidants, carnitine and other vitamins and nutrients that nourish and nurture brain health.
It is understandably heartbreaking to see your furry friend, who was once full of vitality and youthful curiosity and playfulness, grow old. If your dog is diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, remember to supplement your veterinarian's treatment plan with extra tender loving care, gentle touch, affection, patience and reassurance that your dog needs now more than ever. He has been there for you and your family through life's ups and downs. Now it is time for you to be there for him and help him to reap the best quality of life possible for his remaining years. Contact a business, such as the Metzger Animal Hospital, for more information.