Older dogs have older brains, and as our dogs are generally living longer, there’s an increased risk of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is nearly identical to Alzheimer’s in people.
In fact, as veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes points out, cognitive decline in dogs is so similar to cognitive decline in people, researchers are using dogs as a model to better understand brain function decline in people and also to study Alzheimer’s.
Your veterinarian can do something to slow down the progression of cognitive decline, but first it has to be identified. Look for two or more of these signs:
- Disorientation: Periodically the dog appears confused, perhaps trying to enter a room on the wrong side of a door or forgetting why he or she walked into a room in the first place. A dog who appears to have forgotten cues, like “sit.”
- Interaction changes: Dogs who once greeted family members are more ambivalent, dogs who barked at the door but now no longer care or the other way around. Or, a dog who didn’t much care for a family member now loving on that person. These are changes in interpersonal interactions.
- Sleep/wake cycle changes: Of course older dogs sleep more, but not necessarily wake up in the middle of the night randomly barking or pacing. Or, a dog that did snooze a lot during the day (normal for elderly dogs), now hardly sleeps and seems agitated.
- House training: A dog you know is house trained, but has “forgotten” what going potty outdoors means.
- Activity disappears: Of course, older dogs do less, but when a dog appears no longer interested in life, or the family or other pets. The personality of the dog seems to be changing.
Of course, changes are also impacted by changing senses, such as declines in vision and/or hearing, which may also play a role in the above signs. Various medical conditions or medications may also contribute, which is why your veterinarian must sift through the information.
Here’s what veterinarians can do to slow the progression of cognitive dysfunction syndrome:
*Changes in diet
*Specifically provide medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in the diet, which have been shown to improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Another benefit may be support for weight loss. Purina Pro NC NeuroCare offers MCT’s, which interestingly may also reduce seizures in dogs.
*Senilife, a nutraceutical, contains phosphatidylserine, which is part of a cell membrane that has been used to treat humans with Alzheimer’s disease. The components of Senilife work synergistically and have a specific neuroprotective action to help protect your dog from the brain-aging-related behavior signs often seen in senior pets.
*Neutricks, a nutraceutical, contains apoaequorin, a substance derived from jellyfish. Studies indicated that dogs (and people) taking apoaequorin experienced enhanced learning and attention tasks, and a possible slowing of cognitive decline.
*Omega 3 Fatty Acid supplements, such as Wellactin. These offer the same benefits for dogs as they do for people: brain health, skin/coat care, support for kidneys, vision, and immune system.
*Anipryl: This drug, selegeline hydrocloride, can help some dogs. It seems the earlier the drug is introduced, the more effective it may be.
Learning: Continued learning throughout life, for people and dogs, is exercise for the bran and may delay or prevent cognitive decline.
Enriched environment: A boring and static environment does nothing to stimulate the brain; however, periodically hiding treats or providing interesting smells and rotating toys is enriching and therefore beneficial.
Exercise: Of course, older dogs aren’t running marathons, but a daily walk, even a short one, does a lot of good. Sniffing the grass and flowers is enriching, even exhilarating, for dogs. Also, just as in people, exercise promotes brain health (aside from a myriad other benefits).