Thanks to advances in veterinary medical care and nutrition, dogs are living longer, healthier lives. Unfortunately, “senior” dogs are susceptible to many of the same ailments as “senior” humans, including cognitive difficulties.
Numerous behavioral changes we see in older gods are a result of age-related cognitive dysfunction (ARCD) a process of degeneration in the brain leading to poor functioning of the nerve cells and pathways. Although not exactly the same as Alzheimer’s disease, confusion and changes in mental function are signs the two problems have in common. Signs of ARCD include:
Disorientation such as circling, aimless activity, poor awareness of surroundings barking or crying for no apparent reason, not responding to his/her name.
Loss of sociability, such as not greeting family members, walking away while being petted and seeking attention less often.
Changes in sleep patterns, pacing at night, sleep all day.
Loss of house training, having accidents indoors soon after being outside.
Decreased activity levels.
If you notice any of these changes in your pet, bring him/her to your veterinarian for a complete physical examination and blood tests. If no other medical conditions such as diabetes, liver disease or urinary tract problems are diagnosed, your dog may have ARCD. The good thing is there are some ways to help your pet.
Your veterinarian can provide you with a prescription-only dog food rich in anti-oxidants (to preserve the health of brain cells) and low in protein and phosphorous (to help with aging kidneys). Studies have shown that dogs fed this diet showed significant improvement in their memory and learning functions, and their owners felt the pet was more “normal.”
Medications can also assist. Drugs that increase chemicals in the brain needed for good cognitive function are available for our four-legged friends. After giving their pets a daily pill, 50-75 percent of owners report an improvement in their dog after only one to two months of use. The medicine is then continued for the rest of the dog’s life.
Don’t tell yourself your dog is just getting old. You can extend the good times and companionship he/she has with your family. Consult with your veterinarian – together you can help your pet live a happier, more active life.
New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association