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Friday, July 23, 2010

"Senility" in Dogs and Cats-There is Hope!

A friend emailed me a story from the Huffington Post (Google it!) in which a human neurologist writes about dementia in her two dogs and how it resembles Alzheimer's disease in people. The dogs suffered from a condition called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), and it is much more common than you think. Because there is no readily-available test for CDS, and many people attribute the symptoms simply to "old age", I feel CDS is dramatically under-diagnosed, and therefore under-treated.

CDS almost always occurs in older pets and is a result of pathological changes in the brains of those affected. The symptoms have a slow, insidious onset, and may be somewhat benign at first. In dogs, the symtoms of CDS which you may overlook include: decreased attentiveness, less enthusiasm when greeting you, increased sleep time, changes in appetite, and staring into space. Just sounds like a dog who is getting older, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the symptoms usually become more serious over time: getting "lost" in the back yard or "stuck" in corners, having accidents in the house, becoming restless at night, not recognizing familiar people, and/or not responding to verbal commands or their own name. Symptoms in cats are similar, but even more difficult to recognize because, well, they're cats, and they tend to be less interested in verbal commands and the affairs of people in general! (By the way, I am a "cat person", with three of my own at home.)

If pet-parents aren't aware of this disease, they may assume their pet is just getting old and won't report the symptoms to their vet. This is a shame, because we can help them! The therapy consists of a very effective (in most cases) medication called Anipryl (Pfizer), and increased attention and interaction with the pet. Also, there is a prescription dog food called b/d Diet (Hills) which has been shown to improve "learning" in senior dogs. We have recently been trying a holistic medication called Senilife (Ceva).

Most of the "parents" of my CDS patients have been incredibly grateful once the therapy starts working. They feel like they're getting their pet back. The disease is not curable, but it is also not fatal. So pay attention to the signs of "old age" in your senior pets. It may be something more.

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