Can dogs get Alzheimers?

katie_reversedAs your dog ages, you may notice a lot of signs that he’s slowing down. He doesn’t get up to greet you at the door anymore, or he may seclude himself in bed instead of hanging out in the living room with the family. He no longer barks when someone rings the doorbell, or maybe he barks at times when you can’t see any reason at all why he would. He may urinate in the house when he’s always been well housebroken in the past.  And the other night you heard him pacing around in the kitchen instead of sleeping the night through. Maybe he has Alzheimers?

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a neurodegenerative disorder in aging dogs and cats. It is not quite the same condition as Alzheimers in people, but shares a lot of similarities to it including decreased cerebral blood flow, increased beta-amyloid deposition, decreased levels of key neurotransmitters, and increased free radical cell damage. Neuronal atrophy results in a reduction of active brain cells and overall decrease in cerebral size and function.

Like Alzheimers, subtle changes can occur relatively early in a dog’s adult life, but not yet be recognized until the condition is quite advanced. In one study, 28 percent of dogs 11-12 years of age were showing at least one sign of CDS. Another study showed that up to 68 percent of dogs over 15 were affected. The signs of CDS can vary, but may also mimic other conditions including metabolic diseases and painful conditions such as dental disease, osteoarthritis and cancer. To a great degree, CDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. And since older pets often have multiple problems occurring at the same time, its important to have these other conditions addressed first or in addition to CDS.

Even though cognitive decline can be a normal consequence of aging, there may be much that can be done to help your pet live a quality senior life. There is no cure for CDS, but several therapeutic approaches have shown success in improving cognitive function and may slow the progression of the condition.

The prescription medication Selegiline inhibits monoamine oxidase B, helping to maintain higher levels of neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Most owners will observe improvements in their dog’s awareness, interaction and playfulness within 2-4 weeks of starting this medication.

Some prescription diets are designed for cognitive support, fortified with antioxidants and essential fatty acids to reduce free radical damage and mitochondrial cofactors L-Carnitine and DL alphalipoic acid to improve cognitive performance. Nutritional supplements resveratrol, green tea catechins and curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, may also have some therapeutic potential. Some pets benefit from therapies that decrease anxiety and help normalize the sleep-wake cycles, especially beneficial for those that wake up and bark or pace the house during the night.

In addition, stimulating your pet’s mind and encouraging problem solving helps to slow the progression of CDS. As they say, use it or lose it. Help your dog to exercise his cognitive skills through basic obedience, fetching toys and learning new tricks. Yes, an old dog CAN still learn new tricks.

If your pet is showing signs of cognitive decline, it may be time to have his health evaluated and talk with us about treatment options.

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