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Keeping your pet’s brain sharp

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QUESTION

Our 11-year-old dog Peanut seems to be showing signs of senile dementia, such as waking up at odd hours, soiling and staring into space often. Our vet said she is just aging. Can we do anything to slow this process?

ANSWER

 According to the BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine, CDS or cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a neurodegenerative disorder of senior dogs and cats that is characterized by gradual cognitive decline and increasing brain pathology. Due to the similarities between CDS in dogs and Alzheimer’s in humans, dogs are used as models to study human brain aging. The process of aging brings about progressive and irreversible changes in body systems, resulting in behavioral changes. According to the Merck vet manual, 30 percent of dogs 11–12 years old and nearly 70 percent of dogs 15–16 years old have CDS.

Signs of CDS

Most owners are not observant enough or believe it cannot be fixed and so very often do not report these signs in their pets. Cognitive decline refers to memory, learning, perception and awareness. Vets and behaviorists use the acronym DISHA to refer to the signs of CDS:

D- DISORIENTATION

I- INTERACTIONS

S- SLEEP-WAKE cycles

H- HOUSE SOILING

A- ACTIVITY changes

Pet owners mention excessive sleeping or insomnia, restlessness, vocalizing at odd times, night waking, pacing and other stereotypical behaviors. They notice poor response to commands, inability to train, fear, anxieties, clingy behavior, and decline in hygiene and appetite. They also report exaggerated or inadequate responses to stimuli.

Diagnosis

It is very important to have your vet give your aging pet at least two full physical exams. They can usually advise you if your pet is showing CDS signs. Early detection is vital to identifying CDS and preventing it from progressing rapidly. Your vet will also rule out medical causes of your pet’s behavioral signs; liver and kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, pain, brain tumors, anemia, hypertension, vision and hearing abnormalities can all contribute to or mimic symptoms of CDS. These have to be ruled out by blood tests, radiographs, MRI or CT scans, etc. based on the symptoms presented and whether your vet deems the test essential.

You can find more information and a questionnaire that shows you how to evaluate for signs of CDS in pets by visiting purinainstitute.com and typing “cognitive dysfunction syndrome” into the site search tool.

TREATMENT

Treating an underlying condition  Your vet will help you resolve or control any medical problems that may be contributing to the CDS. Without doing this, it is pointless trying to modify the behavior alone.

Environmental enrichment  Continued enrichment in the form of training, playing, exercise, puzzles, novel toys and new games can really slow cognitive decline and stimulate your aging pet. If medical problems prevent previously popular activities, you can figure out good alternatives like tug toys, hide and seek, swimming, shorter walks, chasing and Kong toys. Providing ramps, steps to the bed, frequent outdoor trips to prevent house soiling and other support can also help pets with CDS. Cats with mobility problems may require larger litter boxes in strategic locations with softer litter to prevent accidental elimination issues.

Nutrition and diet  Studies have demonstrated that including more fruits, vegetables, vitamin E and vitamin C in the diet decreases the risk and speed of cognitive decline in humans and rats.1 Vets often prescribe Hill’s Canine b/d diet (hillspet.com), which is supplemented with fatty acids, antioxidants, DL-alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnitine to enhance mitochondrial function.2

Purina One (purina.com), which contains botanical oils (medium-chain triglycerides) to provide ketones as an alternative source of energy for aging neurons, is another popular diet. I am not a fan of processed diets per se, as I frequently mention in this column, but you might consider adding more antioxidants and ensuring good B vitamin, omega-3 and perhaps medium-chain triglyceride oil support in conjunction with a predominantly fresh food diet.

Drug therapy  Vets often prescribe Anipryl by Zoetis for dogs with CDS. It contains selegiline HCL, a monoamine oxidase B inhibitor that could improve CDS signs by enhancing dopamine and other catecholamines in the cortex and also by decreasing free radical load. It is hepatotoxic, so care must be taken in using it with pets who have liver disease. Propentofylline is licensed in Europe and Australia to alleviate dullness, depression and lethargy in old dogs. It works by increasing blood flow and inhibiting thrombus formation.

Supplements

SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) has recently been acknowledged as a treatment for CDS in dogs and cats at a dose of 10–20 mg/kg orally once daily. It used to be primarily used in liver disease. Its role in treating Alzheimer’s in humans by improving cell membrane fluidity and receptor functions is proven. 

Senlife contains a combination of phosphatidylserine, Ginkgo biloba, resveratrol, and vitamins E and B6. It is very popular for helping pets with CDS, and clients report seeing improvement within a week in some cases. 

Activait is popular in the UK for reducing brain aging and contains EFA, n-acetyl cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione in addition to phosphatidylserine and vitamin E. The cat version has everything except the alpha-lipoic acid, which in high doses is toxic to cats.

Coconut oil may be worth trying as a liquid medium-chain triglyceride oil for dogs, like CocoTherapy MCT oil (cocotherapy.com). You can just add it to food. See the bottle’s label for dosing.

Omega Benefits from VRS (vrshealth.com) contains DHA, EPA and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show cognitive benefits from supplements containing DHA, such as this one and Aktivait, for both older and younger dogs.3

Potent-Sea Omega-3 by Adored Beast (adoredbeast.com) is an excellent supplement as well.

OTHER TIPS

Energy healing is a very good adjunct to the above-mentioned therapies as it helps balance the chakras in older animals and helps them cope with CDS.

Acupressure

Acupressure can be done at home if you cannot take your dog to get acupuncture treatments. At the following points, it can help with overall slowing down, hindquarter weakness, excess sleep, memory loss and disorientation. Applying gentle pressure as described in our book You Can Heal Your Pet for 30–60 seconds daily can help with CDS.

ST 36  Powerful point for energizing and enhancing. “Stomach 36” is located behind or lateral to the tibial crest, on the outer aspect of the back leg, just below the knee in a depression where the lower leg (tibia) joins the knee. Stimulating this point can help with stomach or gastrointestinal upset. It is known to relieve exhaustion and energize a tired dog so much that he can walk a further 3 miles (5 km)—which is why it is known as the “3-mile point.” ST 36 can also help improve the appetite of an anorexic pet.

LI 4  Longevity point for maintaining good health. “Large Intestine 4” is located on the front paw in the depression of the dewclaw webbing, or where the thumb and forefinger meet. Massaging it increases protective Qi circulation and can contribute to a long, healthy life. It is also useful for reducing aggression and for relieving allergies, aching neck, shoulder pain, a blocked nose or even sinus problems. Take care with this point as not all pets like their feet touched.

BL 21  “Stomach’s hollow point,” helps with generalized weakness. BL 21 is located on the back lateral to the spine, near the 13th thoracic vertebra. It also helps ease back pain and hind leg issues.

CV 8  “Spirit’s Palace Gate,” helps with fatigue. This point is very easy to locate as it is in the center of the umbilicus. Massaging it can alleviate chronic diarrhea, urinary disorders and heat stroke too.

VOM chiropractic  Veterinary orthopedic manipulation is a healing technique for dogs and cats that aims to re-establish healthy communication in the nervous system as part of treatment for a variety of diseases and injuries. It is performed by using a device called an activator and has been shown to improve longevity and slow cognitive decline. I use it a lot on senior pets, usually as a once-weekly treatment for three weeks. After that, treatments of lesser frequency are beneficial.

Reduce/stop vaccinations

I strongly recommend titer testing all older animals as opposed to giving them routine annual vaccinations. If they have enough antibodies to the core diseases and to rabies, there is absolutely no reason to vaccinate them again and tax their immune system. This will also prevent vaccinosis.

If you have no choice but to vaccinate, I recommend obtaining Rebalancer from Adored Beast to reduce the side effects of vaccines while maintaining their benefits.

Finally, it is important to understand that CDS therapies can take two to three months to kick in, so keep your expectations of outcomes realistic.

Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT

Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com

References

1 

N Engl J Med, 1997; 336: 1216–22; J Neurosci, 1998; 18(19): 8047–55

2 

Ohio State University, “Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome,” indoorpet.osu.edu

3 

Appl Animal Behav Sci, 2007; 105(4): 284–96; JAVMA, 2012; 241(5) 583–94

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