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Natural Care for Our Aging Pets
Skippy, a 14-year-old poodle, was not acting like himself. He spent a lot of time sleeping and seemed disoriented when awake, standing in a corner and barking at the wall. Despite being housetrained since puppyhood, Skippy was occasionally starting to eliminate in the house instead of asking to go outside. His owner was worried that he might be developing what she referred to as "doggie Alzheimer's disease."
After examining Skippy and testing his blood for other disorders, I agreed that Skippy did in fact have cognitive disorder, what is commonly called "doggie Alzheimer's disease." Similar to Alzheimer's disease in people, the exact cause remains unknown. We know that as pets and people age, their brains may receive less oxygen due to decreased blood flow and arteriosclerosis from fibrosis, mineralization, and amyloid deposition. Microscopically, beta amyloid plaques are seen in the brain and its blood vessels (as in people with Alzheimer's.) Decreased levels of certain neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine) may also contribute to the disorder in dogs and occasionally in cats.
Confirming the Diagnosis
While cognitive disorder is the most common cause of "senility" in pets, older pets can have a number of health problems that can mimic the signs seen in pets with cognitive disorder. Therefore, it is imperative to perform a thorough physical examination and blood and urine testing to confirm the diagnosis before instituting treatment. Common conditions seen in older dogs which can mimic cognitive disorder or occur concurrently with cognitive disorder include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Cancer (especially brain tumors)
Until the late 1990's, there was no approved therapy for cognitive disorder (cognitive disorder was only recognized as a true disease in the last 5 years.) Recently, the drug AniprylR (selegiline) has been approved for use in dogs with cognitive disorder. AniprylR inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase B (MAOB,) causing increased dopamine levels, which leads to a more alert state in treated pets.
While Anipryl can be effective in some patients, there may be rare side effects, and the cost may be prohibitive for some pet owners. Therefore, a number of pet owners turn to natural medicine for help with this most common neurological disorder in their older dogs.
Many pet owners seek a more integrative approach to pet care as they do for themselves. For these owners, more natural alternatives to Anipryl should be considered.
I recently conducted a study on the nutritional supplement Cholodin. Cholodin contains a number of nutritional ingredients used in neurotransmitter metabolism, including choline, phosphatidylcholine, methionine, inositol, and various B vitamins. By providing these nutrients to the aging neurological system, we can increase the formation of nerve transmitting chemicals and increase awareness and mental acuity in affected pets.
The results of the study in which 21 dogs were enrolled indicated the following:
- 1 dog showed no response
- 5 dogs showed minimal response (slight improvement)
- 4 dogs showed moderate response (moderate improvement)
- 5 dogs showed significant response (the pets were deemed "normal" by their owners)
- 3 dogs were lost to follow-up as their owners did not respond to our requests for information
- 1 dog was euthanized 2 weeks into the study for acute liver failure not related to cognitive disorder or the supplement
- 2 dogs owned by the same owner, showed an exaggerated response and became quite hyperactive, causing the owner to stop the supplement
What to Do For Your Pet
If you suspect cognitive disorder in your pet, here are some tips I share from my own practice. First, don't panic. Unlike the current situation in people with Alzheimer's, most pets respond well to therapy and can live normal lives. Second, make sure another disease that can mimic cognitive disorder is not present. It is important to treat the right disease. Finally, if one therapy does not work, try another one, and consider a natural approach if you wish to avoid medicating your pet. Sometimes a combination of conventional and complementary therapies is needed, and your veterinarian may need to "fine-tune" the therapy to your pet's needs.
Skippy responded well to choline supplementation. According to his owner, she now has her old Skippy back and is enjoying him as a pet once again.
Nutritional Therapy: Managing Disease and the Effects of Aging, Vet Med, Dec 1985:59-64.
Choline Loading: Specific Dietary Supplementation for Modifying Neurologic and Behavioral Disorders in Dogs and Cat, Vet Med/Small An Clinician, Aug 1982, 1223-1231.
Landsberg G. Behavior Problems in the Geriatric Dog and Cat, Friskies Small Animal Behavior Symposium, 1998.
Messonnier SP. Natural Therapies for "Doggie Alzheimer's" Holistic Hound, March 1999:1.
Messonnier SP. Cognitive Disorder, The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, Priam, 2001:56-57.
Plumb D. Veterinary Drug Handbook 3rd ed, Iowa State Univ Press:567-569.
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