Our Twilight Pets
Is your older dog pacing, whining, and anxious without reason? Has your senior cat become restless at night, crying and calling out? Has your old pet’s appetite changed lately: either always hungry or refusing favorite foods? Does she spend more time sleeping or isolating herself from her family, and is no longer enjoying her usual activities?
You might want to talk with your vet about whether your dog or cat is suffering from dementia.
Like dementia and Alzheimer’s in humans, age-related cognitive disfunction in pets has moved to the foreground of veterinary concerns. More and more animal caregivers are becoming aware that, just like their human loved ones, our pets can experience mental and emotional degeneration in old age.
The diagnosis of dementia in pets is primarily one of elimination. It’s very important to have your animal friend thoroughly checked out by her veterinarian if you notice disturbing behavioral changes. Other ailments, such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, heart problems, and more, can mimic many symptoms of cognitive decline. Don’t automatically assume your pet is “just getting old,” when she actually might be experiencing an ailment that can be helped with treatment.
Age-related mental decline in dogs and cats is being studied in various countries. In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that over a million pets are experiencing varied levels of dementia. Vets and researchers in the U.K. believe the problem is complicated by poor diet, including the toxins and byproducts introduced by over-processing commercial food. Poor quality kibbles are a primary target of that criticism, and vets who have studied dementia are recommending a shift away from commercial diets and highly-processed foods. Other important factors contributing to cognitive decline are a sedentary lifestyle and obesity.
In the U.S., a number of studies are investigating the physiological causes of dementia in dogs. It turns out that these mimic what we have found in Alzheimer’s research for humans. These include the accumulation of beta amyloid deposits in brain tissue, and oxidative stress caused by free-radical damage. Although similar studies have yet to be done in cats, there is no reason to believe that cats don’t also suffer similar age-related changes.
About 25% of dogs in the U.S. are experiencing some form of dementia by the age of 10 and those numbers rise to 60% in dogs who live to 15. In cats it’s estimated that a third of cats over the age of 11 are in cognitive decline, and half of cats over 15. This is a significant issue in our pets.
What can we do to help prevent this situation in our beloved animal friends? Well, nothing can keep our pets from getting older, of course. However, we can prolong their mental sharpness, and hold the wolf at bay a bit, by getting them off highly processed foods and on to a more natural whole-food diet. Avoiding by-products in commercial food, and switching from all kibble to a fresher, more wholesome diet will help. Prevent obesity by avoiding free-feeding, and be skeptical of the feeding instructions on many pet food packages. These instructions are meant to be a starting point, and not gospel. If your pet gains weight on the suggested amount of food, adjust her intake. It’s important to know how to judge your animal’s proper body condition; your vet can demonstrate for you.
Free-fed kibble is a common culprit in the pet obesity epidemic. Kibble is a highly concentrated source of calories and it’s easy for a food-loving dog or cat to over-indulge. Monitor your pet’s body condition carefully, in partnership with your veterinarian, and adjust their diet appropriately to keep them in optimal health. Talk to your vet about home-made pet foods, and do some research into creating a balanced meal plan for your dogs and cats. High quality, less-processed diets can help in ward off the effects of aging.
Get your pets out to exercise every day in some way. Our pets tend to sleep away a good portion of their lives, and finding a way to get the blood pumping and stimulate their brain cells can help them stay mentally young. Provide challenges to their cognitive skills in the form of puzzle toys and games that make them think a bit. Games like hide-and-seek, and activities such as obstacle courses or trick-training, are fun ways to keep both dogs and cats mentally active well into old age.
Develop a good partnership with your pet’s veterinarian. Keep them informed of changes, and schedule wellness visits so your vet can keep an eye on the medical side of things. By maintaining a good health routine for your pet, you and your vet can catch problems early and keep your special friend young, both in body and in mind, for as long as possible.
News and Updates:
I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May 2018 be a year of health, joy, and abundance for all of you and your pets.
As always, please continue to visit my website for updates, changes of schedule, etc. I will always try to keep the Unavailable Times page current, and you can also follow my Twitter announcements in the sidebar.
Blessings and Light,