When you share your life with a dog you understand the sheer pleasure of it; the relaxation of walking your dog, the exhilaration of having your dog "come" when you call him in obedience class and the calmness of sitting quietly, his head in your lap, as you scratch him behind his ears.
Having a dog in your life also means being responsible for all aspects of his life, for him for his entire lifetime. As our dogs age, their needs change. And since our dogs are living longer, there has more types of ailments that can affect them.
One of the ailments that have come to the forefront in senior pet care in the last decade is CDS or Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. CDS or canine cognitive dysfunction relates to dogs. The risk of CDS increases with age. Clinical signs of CDS are found in 50 percent of dogs over 11 years of age, with 68 percent of dogs over the age of 15 displaying at least one clinical sign. Petmed.com describes CDS as "a condition related to the aging of a dog's brain which ultimately leads to changes in awareness, deficits in learning and memory and decreased responsiveness to stimuli." Initial symptoms are mild and gradually worsen over time, which is known as "cognitive decline."
Although exact causes of CDS are unknown, genetic factors may predispose an animal to CDS. CDS is caused by physical changes in the brain and brain chemical, and is not a part of normal aging. It results in a deterioration of cognitive abilities, causing behavioral changes that can disrupt the lives of pets and the families who love and care for them. Just because dogs are aging, they shouldn't experience a complete change in personality. But rather, an older dog may be showing signs of cognitive dysfunction if they seem suddenly distant, confused or lost.
A dog may be showing signs of CDS if he starts showing some of the following behaviors:
• Staring at walls or into space
• Withdrawing from interaction with the family
• Soliciting less petting and attention
• Difficulty learning new tasks, commands or routes
• Excessive licking
• Pacing or wandering aimlessly
• Fecal/urinary incontinence
• Loss of appetite
• Not responding to his name
• Getting "stuck" in familiar places, like in corners or behind furniture
• Becoming lost in familiar places like the home or yard
• Not recognizing family members or other familiar people
• Changes in sleep cycle (sleeping during the day/night waking)
If you recognize these symptoms in your dog, consult your veterinarian. If your veterinarian suspects CDS, he or she will do a thorough behavior and medical history, physical and neurological exam and blood and urine tests to rule out other conditions.
Although there is no cure, you can help your dog improve his cognitive function by providing and maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment. This environment includes a daily routine of play, exercise and training. In addition to behavioral therapy and medication, a special balanced diet may help improve your dog's cognitive functioning. Additionally, your veterinarian may suggest supplementing your dog's diet with antioxidants, vitamin E and C selenium, beta carotene, carotenoids, flavonoids, carnitine and Omega-3.
Isn't it amazing what our dogs teach us as they grow older? And isn't it amazing how similar we are?
• The Buddy Foundation, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights, is a nonprofit 501(c) 3, shelter. Call (847) 290-5806 or visit www.thebuddyfoundation.org.