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Doggie Dementia
December 07, 2000
Kazzy has seemed less interested in family interaction.

Does 14-year-old Fido get lost in his own back yard? Does he not respond when you call his name? Does he generally seem confused?

According to Pulse, the official magazine of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, just as humans in the 21st Century are living longer, so is man’s best friends—more than 7.3 million dogs in the United States are age 10 or older. And with age dogs become prone to the same age-related diseases as their human companions, including dementia.

A disease of old age affects dogs and humans alike

Kazzy, a 17-year-old Lhasa Apso, is one of the 60 percent of dogs aged 11 to 15 who suffer from one or more symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), also known to veterinarians as doggie dementia. "He used to be the most incredible watchdog," says his owner, Olivia Feldman-Rich. "But he’s not like that anymore. He’s quite bewildered."

Symptoms of Doggie Dementia, aka DISH:

Disorientation: dog seems confused, doesn’t always seem to know where it is.

Interactions: decreased or altered responsiveness to family members.

Sleep: dog’s normal sleeping pattern changes.

Housetraining: dog loses its housetraining habits.

Experts like Dr. Maritza Perez, a veterinarian at West Orange (NJ) Animal Hospital, say that confusion is one of the four major signs of CDS (see sidebar). Dr. Perez says dogs may "pace around in circles, get stuck behind furniture, or they don’t know where the back door is anymore."

Often the most distressing sign of CDS is that, like human patients with Alzheimer’s disease, your pet seems to forget you and your family. "A lot of people notice that when you walk in the door, and this dog that was happy to see you doesn’t get up off the couch or off the floor to greet you," says Dr. Perez. "And he doesn’t come anymore when you call him."

These symptoms, coupled with others debilitating diseases affecting older dogs, such as arthritis, all add up to a serious loss in quality of life for your canine friend. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that some 500,000 dogs are put to sleep each year because of CDS.

Researchers say that deposits of beta-amyloid plaques in brain tissues are likely to play a role in CDS. These plaques build up and eventually inhibit transmission of the brain’s neural signals. Still, the recognized symptoms of CDS are behavioral, so a diagnosis is exclusionary, meaning it is arrived at only after all other physical and neurological causes are ruled out.

No cure yet, but relief for some dogs

Dr. Perez with a 14 year-old beagle who is on Anipryl.

While scientists search for a permanent cure for CDS, there is one treatment currently FDA-approved for CDS. Selegiline hydrochloride, whose brand name is Anipryl, may give some dogs relief from its symptoms. Researchers speculate that Anipryl works by increasing levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Other treatments are currently being investigated, including diets high in anti-oxidants as well as a new drug, Adrafinil, in one Canadian study.

Dr. Perez says that Anipryl does cause an improvement in many dogs with CDS, meaning relief from at least one of the common symptoms. "We have lots of animals on it and it does work," she says. But it’s not a sure thing—Dr. Perez tried it on her own dog with no effect.

Feldman-Rich is debating putting Kazzy on Anipryl. "I’m hoping that it will give a little more balance to his life and make him a little more aware that he’s still here and we’re still here for him," she says. "I always told him that he couldn’t leave me too soon, and he’s definitely kept up his end of it, but I’d definitely like for him to feel a little more like he’s part of the family."

Elsewhere on the Web

Care of Senior Dogs

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

by Debra Utacia Krol

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