Senility in senior pets: signs and solutions

Taking care of an aging pet isn't just about dealing with arthritis, heart murmurs, or other symptoms we see in geriatric cats and dogs. Sometimes, it's about recognizing a loss of cognitive function. Experts have a name for it – "cognitive dysfunction syndrome" – but we know it better as senility or dementia, and pets can suffer from it just as humans can.

It's a growing problem among our beloved pets – or maybe it just seems that way, since with better nutrition and vet care and more informed owners, Tigger and Rex can expect to live longer than previous generations. That's great…but as pet life expectancies go up, so might diagnoses of "Dog'sheimer's disease."

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If your pet is over 15 years old (considered "extreme old age"), you'll probably see at least one symptom of CDS. Writing for the Los Alamitos Patch, Kim Campbell Thornton suggests using the acronym DISH to spot the symptoms for yourself:

Disorientation. Your pet stares at walls; can't get out of corners; wanders around with no purpose; displays poor balance; doesn't seem to know where she is.

Interactions. A usually social pet starts hiding under the couch; the chin rubs Fluffy usually loves now are greeted with an angry nip; routines like meeting you at the door or sleeping on a favorite chair are abandoned.

Sleep habits. Pets that spent the night with you in bed now seem to have insomnia, wandering through your home and crying; once-active pets take more naps during the day.

Housetraining. An increase in the frequency of accidents could indicate that your pet is "losing" her training mentally. It could also signal a physical problem (arthritis; UTI), so always visit your vet to get more insight. Your vet can also suggest some changes to your pet's environment that may make her more comfortable – for instance, heated pet beds; litter boxes with lowered entry doors; pet doors with hydraulic mechanisms that won't bang shut on an achy dog's hip joints.

Or perhaps it's a medical problem you didn't know about, like hypertension (which can lead to CDS) or kidney disease. Loss of appetite, for instance, could mean Fido has "forgotten" that he likes Milkbones – or it could be diabetes.

What can you do to help? Again, visit the vet. Another condition or conditions could be giving the impression that your pet is senile when he's just uncomfortable or ill. If your veterinarian does think it's CDS, though, don't give up hope; she may suggest you change your pet's diet to get her more omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. There's also a medication called selegiline (Anipryl), which adjusts your pet's sleep rhythms and ability to focus. She can also prescribe analgesics for arthritis.

On your end, help regulate your pet's environment and reduce her stress by sticking to a routine of feeding and exercise; add more toileting opportunities, like another litter box or a midday walkies; up your pet's antioxidant intake, as it's great for brain health; and keep playing with and teaching your pet, as learning keeps their brains sharp just as it does ours.

And keep an eye on the seniors. The sooner you see the signs and intervene, the more you can slow down CDS's progress.

Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.

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