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Michael Dym, V.M.D.
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From Our Holistic Vet: Preventing and Treating Canine Cognitive Dementia

There is nothing more difficult than seeing our canine companions age into their senior years. While there are natural consequences to aging, many dogs experience more intense senior symptoms that may be distressing or discouraging to animal guardians.

Though it’s most common in terriers, canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), also known as doggy dementia, can occur in any breed. It is estimated that some 15% of aging dogs may develop symptoms.

Some of the more common signs of dementia in dogs include a blank look or stare, walking continuously in a circle, getting lost or stuck in familiar environments around the house, and head pressing in corners of the home.

There also may be repetitive actions, in addition to inappropriate urination and defecation in the house. There may be changes in sleeping patterns with pets being excessively sleepy during the day but up at night, where pacing and often confused behaviors may be seen, as well as excessive, inappropriate vocalization.

Increased irritability or other behavioral changes may be observed, as well as changes in interactions with family, where your dog may no longer react to hearing you call his name.

Age-related dementia must be differentiated from other senior pathologies including brain tumors, brain trauma, tickborne diseases, as well as liver abnormalities. That is why it is essential to have a proper senior workup on any geriatric pet possibly showing signs of CCD or doggy dementia.

While the specific causes of doggy dementia are not known conventionally medically speaking, from a holistic perspective we look at everything that goes on and/or in the body as potentially having a role in any chronic disease tendency.

For example, holistic veterinarians often look at over-vaccination as playing a role in many chronic immune-mediated and degenerative disease conditions. Relative to doggy dementia, this may involve low-level brain inflammation, which can become insidiously chronic, especially when our pets are vaccinated repetitively and/or with combination vaccinations.

Holistic veterinarians would much rather run titers, in lieu of many vaccinations, which often reveal protective antibody levels, thus negating the necessity of more vaccinations. The immunity to most core viral vaccinations given to our animal companions lasts for years to a lifetime.

While flea, tick, and heartworm preventative measures are important topics for animal guardians, many of these pesticides can on occasion be toxic to not only the nervous system of the parasite but also the nervous system of sensitive pets. And while timely doses of these medications are certainly understood, it is the repetitive exposure in some sensitive animals that may trigger low-level neurological reactions.

Probably the most important area holistic veterinarians counsel animal guardians regarding doggy dementia or any chronic disease is in the feeding of species-appropriate, meat-based diets. Many common commercial pet foods are overly processed with not always the best quality ingredients.

And while commercial pet food companies now have geriatric prescription diets for brain dysfunction, holistic veterinarians would encourage, if possible, the feeding of a meat-based home diet.

Though there is a prescription medication called selegiline that may slow the progression of canine cognitive dysfunction, holistic veterinarians would rather prescribe natural supplements due to potential side effects.

Probably the most important nutrient supplements to consider in dogs suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction include DHA/omega-3 fatty acids, SAMe, and Ginkgo biloba. Many supplements have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the brain and may be preventative, even partially therapeutic in pets suffering from doggy dementia.

Other supplements I will often include in aging animals include turmeric, coconut oil, and a good quality CBD oil, the latter being very helpful in reducing brain inflammation. Other veterinarians have included Acetyl carnitine, Alpha Lipoic acid, as well as Phosphatidyl serine in their treatment regimens.

Other treatments include acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbal therapy, as well as classical homeopathy and bach flower essences like Rescue Remedy.

Most importantly, creating a comfortable regimen that works for your pet is key to reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.

Dr. Michael Dym, VMD