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Not only do humans suffer from memory loss and impaired brain function as they age – it can happen to our pets too. In dogs, it is known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS, and unfortunately, many of its symptoms are dismissed as “normal” aging.
Of course, a significant loss of mental sharpness is anything but normal. To get a better idea of how CDS presents and what the treatment is like, I asked Dr. Elizabeth Stelow, DVM, DACVB, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of California, Davis, interviewed her Veterinary Teaching Hospital Behavior Service Program. This is almost all you need to know to keep your pet healthy today, tomorrow, and for years to come.
Know the signs of cognitive dysfunction
You can’t help your pet if you don’t know what to look for. So the first step is to know what CDS looks like. It usually presents with symptoms similar to age-related cognitive decline in humans; the classic characters are used under the acronym DISHAAL. summarizedwhich stands for:
- Changes in Interactions with owners, other pets, and the environment
- Sleep-wake Menstrual cycle disorders, sometimes with pace or panting
- House pollution
- Changes in activity, either increase or decrease
- Increased fear
- To learn and memory changes, such as failing to learn new tricks and / or forgetting the ones they once knew
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The diagnostic criteria can vary from case to case, but generally speaking, a middle-aged dog with two or more of these symptoms indicates a “high index of suspicion,” explains Dr. Stelow. Some of the symptoms are obvious: If your dog doesn’t seem to recognize you anymore, suddenly sleeps during the day (and wanders around wailing at night), and seems to have forgotten trained commands, he is probably suffering from cognitive dysfunction.
But dr. Stelow tells Lifehacker that sometimes the signs aren’t always clear. “This [sounds] so random, but it’s not like that: if you ever see a dog walk to a closed door and stand on the hinge side waiting for the door to open, assume that it is a dog cognitive dysfunction acts, ”she says. “They just go to the wrong side of the door and insist that the door open there … It doesn’t happen to all dogs with cognitive dysfunction, but it does to dogs that do [this] invariably have [it]. ”
Cognitive dysfunction in cats looks a little different; the list of symptoms is much shorter. Loss of home training and increased vocalizations – “So a cat that walks around the house and cries in front of nothing,” as Dr. Stelow puts it – are usually the only signs cat owners get. Any of these symptoms alone could be reason enough for investigation, but if your cat is doing both it is important to ask about a possible cognitive cause.
Monitor all symptoms
You can’t prevent or reverse CDS, but as a pet owner, there are a few things you can do to help. The first and most important thing is to know what all of the symptoms look like, not just the ones that might be making your life difficult. “We tell veterinary students that the [symptoms] what the owners are yelling into you is the loss of home training … and the change[s] on the sleep-wake cycle … those other things, sometimes they just shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Well this is the age for you,’ “says Dr. Stelow.
Don’t be too quick to write down strange behavior as “just old age”. If you have a middle-aged or older pet, don’t wait for it to poop on the carpet or keep you up all night before you take it to the vet. These might be your only symptoms, but the idea is to make sure you don’t miss any others.
Try puzzle feeders, exercise, and exercise for a mental workout
Exercise is important to pet health, but when it comes to CDS, Dr. Stelow that mental exercise is just as important. Feeding puzzles and toys are some of the best tools we have to keep our pets mind occupied: “Almost everyone should feed their pets with food toys and puzzles anyway – it helps ward off stagnation in the brain, ”she says.
In the same way, Dr. Stelow interactive training, even (and especially) for cats – but for fun, not obedience. Learning new skills will keep your pet’s brain busy and interesting for both of you. If you’re not sure where to start, think of cute or otherwise desirable things your pet is already doing. “It’s easy to sense behaviors,” explains Dr. Stelow. “You don’t think about teaching cats to sit, but it’s a behavior they do.” High fives, handshakes and coming when you call are everything great starting tricks for a cat.
Dogs can of course learn new tricks too, but if you really want to challenge them, Dr. Stelow to get involved in a sport. Your options are almost limitless: agility, scent tracking, musical canine freestyle (also known as dog dancing), dock jumping, dog surfing, disc dog, canicross (cross-country running with dogs), sled racing, and search and rescue, to name a few to name little. Even the restrained dog sport requires a tremendous mental effort, which is exactly what you want it to be.
Exercise and exercise are more than just mental training – they also strengthen your relationship with your pet, which is extremely important for their mental and emotional wellbeing. They can’t get this connection from anyone else: you’re their best buddy.
Change (or add to) your diet
Switching your pet’s diet to one high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can also help relieve CDS symptoms. MCTs, which are usually made from coconut oil, have been used in Diets for Brain Health for years. The theory is that MCTs break down into ketones that the brain can absorb and use for energy instead of or in addition to glucose. Basically, MCTs (and ketones) provide the brain with another source of energy to power various brain-related activities. which can be helpful for people with impaired brain function for one reason or another.
The same goes for dogs, at least in theory. It’s limited Research Suggesting MCTs-Enriched Dog Foods Help CDS Symptoms. Dr. Stelow recommends Purina Bright Mind because it is available over the counter and is “moderately high” in MCTs. (Higher values are geared towards treating epilepsy and may be exaggerated for CDS.) However, there are several MCT-fortified pet foods out there, so be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian.
Diet supplements can also help your pet, especially those with antioxidants. Dr. Stelow says denamarine and senalife are most commonly used to support the brain. They won’t turn back the clock, but they fall firmly into the “can’t hurt, could help” category.
Do not wait
The cool thing about all of these interventions, from puzzle feeders to nutritional supplements, is that it’s never too late to get started. “Once a dog or cat reaches middle age, it is perfectly appropriate for an owner to say, ‘I’m going to change your diet to something that contains MCTs, I’m going to give you an antioxidant supplement.’ “Says Dr. Stelow. “But when you start seeing clinical signs, turn them into full swing.” She also points out that pet owners often drop out of training and high-intensity games when their companions are middle-aged, precisely when both are becoming particularly important to cognitive health. So keep playing with your older pets: challenge them with puzzle feeders, interactive toys, exercise, and even exercise.
As helpful as special food and training may be, the most important thing to do is to observe your pet’s behavior for a lifetime. This is the only way to tell what is normal and what is not. Dr. Stelow put it best: “Old age is not a disease,” she says. “When you see clinical signs of illness, don’t call it age.”