The old saying, “Use it or lose it” applies to our pets just as it does people. As cats and dogs age, their eyesight dims, hearing may become ify, joints turn creaky…and their brains can turn sluggish. While that’s a normal part of aging for us all, a small percentage of pets also can suffer from dementia with signs and causes similar to human Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Plaque deposits in the brain can lead to these disorders. Canine and feline cognitive disorders typically affect very old pets. Dogs tend to be age fourteen and above, while cats age more gracefully and may not show signs until their late teens.
Affected pets act confused. Their awake/sleep cycles become disrupted. They may “forget” to asked for a potty break, or be unable to find the litter box. And they may seem to not recognize beloved human or pet buddies.
The good news is that studies with animals benefit our pets AND can help human sufferers. You can ask your veterinarian about a drug called Anipryl approved for use in dogs and sometimes also helpful for cats. The drug actually works great in about 1/3rd of patients and reverses signs of dementia. Another 1/3rd of pets benefit somewhat, and the remainder don’t seem to show improvement at all. There’s also a special prescription-only food available that helps dogs. In every case, though, these interventions simply postpone the inevitable.
What helps the most, though, is keeping your pets active throughout their lives. Exercising their creaky joints keeps them limber and helps prevent problems with weight gain that complicates arthritis. And exercising kitty and d*ggy brains with tricks and obedience training keeps their minds healthy and less likely to develop problems.
Do you share your life with an older cat or dog? How old are your critters? Do they still practice obedience or enjoy trick training? It’s never too late to start, and could help keep your special pet connected throughout his golden years.