Tuesday, April 6, 2010 12:17 PM

Can Pets Develop Senile Dementia?

Just like people, animals can also develop the symptoms of dementia as they enter into old age. Our brains are not all that dissimilar from those of animals, so this should not be much of a surprise. Companion animals, who typically live much longer lives than those that live in the wild, are more prone to this syndrome due to their longer lifespans. Even if a wild animal started to exhibit such symptoms as we associate with dementia, they would not survive long enough to get much worse.

Dogs seem to suffer from senility more often than cats. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian from Tufts University, describes canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome as developing sometime after age ten. Dogs with this problem wander around as if disoriented, seem indifferent to other animals and people they once interacted with, soil inside the house more often and suffer sleep disturbances, particularly restlessness after dark.

In cats, the symptoms may be similar. A neighbor's 20-year-old cat stumbled into our yard last summer, continually wandering around in circles and listing to one side. This cat was obviously deaf and at least partially blind, as well. It should go without saying that an animal in that condition should not be let outside!

Fear and a constant state of trepidation often affects animals with dementia. The fact that they are often deaf and blind, or nearly so, only adds to their discomfort. A constantly stressed animal is not a happy one. Is there anything you can do to help your pet be more comfortable?

Depending upon the age of onset and the speed with which the decline continues, there are some things that may help. Contaminants and toxins in commercial pet food most likely helped this condition develop, so taking this item out of the mix can only have a positive impact. That means homemade food, or people food mixed with premium canned, at least. Don't worry too much about a homemade diet being sub-standard for your old pet. It will be easier to digest and free of poisons, as well as more nutritionally complete--especially if you give your animal a good vitamin supplement, too.

Provide snug spots for your animal to rest, where she will feel safe and secure. If your pet constantly has an anxious expression, try to comfort her. Pets who are deaf and blind are often the most anxious. They can't tell what is going on, and it upsets them. The stress will only make their condition worse. Try diluting Rescue Remedy in water and giving several drops in the pet's food at every meal. A quarter to half tablet of Calms Forte may also be helpful. Try each and see which one works best.

Senile dementia has no cure, and is fatal. These few simple steps will help until the time comes when nothing can make your companion comfortable. As you make plans to do what you know what must be done, remember that there is now an opportunity for you to give some other animal a new home, and a place in your heart.
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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