With better nutrition and more available/advanced veterinary care, pets are living longer than ever. Coupled with the fact that many households regard pets as part of the family, pets are enjoying healthy, meaningful lives interacting with the human household for many years.
Changes to Expect as Your Pet Gets Older
As your pet gets older, some changes are inevitable—a few more gray hairs, slower gait, perhaps more finicky or more reluctant to have the routine changed.
Some changes, however, are written off as "normal for old age" when they may be signs of something known as canine or feline cognitive dysfunction, both of which are similar to dementia in people. This is a series of geriatric behavioral problems, not explained by other medical conditions. For instance, have you noticed any of these typical behaviors?
- General confusion. Your pet doesn't greet or seem to recognize you as before, or your pet gets "lost" in the yard or house.
- Inappropriate vocalization. Does your pet bark or meow in the middle of the night, or for no "good" reason? (Although some dogs don't need a reason to bark.)
- Getting day and night mixed up. Is it sleeping all day and awake all night?
- Confusing indoor and outdoor. Is a previously housebroken pet soiling in the house?
- Personality changes. Is your formerly outgoing and friendly pet becoming timid or aggressive?
Have Your Pet Examined to Rule out Physical or Medical Conditions
The first thing to do is to see your veterinarian for a general health exam and to rule out any physical or medical problems that could cause abnormal behavior. If your pet gets a clean bill of health, you may want to speak to your veterinarian about a medication called Anipryl. This drug has been approved to help dogs with cognitive dysfunction. Veterinarians can also prescribe it "off label" for cats.
The Effects of Anipryl and Possible Side Effects
Anipryl is the veterinary trade name for a drug called selegiline. It is primarily used in humans for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. The drug is approved by the FDA for use in dogs for the treatment of pituitary-dependent hyperadrenocorticism (PDH), which is a type of Cushing's disease, and for canine cognitive dysfunction.
The effectiveness of Anipryl for cognitive dysfunction appears to be quite variable. Some owners have reported near-miraculous changes in their geriatric dog's behavior after starting Anipryl, while others have not seen such dramatic improvement.
Possible side effects of this drug include (but aren't limited to): vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactive/restless, anorexia, staggering, seizure, and lethargy. More serious side effects can be seen when Anipryl is used in conjunction with certain other drugs such as ephedrine, opioids, phenylpropanolamine, amitraz, and several classes of antidepressants.
Other Treatment Options
Evidence published in 2018 suggests that antioxidants in the diet may promote cognitive health and slow the process of decline. Other nutritional support products for pets include omega 3 fatty acids, SAMe, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), Senilife by Ceva, and b/d Diet by Hill's pet foods.
Keeping your pet's environment as unchanged as possible while ensuring that they get ample exercise, mental stimulation, and quality family time are all also extremely important for maintaining quality of life.
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome in Companion Animals: Diagnosis and Treatment. Michigan Veterinary Medical Association
Anipryl Prescribing Information. Zoetis
Pan, Yuanlong et al. Efficacy Of A Therapeutic Diet On Dogs With Signs Of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS): A Prospective Double Blinded Placebo Controlled Clinical Study. Frontiers In Nutrition, vol 5, 2018. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00127