With better nutrition and more available/advanced veterinary care, our 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, your pet gets 'lost' in the yard or house
- Inappropriate vocalization - barking or meowing in the middle of the night, or for no 'good' reason? (I know, some dogs don't need a reason to bark.)
- Getting day and night mixed up - sleeping all day, awake all night?
- Confusing indoor and outdoor - a previously housebroken pet soiling in the house?
- Personality changes - i.e. a 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 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 treatment of Parkinson's Disease. The drug is approved by the FDA for use in dogs for 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, 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, lethargy. More serious side effects can be seen when Anipryl is used in conjunction with certain other drugs like ephedrine, opioids, phenylpropanolamine, amitraz, and several classes of antidepressants.
Other Treatment Options
New evidence, similar to findings in humans, 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.