Senility, or old dog syndrome, was once a familiar way to describe the family dog that was starting to resemble an elderly grandparent’s strange lapse of memory and bouts of curious behavior. In recent years, the odd forgetfulness plaguing our aging senior population is being followed with an alarming question – could this be Alzheimer’s disease? Misplacing car keys and then misplacing the car has become more than a senior moment.
Researchers, some 20 years ago, began studying the canine brain as a research model for Alzheimer’s in humans. They discovered a striking similarity between both species. Microscopically, post-mortem affected dogs and humans showed similar plaque-like lesions (caused by a protein called B-amyloid) in brain tissues. In addition, cognitive testing showed the same progressive decline in mental functions associated with thinking, recognition, memory, and learned behavior. It’s now estimated that fifty percent of dogs over age of 10 years will exhibit one or more symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) or doggie Alzheimer’s. Researchers have studied heavy metal pollution as one likely cause – namely aluminum toxicity.
One of the principal symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome is disorientation. Your dog can appear lost in the house or yard, get stuck in corners or behind furniture, have difficulty finding the door to the yard (stands at the hinge side or goes to the wrong door), doesn’t recognize familiar people, and fails to respond to verbal cues and even his name. Before assuming your dog is showing signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome, your vet should rule out hearing or vision loss and other medical problems that could affect behavior. Also, if your dog is taking pharmaceutical drugs, possible side effects must be ruled out before accepting the diagnosis of CDS.
Housetraining is another area that suffers. Your dog may urinate and /or defecate indoors, sometimes even in the view of family members, failing to signal the need to go outside.
Often, interactions with family members become less intense. Your dog may seek less attention by walking away when being petted or show less enthusiasm when greeted. Other dogs become anxious and seem to need human contact 24/7 or start relentless pacing at night.
There is no specific test for this disorder. The number of symptoms the dog exhibits and its severity may prompt further testing. An MRI could show some degree of brain shrinkage, but the test would not be recommended unless a brain tumor is suspected. Proper diagnosis is often based on a checklist of behavioral questions and the score your dog receives.
Next week, find out how to reduce exposure to heavy metal poisoning by aluminum – common household, drugs and food products to avoid. And if your dog is already showing symptoms – help is on its way!