The most important role of a veterinarian is to help to maintain or improve the quality of life of our patients. Our patients are a different species than we are, and they cannot talk. This is part of the joy but also part of the challenge of practicing veterinary medicine.
As our dogs and cats age, they experience disease just as we do. Sometimes it is very obvious, other times it is not. If we do not look for it, we will miss it. So often, by the time we diagnose a problem, it is already advanced. This is why a good veterinarian does a complete physical exam, asks you questions about your pet (taking a history) and runs lab-work as needed. A veterinarian must be a detective, looking for evidence of disease that may be hidden.
A very common problem in older pets is cognitive dysfunction (CDS). Similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people, CDS is frequently seen in older pets. Studies indicate over 50% of elderly dogs and cats will show symptoms consistent with CDS. However, symptoms are often subtle and easily missed or dismissed by the pet owner and the veterinarian. CDS is a quality of life disease. Classic symptoms include:
- Disorientation (lost in the house, wandering, blank stare)
- Decreased interaction with people or other pets
- Alteration in sleep cycle (not sleeping well, sleeping too deep, pacing/panting at night)
- House-soiling accidents
Treatment of CDS can be rewarding. Although the disease cannot be stopped, symptoms can sometimes be reduced significantly and the pet can show dramatic improvement. Not every pet responds to treatment but studies suggest that an early diagnosis results in optimal treatment control.
Treatment options include environmental enrichment- toys, teaching new tricks/commands, stimulating the patient mentally. Foods supplemented with antioxidants, vitamins, fish oils – have clinically been proven to help. An antioxidant supplement called SAM-e can help lessen symptoms as can a medication called Selegiline. These are real treatment options that can provide real improvement.
As with many diseases, a multi-modal approach to dealing with CDS offers the best chance of significant improvement. It’s all about quality of life for our older patients. We may not always be able to extend their life, but many times we can enhance their enjoyment of life.
DR. Michael Johnson DVM LEARN MORE AT www.willowbendanimalhospital.com