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For Pets, Old Age May Have A Name

A first-person report by Sharon Zaccone, DVM, our electronic vet, exclusively at

Elderly dogs, like elderly people, experience age-related changes. These changes are insidious and often go unnoticed by their owners, since they feel they are normal changes.

Symptoms may include disorientation, changes in sleep/wake cycles, loss of house training, and reduced interaction with family members. When those signs are all seen together in geriatric animals, the condition is termed Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).

CDS is an age-related deterioration in the dog's cognitive abilities that cannot be attributed to metabolic disease or organ system failure. CDS is often referred to as "old dog syndrome" or senility.

There seems to be no difference in ratio of males to females that are affected. A total of 15 percent of 11-12 year olds met strict definition criteria for dementia, as did 21 percent of 13 and 14 year olds. In 15-year-old animals, 50 percent of pets had dementia.

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CDS is diagnosed by exclusion. This means that all diseases, both metabolic and neurologic, must be ruled out before a CDS diagnosis is made. Therefore, the dog must undergo a thorough physical and neurologic exam and history, and a minimum database. This would include blood work and urinalysis. CT (Cat) and MRI scans are usually low-yield in this disease and not normally done.

It is imperative that the pet be evaluated, as some medical conditions (such as loss of vision and ability to hear) can lead to behavioral changes that mimic CDS.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for CDS. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, is currently attempting to get a drug through FDA approval that would be used for CDS patients. The drug, Anipryl or selegiline hydrochloride, is currently being used in Canada. We anxiously await approval for the U.S.

CDS is a common recognizable disease in older pets, since our senior pets play such an integral role in our lives. Since CDS manifests itself through behavioral signs, the pet owner plays a key role in identifying these changes and bringing them to the attention of their veterinarian.

© By Sharon Zaccone;1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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