Category: Geriatric Pets (page 1 of 2)

Cognitive Dysfunction & Your Dog

What is Cognitive Dysfunction?

One of the saddest things you may experience in your life is seeing someone you know who was so full of life, so vibrant, so smart…all of the sudden just seem to not be able to think clearly anymore. Imagine if this was your dog. Yes, what we see in people such as senility, Alzheimer’s disease, or “sundowners syndrome” can also be seen in dogs (and possibly in cats but much less understood). The entire cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) has been an emerging area of understanding in the last several years. While senior pets may show signs that could be attributed to medical issues, those potential diseases should be ruled out before coming to the conclusion of what is considered to be a behavioral problem.

Studies have shown that starting around 6-7 years of age, dogs may start showing signs. Oftentimes, these go unnoticed until the condition has progressed to severe levels. Signs can include greater attention seeking to seeming to want to interact less with family, increased anxiety levels in situations that used to not bother them, and becoming less responsive when called or given a command. And these are the harder ones to note sometimes but also may not be as concerning in the mind of the family. Signs more likely to get attention are soiling in the house, restlessness at night (stay up all night and sleep in the daytime), or pacing constantly.

What can we do to help?

cognitive dysfunction enrichment

Jennifer & Keltie rally obedience practice

The sooner signs are noted or addressed, the better chance we have of helping a dog’s quality of life. Much like we encourage enrichment for cats or exotic pets, dogs can benefit from such activities as scent detection, competitive obedience, or agility – activities that help them think and positively stimulate their brains. Sometimes just playing and interacting with your dog can be a good start. It’s important to keep in mind any medical or physical limitations, especially as your pup ages. Adding in toys can always be a good idea especially puzzles or toys that dispense food to keep then thinking and engaged.

Further treatment to help alleviate signs can be found with some medications but their effects may be variable from patient to patient.  Medications and supplements should be discussed with your veterinarian to determine what might work best for your particular dog and what the proper dosages are. Senior pet diets supplemented with fatty acids, antioxidants, and medium chain triglycerides can also be beneficial. There is a lot of exciting research and new tools to help these patients coming in the near future.

Due to our ability to better recognize these problems and the tendency for the earliest signs to start at middle to early senior years, it truly is important to have your pet checked out at least once a year. There may be something we can work on together to help you and your dog live in harmony while working through cognitive dysfunction. Have you noted any changes or signs mentioned above in your dog? If so, what have you done that seems to help?

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers.

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Senior Pet Care – How You Can Help

senior pet dogPeople everyday are getting a new puppy, kitten, or other pet to join their family. And yes, most of the time these new additions are just in their first few months of a long life.  For a few of these pets, we as veterinarians will see them for their initial vaccines, adoption exams, maybe a spay or neuter surgery. Some of them will make annual visits for a check up while others we may not see for several years once they are much older or only if they are sick. It’s these senior pets that we often can make the most difference in their quality of life.

I cannot stress enough the importance of an annual examination, or in the case of pets with chronic illnesses every 6 months. This should start from the time they are young adult animals until their final days. Early detection of a condition can save lives and keep pets healthier for longer. Who wouldn’t want their furry kid to have a happy life for as long as possible? I definitely do! The world just won’t be the same without them, which is why we need to take great care of them when they’re not feeling their best. Regardless of whether you try and look for treats made with CBD that can help to manage any pain they may be experiencing as a result of arthritis, or if you decide to seek help with a licensed professional, every little thing that you do will help. That’s the first step you can do to help your pets with the aid of your veterinarian. Yet, there are somethings you can do yourself or that you should pay special attention to help them out in their golden years.

buzby toe grips

Mobility issues can be quite difficult to overcome but can make a significant improvement in how a pet feels. Signs can be obvious from a noticeable limp to more subtle signs such as dragging a foot, difficulty with stairs, or a decreased appetite. While some patients will benefit from supportive medications, the most important thing you can do is to keep them at a healthy weight! If you have slippery floors, you should look at adding some area rugs or another idea is a product called Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips. These grips fit onto the nails on your dog and help them in getting traction so they can walk around better. Another quick tip: If you’ve got stairs, consider a ramp.

cytology from a lump aspiration

cytology from a lump aspiration

Lumps and bumps are often seen as a part of growing old. Sometimes these lumps can be benign but that means there’s also a potential chance for them to be malignant. The tendency for many people tends to be watching the lump to see if it changes in size, color, temperature, or texture. The problem is when those lumps grow in areas such as the legs which make it difficult to remove them entirely or not without a higher risk of complications. Another risk if is the pet chews on the lumps or if they burst. Let’s be honest for a moment…when someone tells me the lump wasn’t there yesterday, that can only be the truth less than 20% of the time. So as my colleague Dr. Sue Cancer Vet says, “Why wait? Aspirate!” Basically, if a lump is there for more than a month and is larger than a pea, you should get it checked out before it’s too late.



Much like people, senior pets can show signs changes in their behavior similar to Alzheimers disease in people. In cats & dogs, we call this cognitive dysfunction. There are no definitively effective treatments unfortunately but there are some things that can help. In particular, some specialty prescription diets can help protect the brain from free radicals which can lead to oxidation of cells in the brain. Hence, the idea of antioxidants can help to reduce this damage by blocking the reactions. Something else to consider would be to go against the adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and work/play with them to give their brains something to be challenged by. Studies show that for people doing activities like crossword puzzles that encourage thought processes can delay or help fight the onset these changes so maybe there’s some hope that it could work for pets too. Some ideas to work on are scent or food detection (think the object is under one of three bowls sleight of hand trick) or even reinforcing previously learned behaviors or tricks.

corneal disease

corneal disease

Other changes that you might notice might be with their eyes. Some eye conditions may affect vision but could possibly be painful as well. For some breeds such as brachycephalics (pugs, pekingese, shih tzus), they will often develop a condition called dry eye which while not necessarily painful, can be uncomfortable and cause a pigmentation of the cornea. If they are going blind, just don’t rearrange the furniture. Moving to the back end of the pet, incontinence is often over-represented as a presenting complaint when pets arrive at the clinic. Yes, they may be leaking urine but in reality, the odds of a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes creating urine overflow are much more likely.

Your pets aren’t “just getting old.” While they are aging, they are living longer than they did 20 years ago and that means we’ll see more health problems. There are many facets to the care of your senior pet. You are their biggest advocate and need to be the watchdog over their health. By noticing subtle changes and having them addressed as soon as possible, you can keep things from getting worse and making treatment less difficult & more promising. A general rule of thumb is a check up every 6-12 months. Senior pets are just like our older relatives, treasured companions that are still full of love; so be sure to take care of them!

Disclaimer: All blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers.

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“Wag the Tail”

“Wag the Tail”

Hey, it’s Charlie.   I’ve taken over dad’s blog again to tell you something important.   Actually, grand-dad told Ryan Charlie st patrick daysomething about “wagging the tail” and between the two of us, we think we’ve figured it out.   But since I’m so personable and a great story teller, dad is letting me share it with you.   Oh wait, dad says he’s going to help me tell it to make sure we all understand if I get confused or distracted.


The 4th and last chemo treatment

The 4th and last chemo treatment

It all started a few weeks ago.   After my second chemo treatment, strange things began happening including seizures and I was having some collapse type episodes.   One night, I remember dad telling me it was okay to “go” so I knew my illness was wearing on him.   I also didn’t want to eat which is so unlike me.   It was some pretty scary stuff.   A few weeks later after the fourth chemo treatment, I couldn’t walk.   I never had my next scheduled chemo treatment but I heard mom and dad talking about the big sleep.   It was just before a weekend so they wanted to spend some time with me and spoil me rotten.   I wagged my tail and in return got lots of hugs and lots of food I shouldn’t normally eat.


"Chemo was exhausting!"

“Chemo was exhausting!”

As that weekend went on, I started getting stronger and getting back to being able to walk.   I felt like that guy in the movie “Rocky” as he’s running on the steps and everyone is cheering for him.   Dad was so happy he told me there was no more chemo!   This was good because I hated the weekly needle pokes and feeling sick.   On the other hand, I got some to take some steroids – I didn’t get the rage and I sure didn’t pack on a lot of muscle but they did make me feel better.   I wagged my tail.


Resting with my buddy Taylor

Resting with my buddy Taylor

I had an accident in the house…I blame it on the drugs!   And so did dad.   He didn’t get mad.   He actually hugged me and took me outside.   If only I had known this trick earlier in life…I could have gotten away with a lot more!   The gentleness I’ve experienced only makes me want to do better and to keep on trucking.   I’m not quite ready to stop watching over my family.   Yep, my tail is still wagging.


It’s been a few weeks now.   Steroids made me happy and with every thing I did, dad seemed happier too, so much that if he had a tail, he’d probably be wagging it.   Instead, I figured smiles, hugs, and belly rubs are the same expression.   We pets are very perceptive and emotional; can’t you see it in our eyes and feel it in our slobbery kisses?   When our families are happy, we feel good.   When our families are stressed, we also feel anxious.   We feed off of emotions (and cookies!)…

Charlie lost in the bag of Charlee Bear treats

Charlie lost in the bag of Charlee Bear treats

Charlie….hey bud, we’re not done yet.   Oh there he goes…Charlie has lost himself in the bag of Charlee Bear treats again.   It’s Dr. Llera now so I’ll wrap this up for the both of us.   What Charlie & I have learned through this is that when times are tough, you should try to see the silver lining that is there and try to keep a positive mental attitude.   In any alarming situation with your pets, there is always hope.   It may be the hope that everything will turn out alright.   Or it may be the hope that you try your best and that they don’t suffer.   The important thing to remember is to stay strong, give your pet all the love you can, and know that in the end everything will work out.   So what are you waiting for?   Go “wag that tail.”

best friends


Disclaimer: Blog posts may be opinions which are my own and do not reflect those of my current or any former employers. 

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