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01.23.09

Dog Dementia

As we age, we notice our bodies and minds may not be as quick as they once were. Luckily for humans, we are able to voice problems and pains and seek the medical attention we need; our dogs are not so lucky.

While "Doggie Dementia" or canine cognitive disease does exist, Dr. Daniel Hicks, a veterinary neurologist and clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says the changes in your dogs behavior may be explained by other medical conditions.

"Many times what is thought to be dementia is actually connected to a larger scale problem such as a tumor, infection, or stroke," explains Hicks. Hicks states that subtle signs such as the loss of potty training, deviation from normal behavioral patterns, and changes in food preferences, appetite, or sleep patterns might be the result of an underlying neurological disorder.

"An example of behavioral pattern changes in dogs could be that you have let your dog out the back door for the past 10 years, and all the sudden they are going to the front door instead," explains Hicks. "Changes in food preferences and signs that they are eating and sleeping much more or less can potentially be caused by a problem in their nervous system."

These subtle signs may be early indicators of illnesses that can be difficult to recognize for pet owners. "Often dogs are brought to us after displaying obvious signs such as seizures, "circling," a term that refers to when animals pace in circles, vision deficits such as running into walls, and "head pressing" which is when an animal presses their head against a wall or an object for no apparent reason," notes Hicks.

It is important to remember that not all dogs will display all the signs, but if you notice your pet behaving oddly take them to your veterinarian for an evaluation. They can look for common disorders that might help explain what is going on with your pet.

"Preliminary evaluations and routine testing, can often find obvious problems," states Hicks. "Routine testing can include a physical examination, blood work, and urine samples, and help to diagnose diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems, arthritis, some forms of cancer, or infections."

If initial test results do not explain the cause for your pet's abnormal behavior, or if the results suggest additional information is required, the next step may be to see a specialist. Your veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary neurologist who can help determine what the problem is.

"A focused neurological examination begins with another hands-on assessment," explains Hicks. "If there is concern that the problem stems from the brain we can sample spinal fluid, test for various diseases, and get a MRI scan to get a better look at the problem."

Magnetic Resonance Images, commonly known as MRI's, allow veterinary neurologist to classify various diseases of the brain including cancer, strokes, and hydrocpehalus.

"The most important thing to remember when dealing with a pet's problem is to be aware of options," advises Hicks. "Knowing that advanced diagnostic tests and treatments are available helps guide people regarding the most appropriate level of care for their pet."

Depending on the test results and ultimately, the diagnosis, there can be many different treatment options. The symptoms can be the same for a large number of diseases. Hicks suggests that pursuing a diagnosis early on in the course of illness usually aids in more successful treatment outcomes.

"Some diseases once thought to be untreatable may now be very treatable," notes Hicks. "This includes, some forms of cancer, strokes, and head trauma.. For instance, cancer therapy has evolved to include sophisticated chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, which has lead to higher survival rates."

While some behavioral changes will be explained by the various tests performed, not all illness have a specific reliable test.

"Currently, since there is no single test for 'Doggie Dementia' we must rule out other diseases. In other words, the diagnosis comes by way of excluding other possibilities," states Hicks.

Whether your pet is suffering from a known illness or a case of "Doggie Dementia", it is important to have them evaluated so appropriate therapy may be instituted.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
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