“Alzheimer’s” in Pets

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Many older adults benefit from the friendship of a companion pet. Like people, pets are living longer these days which may help to explain why an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome (called cognitive dysfunction, or CD, in animals) is receiving growing attention from veterinarians and scientists. Writing for USA Weekend, Steve Dale recently reported on the issue:

Veterinary behaviorist Gary Landsberg of Ontario, Canada, is conducting research on CD in cats. Carl Cottman, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at University of California-Irvine, has investigated the disorder in both people and dogs. These researchers and other leaders in the field have learned that social interaction, physical exercise, enrichment (e.g., lifelong learning) and good diet appear to contribute to cognitive health in pets as well as in people.

Below are signs that CD may be present in a pet:

  • Disorientation/confusion;
  • Change in social interaction (e.g., withdrawal);
  • Sleeping disturbances;
  • Soiling in the house.
  • However, such problems could be caused by certain medical conditions like declining vision or diabetes, so veterinarians seek to exclude other medical explanations before settling on a diagnosis of CD. In some cases, CD and one or more additional health problems may be present.

    The experts agree that both cats and dogs should be given regular physical exercise. One of the best steps (pun intended) canine lovers can take is to walk their dogs. Moderate exercise is good for the heart and good for the brain — and that applies to the pet and to his or her human companion alike.

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