Recognition & Integrative Prevention & Treatment For An Often Overlooked Disease In Senior Aged Dogs

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I hear it all the time when I ask how a senior aged canine patient is doing at the beginning of a well visit. The answer often goes something along the lines of  these variations:

“He is good, but doesn’t seem to hear well because he doesn’t come sometimes when I call him.”

“He is good, but doesn’t seem to hear that well because he doesn’t always greet people at the door anymore.”

“He is good but has selective hearing…he doesn’t not always come when called, but for some reason, he always hears his food dish being filled.”


In the majority of cases, simple hearing tests I perform as part of my routine physical examination reveal that the patient can hear just fine. What the owner perceives as lack of hearing or selective hearing is usually the early stages dementia, also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. In fact, a Washington State University study determined that by age 11, 30% of dogs are showing early signs of dementia. The percentage of dogs with dementia increases with age until by age 16, 100% of dogs according to the same study have dementia.

Dementia in dogs results from age related changes in the brain that lead to reduced perfusion of the memory centers of the brain. These degenerative changes also lead to personality changes such as heightened anxiety, depression, insomnia, or even aggression. These changes can start as early as 7 years of age.

Clinical signs of dementia in dogs begins with them not always coming when called or not running to the door to greet people. They often seem to have selective hearing because they may still recognize their favorite cues like hearing the food bag open or seeing their owner getting the leash for a walk. As the most exciting things in their lives, feeding and walks stand out most prominently in their minds and those memories are often the last to go.

Eventually, dogs with progressing dementia may fail to recognize food and not eat, experience pacing and vocalize often in the evening hours. They may also go from having been very well house trained all of their lives to eliminating in the home.

If you have a senior aged dog (7 years or older), the following are integrative solutions that serve as proactive prevention and treatment of dementia:

1.) Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 Fatty Acids derived from fish oil have potent anti-inflammatory activity in the body. As a key component to the cell membrane, omega-3 fatty acids also protect and maintain the integrity and health of cells. In the case of the brain, with the body lacking the ability to make new brain cells known as neurons (like people, dogs are born with a finite number of brain cells), this is key. Omega-3 fatty acids also help preserve the health of blood vessels, helping to maintain good blood flow to the brain and other organs.

2.) S-Adenosyl Methionine (SAM-E): SAM-E is a molecule that is formed naturally in the body. It can also be made in the laboratory. SAM-E is involved in the formation, activation, or breakdown of other chemicals in the body, including hormones, proteins, phospholipids; and certain drugs involved in the formation, activation, or breakdown of other chemicals in the body, including hormones, proteins, phospholipids, and certain drugs.

As a supplement, SAM-E is known to help improve mental performance, reduce depression and anxiety, and help in the treatment of many other diseases.

3.) Daily Walk: In addition to the benefits of exercise, taking your dog for a walk is mentally stimulating for them and helps to keep their mind stimulated and alert. Mental stimulation maintains blood circulation in the brain, playing a key role in brain health.

Items 1-3, I would implement for any dog 7 years or older. There is no adverse side effects or negative aspects these strategies. In fact, in addition to brain health, by implementing these simple strategies, you will also promote health in many other areas of the body. If your senior dog is experiencing confusion, selective hearing, and/or night pacing, in addition to 1-3, I would add treatment number 4.

4.) Selegiline: Selegiline is sold under the veterinary brand name Anipryl. Taken once daily, it increases dopamine production in the brain that increases perfusion to the memory centers of the brain. Selegiline also increases serotonin production in the brain, which reduces stress and anxiety associated with dementia.  Selegiline requires a prescription from your veterinarian.

If you have a senior age dog, now that you have read this article, be cognizant of subtle signs of dementia. Whether you see signs or not, take a proactive approach to prevention once your dog enters the realm of the senior years at age 7.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.