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Even Dogs And Cats Can Get Dementia—Here’s How To Help Prevent It

The top 3 tips for boosting Fido’s cognitive function with food and play...

The top 3 tips for boosting Fido’s cognitive function with food and play.


By Marygrace Taylor, Rodale's Organic Life

You probably keep an eye on your senior furry friend to make sure she’s eating enough and that her joints are in good shape. But it’s just as important to look out for her aging brain. 

[post_ads]It’s heartbreaking to think about, but dog or cat dementia, or cognitive dysfunction syndrome, is a real thing. And it’s more common than you might think. Nearly 30% of dogs aged 11 and 12 show at least one sign of cognitive impairment, while 55% of cats aged 11 to 15 are affected. As dogs or cats get older, the risk continues to go up.

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How does it happen? Similar to dementia in humans, cognitive dysfunction syndrome is thought to be caused by a build-up of harmful plaque and a decrease in neurotransmitters in the brain. Both of these things can affect cognitive function, explains holistic veterinarian Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT of Boulder Holistic Vet.  

Whether the condition will affect your dog or cat has a lot to do with genetics, says integrative veterinarian Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH, of Animal Acupuncture in New York. The good news is that just like in people, making changes to your pet’s lifestyle could help keep her brain healthy. Here are 3 simple, natural steps you can take.

Related: 5 First-Aid Essentials Every Pet Owner Should Know


Westend61/ Getty

Prioritize exercise

It’s no secret that regular physical activity will improve your pet’s health overall. But it also boosts blood flow to the brain and serves up more stimulation than sitting around on the couch all day, which are both important for brain health, Krause says.
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Related: Does Your Dog Or Cat Need To Go On A Diet?

Your pet doesn’t have to be running around all day long. University of California findings show that two 20-minute walks per day can promote brain health in dogs. And though you might not be able to take your cat out on a leash, you can still encourage her to move more. Get a cat tower if you don’t already have one, and play games with lasers or wands.


Keep things interesting

[post_ads]Fresh activities will keep your dog or cat mentally stimulated, which is key for keeping her brain in shape, say Barrack and Krause. Treat your furry friend to new toys regularly and serve their food in a challenging food puzzle instead of a basic bowl.
Try to expose your pet to new things, too. Set up a perch at another window so your cat has a new spot to watch. Take your dog on a new walking route or try to get to the dog park regularly, so he can interact with other pups. “Mainly, you want to create a healthy environment with lots of mental stimuli,” Barrack says.


Don’t discount the power of love, either. “Affection definitely provides stimulation to your pet’s mind and helps them feel good,” Barrack says. Spend a few extra minutes doling out that chin or belly rub. And consider giving your dog a massage—like exercise, it can increase blood flow to the brain, says Krause. (This video can help you get started.) 

 
 
Give their food a brain boost

Treat your pet to more fresh fruits and vegetables, like berries, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, or carrots. They’re rich in antioxidants that are thought to promote a healthy brain, Krause says. (Avoid giving grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, or any foods containing the sugar alcohol xylitol, which are toxic to dogs and cats.) Commercial pet foods formulated to encourage mental health are another good option. They’re often rich in brain-supporting antioxidants, vitamins C and E, selenium, beta-carotene, carnitine, and omega-3s, says Barrack. (Here are 18 more foods you should never feed your pets.) 
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Supplements can help, too. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are thought to fight inflammation, while curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) may play a role in preventing plaque buildup in the brain, says Krause. Certain Chinese herbs may also be effective, but talk with an experienced vet to determine which ones are right for your pet, Barrack says.
 
 
Signs to watch for

[post_ads]Sadly, there’s no foolproof prevention for cognitive dysfunction syndrome—and it’s still possible that your dog or cat will start to slow down mentally despite your best efforts. Pay attention for these common signs:
+Confusion and disorientation, like getting lost in familiar spaces.
+Anxiety and restlessness, like wandering around the room.
+Disregard for previous training, like not coming when called.
+Having accidents in the house or outside of the litter box.
+Excessive self-grooming or licking, or in cats, a lack of desire for self-grooming.
+Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
+Changes in social behavior, like lack of interest in interactions or becoming overly clingy.


If you notice that your dog or cat is showing symptoms of dementia, talk with your vet. At-home assessments that you can find online aren’t always accurate, and it’s important to also rule out other conditions that could be causing your pet’s symptoms, Krause says. Plus, your vet can help you figure out a plan for keeping your pet as happy and comfortable as possible—including dietary changes, maintaining a daily routine, regular playtime and exercise, and even alternative therapies like acupuncture, Barrack says.

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Lifestyle Magazine: Even Dogs And Cats Can Get Dementia—Here’s How To Help Prevent It
Even Dogs And Cats Can Get Dementia—Here’s How To Help Prevent It
The top 3 tips for boosting Fido’s cognitive function with food and play...
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