Slowing the Aging Process in Your Pet

Some herbs can be used to treat cognitive dysfunction and dementia in animals.

| January/February 2003

Anyone who is as old as I am knows the feeling: “Now why the heck did I come into this room? I must have had a good reason.” At my age the memory pathways of the brain are becoming evermore brambled and foggy, and it doesn’t take much to confuse me. Whereas I once loved to be around big parties of folks, I’d just as soon be by myself now, and as much as I love them all, after a while it can actually get to be a mite irritating to have bunches of grandkids running around. As a result, I am cranky and sometimes even bellicose.

I know exactly how my old dog Rufus felt during the last years of his life; I’m going through the same process. As an old guy, Rufus was often confused. There were times when he seemed to be “lost” in his own house or confused as to where he was and what he was doing on our daily walks across the prairie. Sometimes it was difficult to tell how much his failing eyesight and hearing were contributors, but he often looked as if he didn’t understand us when we asked him to obey simple obedience commands such as “come” or “sit.” Some nights he would wake us up in the middle of the night, whining as if he didn’t know where he was. As a pup, Rufus loved all kids, but as he aged, any loud congregation of little ones quickly drained his patience. He became more and more of a loner, and toward the end, this loving soul actually got to be a bit cranky.

Rufus was simply showing the symptoms many pets have as they age, symptoms that are common enough they have earned their place in our “doctor-talk” lexicon: Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or more simply the “Dimming Mind Syndrome” or “old-age dementia.” (Some folks refer to the syndrome as Animal Alzheimer’s, although the processes are different in the way their pathology begins and progresses.)

More about aging

Aging is not an overnight event; it is a continuum beginning at conception and continuing throughout a pet’s lifetime. Aging is a natural part of the life cycle that is particularly hard on the brain, and there are several reasons for this.

As an animal’s body ages, many organ systems decrease in size—potentially 30 percent of an organ’s mass, including brain mass, may be lost in old age. And, some of the working units of the organ may lose their functional capacity or they may simply disappear. Examples of affected functional units include the kidney’s nephrons and the neurons of the brain.

The brain’s neuronal firing mechanism is slowed in old age. This may be due to a diminished supply of necessary biochemicals, to fewer connections between neurons, or to some other “slowing” mechanism. Whatever the cause, we can expect an old pet to respond to stimuli slower and to take more time to reason things through.

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