What is Neurological Disorders (Aging)?
Due to leading advancements in diagnosing and treatments that are now available, there are now many options available to families with an aging dog. As your dog ages, it is more important than ever to be observant for any changes in behavior, and balance loss or incoordination that may be passed over as just ‘old age’.
It could be the start of a disease that could easily be treated in its early stages. While these disorders can be devastating to owners and frustrating to deal with, the sooner you seek veterinarian help the better off your dog will be.
As your dog ages, risks of developing neurological disorders such as strokes, brain tumors and neurodegenerative disorders increases and that may compromise their quality of life.
Symptoms of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs
- Changes in the activity level
- Reluctance to venture out or join in any high energy activity
- Changes in their sleep pattern
- Wandering around during the night
- Spinal pain
- Limb weakness
- Lack of coordination
- Unexplained changes to their normal temperament
- Balance problems such as wobbling and unsteady gait
- Urinary or fecal incontinence that may result in house soiling
- Vision loss or impairment
- Convulsive seizures
- As your dog ages, dementia and other symptoms as listed above are surprisingly common but most owners put it down as the aging process whereas these conditions signal the signs of developing neurological disease
- Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) is a neurodegenerative disease/condition in older dogs which results in reduced cerebral blood flow to the brain and an accumulation of free radicals in that area
- Neurological diseases are mistakenly attributed to your dog becoming older and are ignored whereas many great advances in veterinary medication demonstrate that with early treatment your dog can live a full healthy life as it ages
Causes of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs
As your dog ages, he may suffer some changes in the way his brain works.
- Brain atrophy - Changes in the weight and size of the brain area and reduced number of brain cells causes a gradual loss of brain function causing notable ‘old age’ symptoms
- Increased beta amyloid plaques - This is a protein that accumulates in the brain and damages the cells, inhibiting the normal functioning of the brain
- Several micro sized hemorrhages (bleeding) may occur, or blood flow can be disrupted both which compromise the blood flow and oxygen needed for a healthy brain
- Changes to the neurotransmitter levels - High levels of Monoamine Oxidase B (MAOB) results in a lowering of dopamine levels; dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter in the brain
Diagnosis of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs
Neurologists in the field of veterinary medicine have made great advances in knowledge, with specialised training in the diagnosis and treatment areas. Your dog may be referred to a specialist who will work with your local veterinarian to diagnose and treat your pet. Any information you can provide your specialist with will help with diagnosis. Details, like noting any unusual behavior and when it began, or even a video of your dog when it is acting differently will be of an immense help. Remember it is never normal for an older pet to show signs of neurological dysfunction; the more observant you are the more relevant information you will be able to provide to your pet specialist.
After a discussion with them your specialist will perform a complete neurological exam which will include X-rays, MRI, and CT scan as well special blood tests to assist with diagnosis. Samples of your companion’s spinal fluid may also be taken. While it can be upsetting to see your old friend’s health deteriorate, the good news is that there is usually something that can be done to alleviate the condition, and the earlier you notice your dog changing, the easier and more effective it is to provide treatment.
Treatment of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs
Nutrition and personal attention are ways that you can manage your dog’s cognitive decline. A diet rich in antioxidants and fatty acids can help fight the free radicals that are attacking your dog’s brain and it has been proven through several studies that older dogs respond and can improve in just a few weeks. Your pet specialist will be able to advise of dietary changes needed or whether supplements may help. Keeping your dog’s brain active is important. A home that is rich in play, companionship and active learning is the best prevention. Hiding your dog’s treats in special places or in a dog treat puzzle toy is a good start to exercising the brain.
Treatment depends on the extent of your dog’s condition; some things we can control, others can be slowed in their progression, and others can be managed, which will make your companion feel better. Training exercises will help strengthen an older dog’s limbs and body to avoid injury. The spinoff is that the extra activity also fires up the brain and will improve your dog’s appetite, mood and sleeping patterns. Medication may be necessary when treating cognitive dysfunction to help prolong the dopamine activity in the brain. While surgery may be required for serious conditions such as cancerous tumors in the brain, or intervertebral disk disease in the spine, most conditions can be managed with supportive care, medication and a change in diet and preferably early intervention.
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Recovery of Neurological Disorders (Aging) in Dogs
Ideally from the moment you get your dog right through to the aging of your pet, prevention through diet, exercise and a happy environment will be practiced. The observant owner can notice the early onset of any health problem, even though dogs are clever and keep their pain to themselves. While you don’t want to be going to the veterinary clinic every time your dog sneezes, common sense will dictate when it is necessary to do so.
Early intervention will prevent disease from settling in to your dog’s system and taking over. It is far easier to treat a condition before it becomes rampant, it is also cheaper, and it is kinder on your dog. Home care for the older dog, including the correct diet combined with enjoyable activity and care management of medication and treatment, will see a spring in your pet’s step as he enjoys his later years.
Neurological Disorders (Aging) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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I have a 10 year old, diabetic, hypothyroid, spayed Rat Terrier mix who had successful cataract surgery approximately 14 months ago. She began losing her vision again 3 months ago. She is under constant Ophthalmological care, as well as our regular veterinarian (diabetes and thyroid are stable). She is scheduled for an MRI in late August (this was the soonest appointment available) to look for any neurological disorders causing her blindness. She has no other symptoms, is active and social. Obviously cancer is a possibility, but what other conditions could be the cause (all of her bloodwork is normal)? Also, can you tell me what I need to be watching for between now and her MRI appointment? Thank you so much.
July 9, 2018
I’m sure your Ophthalmologist has rule out the usual causes associated with diabetes, increased blood pressure, glaucoma and other similar issues; with the MRI we would be looking for tumours or abnormalities which may indicate a possible loss of vision. In the meantime you should look for changes in behaviour, gait and general well being; if you have concerns about any new symptom visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
July 10, 2018
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I have a 10 year old male chihuahua named Diesel. About a year ago he started having seizures. 10 months ago he had bloat. He developed a head tilt and ataxia at which was treated as an inner ear infection but thought possibly something neurological. It took a couple months and the tilt an ataxia went away. Meanwhile he has been on Phenobarbital for the seizures for 10 months. He also developed some sort of allergy, red belly and licking his feet a lot. Changed diet He is now on long term allergy meds, but the red belly is not going away. My vet feels its from the Phenobarbital. In the past 2 months all 4 paws have become swollen and he no longer wants to go for his walks. He also displays signs of discomfort when laying down. His appetite is good, he is very alert. Wobbles a lot when walking but he has always done that.
July 7, 2018
As far as I am aware there are no adverse side effects of phenobarbital which include an irritated abdomen or paws; irritation of the abdomen and paws may be related to other allergies including grass, food or others. It is difficult to say what exactly is going on there with Diesel, but I would try to keep him comfortable and continue with treatment as prescribed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.noahcompendium.co.uk/?id=-459394
July 8, 2018
Thank you for the quick reply. Things have taken a turn for the worse. This morning Diesel could not walk on his front right paw, holding it straight out and obvious pain. On vet examination there is no evident signs of trauma or strains. It seems to be part of his slow decline in mobility. Have him on Tramadol for the pain but its not giving much comfort. He was quite active yesterday and in good spirits, so maybe he pulled something and we just can't pinpoint it. I am hoping.
July 10, 2018
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