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Diet, medicine and other support help old dog with dementia

Q: We think Buddy, our 12-year-old beagle, may be senile. He wanders around, stares into space and occasionally doesn’t recognize us. Sometimes he even urinates and defecates in the house. He is restless at night and sleeps during the day. How can we help him?

A: Buddy may very well have senile cognitive dysfunction, but first, ask your veterinarian to rule out other diseases that can cause similar clinical signs.

Cognitive dysfunction is common in senior dogs, its prevalence ranging from 22 percent at seven years of age to 73 percent in elderly dogs. There is no gender or breed predilection.
When senile dogs’ brains are examined at autopsy, they display the same abnormalities seen in human Alzheimer patients’ brains, including beta-amyloid plaques. In dogs, the severity of the plaques correlates with errors on cognitive tests.

If your veterinarian agrees that Buddy has cognitive dysfunction, you can improve his brain health by feeding him Hill’s b/d, a prescription diet shown to increase cognitive function within eight weeks. Research has proven that some medications, including selegiline (Anipryl) and SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine), help improve clinical signs.

You also can support Buddy by structuring a predictable routine, exercising him daily, providing a variety of toys and other environmental stimulation, and offering him opportunities to play with other dogs.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at

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