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Honeycomb, our "Golden" Yellow Lab
Adopted August 2012
Dear Friend of Pets Unlimited,

As our pets live longer lives, we are seeing not only a decline in their physical but also their cognitive health. It is easy to dismiss these changes as "getting old" but identifying and managing both their physical and mental declines can greatly improve the quality of their lives.


Some medical problems can be misinterpreted as senility. For example, arthritis can cause inactivity, which can be misinterpreted as apathy, mental dullness, poor vision or hearing. It is important to consider all aspects of a pet's behavior before deciding that they are becoming senile. With this in mind, the following are some symptoms commonly associated with aging pets:

  • Incontinence or inappropriate elimination
  • Vocalizations, particularly at night
  • Decreased awareness and responsiveness
  • Changes in routine like decreased play or interest in walks
  • Poor coordination or disorientation
  • Changes in attention-seeking behaviors with owners
  • Insomnia or increased time spent sleeping
  • Increased licking or chewing
  • Depression or irritability
  • Restlessness or pacing

 Helping Your Pet Enjoy Their Golden Years 

Many pet owners feel that there is nothing they can do to alleviate the ravages of old age. Previous generations of veterinarians focused on treating these problems with sedatives and psychiatric drugs. Though these therapies have a place, research has shown that nutrition slows the progression of and can even reverse the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction in our pets. Diets supplemented with antioxidants (vitamin C, E, carotenoids, flavonoids), omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA, l-carnitine, and alpha lipoic acid can help decrease damage to the brain over time and provide building blocks to repair damage already sustained. There are now many diets formulated for seniors, both prescription and commercial, with these supplements added. Studies in dogs and humans have shown that as the brain ages, the nervous system degenerates in different ways, including DNA damage, accumulation of neuronal waste products, mitochondrial dysfunction generating free radicals, and degeneration of white matter in neurons - all these can be at least partially addressed with diet. Degenerative changes are inevitable but they can be slowed through dietary management.


Other strategies to combat cognitive decline are medications. Cognitive enhancers such as selegeline (Anipryl), herbal supplements and sedatives can sometimes be used to help with the anxiety animals can experience as their perception of their world changes with aging.  For many geriatric pets, changes in cognition and their sensory perception can create significant stress and even fear. Unlike our human friends and family members, we cannot explain to our pets why the way they perceive the world has changed just as they cannot describe these changes to us. It is important that in addition to the medical, dietary and cognitive management of their aging, we also reassure them and try to help them adjust. It is difficult to watch our pets get old but, as members of our families, we need to do our best to understand and optimize the quality of their lives.


Questions? We've Got Answers!
     Our goal is to be the first place you go for advice about your pet's health.

 Although you can find information online, please ask us first when you have a question about how to best care for your senior cat or dog.  You can always call us with your questions at (415) 563-6700 or email us at askmyvet@petsunlimited.org and get a response from a veterinarian within 24 hours.  


Best Regards,

Dr. Phil Villard 

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