National Senior Pet Month is a great time to share some insight on processes that happen when our pets begin to age. The assessing of an animal reaching the age where he or she needs extra support is key. Whether it is physical signs of aging, cognitive signs of aging or supplement use.
We have a wonderful population of geriatric dogs, in part due to the work of so many wonderful people–owners, retailers, veterinarians, and scientists–who have gone above and beyond to provide the best care for our beloved pets. Our pets are living longer than ever seen before. With this aging population of pets, we are seeing an increase in the demand for geriatric care, as well as the development of diets and supplements to support vibrant aging. From cognitive support to joint health, there are so many ways to help older pets live a quality of life that matches the quantity of years.
Assessing if an animal is reaching the age where he or she needs extra support is key. The natural decline in health occurs at varying ages, so it’s also important to consider the size and breed of your pet. For example, large-breed dogs age quickly & have a shorter life span, so a six-year-old Great Dane can be considered an elderly dog. On the other hand, cats and small-breed dogs can easily live into their teens (or even into their early twenties) in today’s environment, so a Maltese or Persian cat may enter its geriatric years in its mid-teens. First, assess if your pet is reaching the age where he or she needs support.
Four Physical Signs of Aging In Cats & Dogs:
- Graying eyes & muzzle
- Stiffness in movement
- Lack of endurance
- Overall decreased plasticity of tissues
In addition to the physical symptoms of growing old, cognitive function begins to decline in the later years.
Eight Cognitive Signs of Aging In Cats & Dogs:
- Inappropriate vocalization
- Disruption of wake/sleep cycles or rhythms
- Difficulty sleeping altogether
- Increased anxiety, phobias, and fears
- Increased aggression
- Hearing loss
- Disorientation (For example, your older pet may get “stuck” in corners, seemingly unable to figure his way out)
Understanding Cognitive Function:
The gradual decline of cognitive function in the older dog is called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). CDS is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder of senior dogs characterized by a gradual decline in cognitive functions such as learning, memory, perception, and awareness. CDS shares some of the same parallels as Alzheimer’s disease in humans, including amyloid plaques & neurofibrillary tangles within the neurons and the gradual deterioration of nervous tissues.
This decline in brain function can be attributed to a decrease in the normal antioxidant production within the body and changes in endogenous neurochemicals in the brain. Antioxidants are a critical component to health. As metabolism occurs within the body, free radicals are produced via oxidation. The free radicals are unstable, erosive particles that damage any cells with which they come into contact. The antioxidants (whether produced by the body or consumed through healthy foods) sweep these nasty free radicals out of the body, essentially neutralizing them. When there is a decrease in the normal production of antioxidants (like during the aging process, for example), the antioxidants attained through the pet’s food become that much more important.
Supplementing the Older Dog:
Great supplements for the aging pet:
- Antioxidants, like Vitamin E (from brightly colored fruits & veggies)
- L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)
- BCAAs like valine, leucine, and isoleucine
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
The brain, no matter the species, is highly susceptible to free radical, oxidative stress. Its environment is highly oxygenated and rich in iron-lipid. Fats and lipids in the body are highly sensitive to oxidation, a process very similar to the rancidification of fat-rich foods. Fortunately, some fabulous research has shown the benefits of supplementing the aging pet with nutrients that help to support a healthy, aging brain. The most obvious is the need for dietary antioxidants, such as Vitamin E. Dietary antioxidants are highly concentrated in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, like broccoli, blueberries, and pomegranates.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, where “dog food” is just a commercially-prepared, shelf-stable kibble, the levels of antioxidants are very low. Adding fresh fruits, veggies, or other “super foods” to your aging carnivore’s diet can help boost brain health. Other nutrients that support brain health include mitochondrial cofactors (like L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid). These substances provide an antioxidant boost and enhance the function of the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell).
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), such as valine, leucine, and isoleucine, positively affect the brain neurotransmitters. The brain is essentially a large, fat-filled vat of electrical connections and chemicals (called neurotransmitters) that make those connections happen. The most common neurotransmitters are serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin levels initially increase with age and affect movement and memory, whereas dopamine is the “feel good” chemical associated with rewards. BCAAs compete with tryptophan, a chemical that increases serotonin levels in the brain. In older animals, the brain’s serotonin levels are already too high. When BCAAs compete with tryptophan for entry into the brain, it helps decrease tryptophan & serotonin levels and, as a result, increase cognitive function.
Two other orally-administered components for brain health include Ginkgo Biloba (an herb) and docosahexaenoic acid (an Omega-3 fatty acid, also referred to as DHA). Ginkgo inhibits an enzyme system that allows dopamine, the “happy” neurochemical, to increase (yay!). It also has antioxidant activity.
DHA is one of the basic building blocks of the brain. It’s considered critical for optimal brain health and cognitive function in all ages. As an omega-3 source for carnivores, DHA can come from fish, krill, or some seaweed.
Exercising the Brain:
Last, but still important, is the old adage “use it or lose it”. This holds true for our physical body, as well as for our cognitive health. Keeping old dogs engaged and involved with life will work the brain and preserve cognitive function. Can you teach old dogs new tricks? Absolutely! And you should. Caring for our older pets is a gift. Oral supplementation of antioxidants, L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, branched-chain amino acids, ginkgo biloba, and DHA can all provide basic building blocks to support healthy aging. And don’t forget: teaching old dogs new tricks can help exercise the well-fed mind.
If you're interested in learning more about how you can help support your senior pet, stop into The Pet Beastro or check out our products just for aging pets in-store or online.
For more information visit https://www.herbsmithinc.com/cognitive-health/