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RECORD PETS: New answers for old worry.

Byline: NEIL McINTOSH

OVER the past 40 years, advances in veterinary medicine and superior nutrition have increased the life expectancy of dogs by more than two years.

Currently around 30 per cent of the nation's canines are over eight years old and medically classed as geriatrics. As a result we are seeing an increase in the number of age-related problems.

The most insidious of these, and the one most difficult for owners to appreciate, is Canine Cognitive Disorder (CCD). This is a condition known colloquially as senility or dementia and is similar to Alzheimer's Disease.

Its symptoms can be subtle or very marked and it is progressive. Many owners will put down changes in their dog's behaviour to old age, but CCD is not a part of the normal ageing process.

Scientists believe unstable oxygen molecules in the body, called free radicals, attack the cells causing a loss of function and death of the cell. Since the brain has limited powers to repair damaged cells, it is vulnerable to these toxic free radicals. When it's affected, CCD results.

The symptoms are not specific. Sufferers can be dull, depressed and disinterested in playing or interacting with others. They are often confused, staring into space, or may wander around aimlessly. They often sleep during the day but are restless at night, pacing the house or howling as if in pain.

Dogs with CCD will often forget previously learned behaviour, such as toilet training, or the route they take on a regular walk.

Some owners feel like they are living with a stranger - others just believe their pet has become old. There is no cure, but new treatments can increase the quality of life of dogs with CCD.

We have recently begun altering the diet of these patients. Hill's Prescription Diet b/d contains antioxidants, which combat the effects of free radicals and we have had startling results. Dogs that previously were virtual zombies have been transformed back to playful pets. Their owners, who, like us, were sceptical of the treatment, have been amazed.

Drug medication can also be useful. Selegiline, which helps correct chemical imbalances in the brain, is non-addictive and can reduce senile dogs' anxiety. Propentofylline increases the oxygenation of tissue, especially the brain, heart and muscle. Both these substances can usually be given with the other commonly used geriatric prescriptions like heart and arthritis drugs.

But you can't treat it if you don't diagnose it - how is your old dog?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 4, 2003
Words:410
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