Can Dogs Empathize With Other Dogs’ Emotions?

Reviewed for accuracy on May 7, 2019, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

If you have a dog, you’ve probably had an emotional connection with them. Most dog owners claim that their pups are incredible at empathizing—picking up on their emotional cues and taking action to make them feel better when they’re sad or distressed.

 

And the evidence isn’t just anecdotal; a 2018 study on dog empathy found that when their owners made distressing sounds—like saying “help” or crying—dogs would try to reach them much faster than if they made neutral sounds.

 

It was also discovered that the higher the dog scored on a “bond test” (which measured the level of attachment a dog felt to their owner), the faster they’d try to reach them when they were in distress.

 

Dogs oftentimes mirror our emotions, says Russell Hartstein, certified dog behaviorist, dog trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care.

 

So clearly, dogs can empathize with humans. But can dogs feel sympathy for other dogs?

 

Can Dogs Read Other Dogs’ Emotions?

 

“I would argue that yes, dogs may have empathy for other [dogs],” says Hartstein. And while there isn’t a large amount of research on dog empathy, there is one promising study that explores how dogs react to other dogs’ emotions.

 

In a 2017 study, researchers from the University of Vienna sought to test how dogs would react to human and dog emotions. The researchers had pet owners bring their dogs into a laboratory that was equipped with speakers at different points in the room.

 

The researchers then played a series of human and dog sounds. For human emotions, they used laughing (positive) or crying (negative). For dog emotions, they used lighthearted and playful barking (positive) and dog whining (negative). They also played neutral sounds, like nature sounds or a person speaking in a neutral voice.

 

The researchers then observed whether the dogs paid greater attention to the positive, negative or neutral audio. They also looked to see whether the dogs showed signs of distress, like paw licking, whining or barking. The researchers tallied the behaviors and assigned a “score” to each auditory cue.

 

The study found that dogs paid more attention to emotional auditory cues than neutral ones. Even more tellingly, they found that dogs scored significantly higher when exposed to negative auditory cues, which implies that dogs can differentiate between positive and negative emotions in both humans and other dogs. They also found that dogs show higher levels of distress when exposed to negative emotions.

 

According to the study, there was no difference in emotional reactions when dogs heard human sounds compared to when they heard dog sounds.

 

While this study isn’t irrefutable proof that dogs experience empathy for other dogs, it certainly makes a strong argument that dogs have the ability to empathize with other canines.

 

But Hartstein cautions, “[A dog’s] ability—or any animal’s ability—to put themselves in another’s shoes to experience what [another dog] is feeling or experiencing is not possible to measure.”

 

Do Dogs Have More Sympathy for Dogs They Know?

 

So, the study shows that dogs have strong reactions to hearing other dogs in distress. But what about their dog friends? If they share a home with another dog, will they have more empathy for them versus a dog they do not know?

 

The same study suggests that dogs do empathize even more with their canine housemates.

 

Researchers from the study explored whether dogs would behave any differently when played emotional auditory cues of unfamiliar dogs versus dogs they shared a home with.

 

They found that the dogs showed much higher levels of stress (and scored higher overall) when played negative auditory cues from their dog friends.

 

How to Encourage Empathy Within Your Dog

 

If you want to encourage your dog to be more empathetic—to you, your family and to your other dogs—it starts with you.

 

“My suggestion for creating more empathy in your pet is working on a respectful, kind relationship. This can mean simply hanging out, spending time together, and enjoying walks and playtime that is nurturing and kind,” says Dr. Jim D Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP, owner of Riverside Animal Clinic McHenry and Grove Animal Hospital & Holistic Center in Chicago. “Truly connecting with the human-animal bond will help you start to spot some humanlike emotions in your pet.”

 

If you want to encourage more empathy between your dogs, foster your relationship with each dog and encourage their relationship and interactions with each other.

 

“Dogs develop their own relationships within their pack. Encouraging positive behavior, comfort and fun will help dogs bond over time,” says Dr. Carlson.

 

And don’t be surprised or discouraged if your dog’s way of showing empathy is different than yours. “Dogs have their own cues for reading emotions in each other. Many of them are physical. But they will also seek each other out during times of stress or emotion.”

 

So, if you notice one dog licking the other’s face after a trip to the vet or rubbing his body against the other during a thunderstorm, recognize it as their way of showing empathy. If you want that empathy to continue, reward the behaviors with plenty of praise.

 

 

By: Deanna deBara

 

 

Cat Periodontal Disease

As seen in Petrax

Cat periodontal disease, or gum disease in cats, is an inflammation of some or all of a tooth’s deep supporting structures. It is one of the most common diseases in cats today.

 

If food particles and bacteria are allowed to accumulate along a cat’s gumline, it can form plaque, which, when combined with saliva and minerals, will transform into calculus (tartar). This causes gum irritation and leads to an inflammatory condition called gingivitis.

 

Gingivitis, which is evidenced by a reddening of the gums directly bordering the teeth, is considered to be an early stage of periodontal disease in cats.

 

After an extended period, the calculus eventually builds up under the gum and separates it from the teeth. Spaces will form under the teeth, fostering bacterial growth.

 

Once this happens, the cat has irreversible periodontal disease. This usually leads to bone loss, tissue destruction and infection in the cavities between the gum and teeth.

 

Symptoms and Types of Gum Disease in Cats

 

Periodontal disease in cats generally begins with the inflammation of one tooth, which may progress if not treated during different stages of the condition.

 

A cat with stage 1 periodontal disease in one or more of its teeth, for example, will exhibit gingivitis without any separation of the gum and tooth.

 

Stage 2 is characterized by a 25 percent attachment loss, while stage 3 involves a 25 to 30 percent attachment loss.

 

In stage 4 of cat periodontal disease, which is also called advanced periodontitis, there is more than a 50 percent attachment loss. In the most advanced stage of the disease, the gum tissue will usually recede and the roots of the teeth will be exposed.

 

Cats may also develop a cat gum disease called stomatitis (gingivostomatitis). Stomatitis is the severe inflammation of all of the gum tissue, which may affect the other tissues in the mouth.

 

Stomatitis occurs due to an overactive immune response to even small amounts of plaque and calculus.

 

Causes of Gum Disease in Cats

 

Cat periodontal disease can be caused by a variety of factors,  but is most commonly associated with bacterial infection. Bacteria under the gumline leads to pain and inflammation of the tissue.

 

There may also be a relationship between having a history of calicivirus infection and severe gingivitis.

 

Diagnosis of Periodontal Disease in Cats

 

In the exam room, your veterinarian will look inside your cat’s mouth for red, inflamed gums. That is the first indication of a problem. Your veterinarian may press gently on the gums to see if they bleed easily, which is a sign that a deep dental cleaning, or more, is needed.

 

Once under anesthesia, the diagnosis of cat periodontal disease involves a number of procedures. If periodontal probing reveals more than one millimeter of distance between the gingivitis-affected gum and tooth, a cat is considered to have some form of periodontal abnormality.

 

X-rays are extremely important in diagnosing periodontal disease in cats because up to 60 percent of the symptoms are hidden beneath the gumline.

 

In the disease’s early stages, X-rays will reveal loss of density and sharpness of the root socket (alveolar) margin. In more advanced stages, it will reveal loss of bone support around the root of the affected tooth.

 

Treatment

 

The specific treatment for cat periodontal disease depends on how advanced the disease is. In the early stages, treatment is focused on controlling plaque and preventing attachment loss.

 

This is achieved through daily brushing with pet-safe toothpaste, professional cleaning and polishing, and the prescribed application of fluoride or other pet prescription products to minimize the development of plaque.

 

Sometimes it is necessary to remove the teeth associated with severe stomatitis.

 

In the more advanced stages, bone-replacement procedures, periodontal splinting and guided tissue regeneration may become necessary.

 

Living and Management

 

Follow-up treatment for periodontal disease in cats consists mostly of maintaining good cat dental care and taking your cat for weekly, quarterly or biannual checks.

 

The prognosis will depend on how advanced the cat gum disease is, but the best way to minimize the adverse effects caused by the disease is to get an early diagnosis, adequate treatment and proper therapy.

 

Prevention

 

The best prevention for cat gum disease is to maintain your pet’s good oral hygiene and to regularly brush and clean her mouth and gums.

 

Cats can be trained to accept brushing when trained slowly over time and rewarded for their cooperation.

 

Prescription cat food dental diets are available for those cats who are unwilling to have their teeth brushed.

 

Cat dental treats, water additives and other products certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) are also shown to help reduce plaque and calculus.

 

Is your Dog Anxious??

By Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

When we talk about “nervous” dogs, we’re really discussing dogs who are anxious. And while it may seem unlikely your pampered pooch has any reason to feel stressed, it’s important to recognize that dog stressors can be quite different from human stressors.

It’s also really important to understand that research clearly shows dogs can and often do experience stress, and according to one study, “There is evidence to suggest that the stress of living with a fear or anxiety disorder can have negative effects on health and lifespan in the domestic dog.”1

When dogs feel anxious, their bodies release an excessive amount of norepinephrine, the fight or flight hormone, which has the potential to alter gut bacteria and interfere with gastrointestinal (GI) tract motility.2 This flood of norepinephrine can result in physical symptoms like diarrhea, which only exacerbates your dog’s stress — especially if she has an accident in the house.

Some dogs primarily experience short-lived stress, but others suffer chronic stress. The more you know about what triggers your pet’s anxiety, the behaviors she tends to perform when she’s anxious, and the effect of stress on her health, the better able you’ll be to identify the signs and take action to minimize or eliminate stressors.

Signs Your Dog Is Anxious

Estimates are that about 30% of dogs show signs of anxiety, identified by either body language or behaviors such as obsessive licking. Since each dog has his own communication style, it’s important to learn your pet’s signals that he’s feeling nervous or stressed. There are many signs of anxiety in dogs, and they can change over time. Some of them include:3

Lowered or tucked tail Trembling/shaking
Ears pulled or pinned back Increased whining, howling and/or barking
Yawning or panting Diarrhea
Nose or lip licking Reduced or absent appetite
Cowering, crouched body posture and/or hiding Destructive behaviors

If your dog is showing one or more signs that he’s anxious, I strongly encourage you to make an appointment with your veterinarian for a wellness checkup. It’s important to rule out an underlying medical condition that may be the cause of or a contributor to the anxiety.

8 Common Triggers for Anxiety in Dogs

Some of the causes of stress in dogs are species-specific, while others are triggers that can cause anxiety in humans as well. And just like sensitive people, sensitive dogs generally tend to be more susceptible to stress. Some common triggers include:

  1. Sudden loud noises (e.g., fireworks, thunderstorms)
  2. Punishment-based training methods involving yelling, hitting, shock collars, etc.
  3. Adverse relationships with other pets or humans in the household
  4. Unwanted attention such as being randomly awakened from a nap, or being forcibly hugged, kissed or held
  5. Lack of opportunities to express normal species- and breed-specific behaviors such as running, retrieving, hunting, herding, etc.
  6. Exposure to the strange and unfamiliar (objects, animals, people, etc.)
  7. Changes in housing, household routine or household members
  8. Separation from family members, including other pets

As you go about identifying the triggers for your dog’s anxiety, also consider her history. If you adopted her, what do you know about her past? Was she abused or neglected? Is she anxious mainly around men or kids? Other dogs? Some of the things that cause anxiety in dogs can be unavoidable, such as thunderstorms passing through or a move to a new home. However, there are several things you can control to minimize stress and improve your dog’s quality of life. Examples:

  • Use only positive reinforcement behavior training/trainers.
  • Help everyone in the family understand and respect your dog’s need for uninterrupted sleep and human handling he feels comfortable with.
  • Increase your dog’s daily physical activity level, since the vast majority of dogs, especially large breeds, don’t get nearly enough. Daily movement is extremely important in mitigating your dog’s stress response.
  • Dogs left alone for several hours during the day get lonely and bored. If there’s often no one home to keep your dog company, recruit a friend or neighbor or hire a dog walker to take him for a stroll around the block, at a minimum. An alternative is doggy daycare.

Tips to Calm an Anxious Dog

  1. Consider adding a probiotic supplement or fermented veggies to your dog’s fresh, nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate whole food diet, as studies show probiotics reduce stress-related GI disturbances in dogs.
  2. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, playtime, mental stimulation, attention and affection. Daily rigorous exercise is one of the most overlooked, free and effective treatments for reducing stress that very few pet parents take advantage of.
  3. Add a flower essence blend like Solutions Separation Anxiety to her drinking water and invest in an Adaptil pheromone collar or diffuser.
  4. When your dog will be home alone, leave him with an article of clothing or blanket with your scent on it and a treat-release toy, place small treats and his favorite toys around the house for him to discover, and put on some soothing doggy music before you leave.
  5. Also play calm, soothing music before a possible stressor occurs. This may relax your dog and have the added bonus of drowning out distressing noises.
  6. If your dog responds well to pressure applied to her body, invest in a wrap like the Thundershirt; also consider Ttouch, a specific massage technique that can help anxious pets.
  7. Consult a holistic or integrative veterinarian about homeopathic and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) remedies, Rescue Remedy or other specific Bach flower remedies that could be helpful in alleviating your dog’s intermittent stress.   Diane makes custom blends depending on your unique situation after she talks with your pet to determine the triggers for stress and anxiety. Products I use, always in conjunction with behavior modification, include homeopathic aconitum (or whatever remedy fits the symptoms best), Hyland’s Calms Forte or calming milk proteins (variety of brands).

Calming nutraceuticals and herbs that can be of benefit include holy basil, l-theanine, rhodiola, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP and chamomile.

The essential oil of lavender has been proven to reduce the stress response in dogs. Place a few drops on your pet’s collar or bedding before a stressor occurs or diffuse the oil around your house. There are also great oil blends specifically for calming animals. Diane likes Calm-A-Mile by Dr. Melissa Shelton DVM. http://www.animaleo.info/order-animaleo.html

 

  1. If you’ve adopted a dog who may have had a rocky start in life, I highly recommend a program called A Sound Beginning, which is designed to help rescue dogs and their adopters learn to communicate effectively and form an unbreakable bond.
  2. If your dog’s anxiety seems to be getting worse instead of better, consider an individualized approach to managing her stress by allowing her to choose what best soothes her via applied zoopharmacognosy (self-healing techniques offered through a trained professional).

 

Veterinary Science Can Help Our Pets

By Diana Bocco

Veterinary science has come a long way in the past decade. Pets are living longer, healthier and happier lives thanks to scientific developments such as transplants, new cancer treatments and even stem cell therapy.

 

Here are some of the incredible things our pets now have access to thanks to advancements in veterinary science.

 

New Canine Cancer Vaccine

 

Most common pet diseases already have an associated vaccine that can reduce or eliminate the risk of getting sick. So scientists are now exploring more advanced options to prevent and treat serious illnesses like cancer.

 

The Oncept canine melanoma vaccine is a unique therapeutic vaccine that seeks to treat canine cancer. It has revolutionized the world of veterinary science.

 

“The Oncept melanoma vaccine is Merial’s attempt to trigger the dogs’ own immune system to fight off cancer and heal itself,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, from Chagrin Falls Veterinary Center & Pet Clinic. Dr. Osborne is leading a US trial that maps the immune cycle of dogs to choose optimal cancer-treatment times. “This is opposed to chemotherapy, which has been the historical practice of trying to treat cancer with strong toxic drugs but in most cases not curing or eliminating the disease.”

 

The canine melanoma vaccine is made of DNA that is encoded with a human protein called tyrosinase (tyrosinase is found in cells called melanocytes that produce a pigment called melanin), Dr. Osborne explains.

 

“Human tyrosinase is very similar to canine tyrosinase,” says Dr. Osborne. “Melanoma cancer cells are loaded with tyrosinase, and the theory is that the two proteins cross-react and trigger the dog’s body to eliminate cancer.”

 

The canine melanoma vaccine is being used extensively by cancer specialists in dogs with stages 2 and 3 of malignant melanoma to try to help prevent it from spreading into the dog’s lymph nodes and lungs, explains Dr. Osborne.

 

“Since 2007, results indicate that dogs who receive surgery and the vaccine survive approximately 12 months longer than those who receive surgery but do not receive the vaccine,” Dr. Osborne adds.

 

Immunotherapy for Cancer in Pets

 

Immunotherapy has become the golden treatment for cancer in pets, thanks to new studies like those conducted by Mason Immunotherapy research studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

 

Dog and cat immunotherapy involves getting modified bacteria to target a tumor-specific protein, explains Dr. Osborne. This forces the immune system to fight the cancer cells and heal on its own.

 

Gene Therapy Treatments

 

Scientists are also looking into recombinant DNA (rDNA) to help treat cancer in dogs.

 

“Recombinant DNA has opened the door for gene therapy,” says Dr. Osborne. “Despite ethical concerns, gene therapy would theoretically treat a wide range of diseases by allowing veterinarians to replace abnormal and/or missing genes in the animal.”

 

Preliminary studies include a new therapy for canine mammary cancer using a recombinant measles virus, and a 2018 study that concludes that “oncolytic viruses are gaining ground as an alternative approach for treating cancer in dogs and humans.”

 

While these treatment options are still in the early stages of development, they offer a world of possibilities for the treatment of cancer in dogs.

 

Transplants and Replacements for Pets

 

Eye lens transplants have become rather commonplace to treat cataracts in dogs, according to Dr. Bruce Silverman, VMD, MBA, owner of Village West Veterinary. Dr. Silverman also adds that pacemakers are also becoming more common in dogs.

 

“Organ transplants, on the other hand, are still quite rare and are generally done in university settings,” says Dr. Silverman.

 

The most common organ transplants at this time are kidney transplants for cats. According to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia—one of the few centers in the country that does cat kidney transplants—the typical patient is a cat with chronic kidney disease, as dogs’ metabolisms are different and more likely to reject the new kidney.

 

The transplant program, which is limited and costly (a kidney transplant can set you back $15,000), requires that all donor cats are adopted by the recipient’s family. 

 

Bone marrow transplants are also available for dogs with lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma or generalized mast cell cancer, according to Dr. Osborne. “North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Bellingham Veterinary in Bellingham, Washington, offer the procedure,” says Dr. Osborne.

 

The good news is that dogs weighing over 35 pounds without any major organ dysfunction have enjoyed a 50 percent cure rate for a disease that previously was uniformly fatal, says Dr. Osborne. 

 

“The procedure is quite involved and requires several steps,” says Dr. Osborne. “First dogs undergo chemotherapy, which is used to achieve remission of cancer, then the dogs’ own blood cells are harvested, after which these canines undergo two sessions of full-body radiation.”

 

Finally, the harvested blood cells are then transplanted back into the dog before he’s prepared for recovery, which requires two weeks in complete isolation, according to Dr. Osborne.

 

Stem Cell Therapy for Pets

 

Stem cell therapy is used most often for degenerative disorders in dogs and cats.

 

Although results are somewhat disappointing at this time because it’s such a new development, Dr. Osborne says stem cell therapy for dogs and cats is very effective to treat osteoarthritis of the hips, elbows, stifles and shoulders, primarily in dogs. 

 

Scientists are now working hard to extend the healing benefits of stem cell therapy for dogs and cats.

 

“At the moment, improvements in joint function, range of motion and quality of life have validated lasting effects for an average of 6 months post-procedure,” Dr. Osborne says.  

 

Boost your dog’s immunity with acupressure

By: Amy Snow as seen in Animal Wellness 2013

 

These four acupressure points are powerful allies for making sure your dog’s immunity is up to the job of protecting him from illness.

Your dog’s immunity is everything. His health depends on how well it protects him from all sorts of pathogens and toxins lurking in the environment, in food, and even in your house. Any breakdown in this system means his health can easily be compromised.

The immune system has a huge job to do. Your dog is constantly being bombarded with allergens and toxins from plants, bugs, fertilizers, and household chemicals. Trips to the dog park or doggie daycare expose him to bacterial and viral pathogens. When his immune system is strong – great, no problem, he stays healthy. In fact, a moderate level of daily exposure to allergy-causing irritants and other pathogens can actually make his immunity stronger. Your dog’s natural resistance builds when challenged by exposure to pathogens.

Health issues arise when the dog’s body is not able to resist pathogens because his immunity is weak. Allergies, respiratory problems, digestive issues, inflammation, and other immuno-mediated diseases are all due to a compromised immune system, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

TCM is all about the immune system

In TCM, every health issue goes back to the body’s ability to resist external pathogens and maintain internal balance. The key word here is “balance”. Health is maintained when chi (also seen as qi), the essential life-promoting force, fl ows in a harmoniously balanced fashion throughout the body. Any disruption to the smooth and balanced flow of both chi and blood interrupts the balance of the body.

When there’s an imbalance of chi and blood, the health of the animal is compromised. Chi is unable to vitalize the body, and blood can’t moisten and nourish it. This, in turn, leads to an inability of the internal organs to function properly. A domino effect occurs in which the immune system becomes weakened and your dog becomes vulnerable to pathogens.

Chinese medicine practitioners focus on restoring and supporting a balanced, harmonious flow of chi and blood. Chi and blood flow along energetic pathways, or meridians, throughout the dog’s body. Along these meridians are pools of energy called “acupoints”. We can influence the fl ow of chi and blood by stimulating specific acupoints.

Left: The Thumb Technique works best on larger dogs and on the trunks and necks of medium-sized dogs. Gently place the soft tip of your thumb on the acupoint, count to 20 very slowly, then move to the next point.


Right: The Two-Finger Technique is a good choice when working on small dogs or the lower extremities on medium to large dogs. Place your middle finger on top of your index finger to create a little tent; lightly put the soft tip of your index finger on the acupoint and slowly count to 20.

For instance, the Lung is responsible for creating and dispersing Protective or Defensive chi, also called Wei chi. Protective chi is immune system chi and defends the dog from external pathogens, such as Cold or Heat, that can enter the body and disrupt the balanced flow of chi and blood. We can select certain acupoints, known after thousands of years of clinical observation, that enhance the Lung’s capacity to perform its role in strengthening immunity.

Immune strengthening acupressure session

The only difference between acupressure and acupuncture is that in acupressure you don’t use needles to stimulate acupoints; you can use your thumb or index finger. By following the accompanying acupressure chart for Immune System Strengthening, you can support your dog’s health, help him maintain a balanced flow of chi and blood, and benefit his immune system.

Each of the four acupoints selected for this session are commonly used to boost immunity. Remember to stimulate these points on both sides of your dog’s body.

1. Lung 7 (Lu 7), Lie Que, Broken Sequence – Regulates and supports Lung function, enhancing Protective Wei chi in benefiting the immune system.

2. Large Intestine 4 (LI 4), He Gu, Adjoining Valley – This point is known to directly boost the function of Protective chi.

3. Large Intestine 11 (LI 11), Qu Chi, Pond in the Curve – LI 11 has many energetic properties; one is to benefit immunostimulation by energetically building Protective Wei chi while also clearing the Lungs of excess fluids.

4. Stomach 36 (St 36), Zu San Li, Leg Three Miles – St 36 also has a tremendous number of properties and is the goto acupoint for metabolic issues as well as enhancing Lung function and Protective chi.

These four acupoints are powerful allies for making sure your dog’s immune system is up to the job of protecting him from illness. Regular acupressure sessions, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, mean you can relax and enjoy yourself when you’re out and about with your dog, because you know his body is strong and healthy.

 

Dementia Symptoms Increasing in Older Dogs

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

Not many years ago, people with aging dogs focused only on keeping their pets healthy from the neck down, forgetting that such issues as weight control, possible arthritis and major organ support only go so far if their dog’s brain health is overlooked. Including your dog’s brain health in the overall picture is even more important as they get older, especially since more and more reports are emerging that show a “startling” number of older dogs starting to show signs of dementia.

According to veterinarian Melissa Bain, professor of Clinical Animal Behavior at UC Davis, canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD, usually starts when the animals reach 9 or 10 years of age, and there are five typical signs that point to a dog’s cognitive decline:

  • Loss of house training or other previously acquired knowledge
  • Changes in sleep habits and reversed sleep cycles, e.g. sleeping all day
  • Failure to recognize their owners or other pets in the household
  • Anxiety in the form of excess panting, shivering, moaning and/or nervousness
  • A decrease in purposeful activity

Dog owners should also know about other signs to watch for. Witnessing certain behaviors may help you recognize something is happening with your dog’s cognitive abilities, especially if you’ve never seen them before. Examples that may indicate CCD, otherwise known as geriatric dementia, include:

  • Getting lost in the house
  • Getting stuck behind furniture
  • Becoming overly aggressive

Vetstreet1 notes other signs that indicate something might be wrong; such as noticing your dog staring at walls for long periods of time, repetitive behaviors like walking in a circle or pacing, changes in hearing and vision, and/or vocalizing at inappropriate times. My ancient Boston terrier, Rosco (over 18 years old in this picture), would often get “stuck” in the narrow space between the toilet and the wall and was unable to navigate himself out without assistance, a common sign of CCD in older dogs.

One of my friends has a 14 year old golden retriever who is just beginning to show signs of geriatric dementia.  He normally doesn’t leave her side—no need for a leash but just recently he wondered down the drive way and started walking down the sidewalk seemingly confused.  She called him and asked where he was going.  He seemed to come out of a fog, looked at her and realized he was leaving the yard then came back to her.  This is an example of the type of behavior you can experience when your dog begins geriatric dementia.

What Causes Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?

Helping your companion animals maintain bright, strong brain function throughout their senior years is even more important as you start noticing changes. If changes look as if they’re a mental or behavioral problem, it may actually be physical. Three main signs of age-related changes in dogs that cause gradual impairment stem from three main contributors:

  • Oxidative stress from free radical damage is physiological and impacts your dog’s brain tissue more than any other parts of their body, and can be evidenced both by decreased cognitive function as well as nerve disease, similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
  • The formation of lesions on the brain may include nerve-damaging beta amyloid deposits, proteins that form “senile plaque” buildup that interferes with the transmission of brain signals.
  • Alterations in brain metabolism can diminish due to decreased availability of oxygen and energy, at least in part due to environmental stressors, including your dog’s diet.

Although human and canine brains are significantly different, they have remarkably striking similarities both anatomically and physiologically, and the way the diseases manifest themselves appear “almost identical,” Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital explains further:

“More, dogs’ brains react to dementia treatments exactly as human brains do, making them ideal human dementia testbeds. As with human dementia, causes of CCD are not well known.

But accumulations of sticky proteins called beta-amyloid plaques around neurons, and the breakdown of neurons resulting in so-called neurofibrillary tangles, are considered leading causes. As in humans, both phenomena impact the brain by interrupting nerve impulse transmission.”2

Studies estimate that more than 60 percent of dogs between age 15 and 16 can show at least one symptom of CCD, but according to Bain, one reason more dogs have been showing signs of mental aging in recent years is simply because dogs are living longer due to advances in veterinary medicine.3

 

Danish Study: ‘Support’ Is Key for Dogs With CCD

A Danish study during which 94 dogs 8 years of age were investigated with a CCD questionnaire and observational sleep studies, subsequently published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, notes that vitamin E was investigated as a potential marker of CCD. The researchers reported:

“Four key clinical signs dominated in dogs with CCD: sleeping during the day and restless at night, decreased interaction, disorientation at home, and anxiety … CCD did not influence survival negatively. Small breeds did not show better survival than large breeds and there was no difference between sexes.

A few key questions addressing sleep-wake cycle, interaction, and signs of confusion and anxiety can be used as a clinical marker of CCD. Special attention should be paid to anxiety in dogs with CCD because it may be especially stressful to both dog and owner. Dogs with CCD seem to have a good chance of living a full lifespan if supported by the veterinarian and the owner.”4

Significantly, most veterinarians are becoming more aware of CCD and asking questions earlier rather than later in the lives of the dogs they treat, but some experts maintain that as many as 80 percent of older dogs have CCD that is both unrecognized and undiagnosed.5

How a Dog’s Diet Influences His or Her Health, Including Cognitive Health

Rather than assuming it’s an age-related cognitive issue, investigating the underlying cause of what appears to be CCD with the help of a professional veterinarian is important, especially if the dog in question is young, such as 5 or 6 years old.

To view the overall picture of your dog’s health, Bain says taking a look at their diet may be a significant key. I couldn’t agree more. She also notes, “There could be anything from hypothyroidism to urinary tract infections to blindness to deafness that all can mimic the signs of canine cognitive dysfunction.”6

These and other physical problems can be addressed to the greatest degree by providing a balanced, fresh food diet that includes “brain food” coming from omega-3 fatty acids, such as krill oil, MCTs coming from coconut oil and plenty of food-based antioxidants (only found in fresh fruits and vegetables), which are crucial for cognitive health.

You may also be surprised to learn that aging dogs require more rather than less protein, but it should come from quality sources and include a variety of living, whole, easily-digestible, moisture-rich fresh meats that are suitable for a carnivore. Animal meat should be the foundation of your healthy dog’s diet throughout his life.

In some cases, a species-appropriate diet for your dog is also about what should be eliminated. Unfortunately, many commercial dog foods are loaded with processed ingredients, such as refined carbohydrates that turn to sugar.

Also, eliminate grains, potatoes and legumes in your aging dog’s diet and pay attention to the amount of fiber your dog consumes, as it’s often just unnecessary filler, displacing crucial meat-based protein your aging dog requires. Additionally, the byproducts of high heat processing, known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, negatively impact the aging process and may play into premature cognitive decline.7

Needless to say, exercise and lots of time outside is also important for dogs of any age. It not only keeps their blood pumping, but keeps them limber and enhances detoxification. Additionally, one of the most important aspects of maintaining cognitive health in aging humans is social interaction, but it’s also true for dogs.

Exposure to other humans besides his or her immediate family is helpful, and being around other animals is beneficial for them, as well. Continuing mentally engaging exercises on a daily basis is also important, including fun nose work games and treat release puzzles.

One of the most important things for dog owners to do is work with an integrative or functional medicine veterinarian early on in the disease process. I was able to manage my dog’s age-related dementia very well because I addressed it immediately, as soon as symptoms became noticeable.

Proactive vets have been using nootropic supplements for pets (used to enhance memory and brain health) for years, including specific B vitamins, rhodiola, phosphatidylserine, lion’s mane mushroom and a variety of specific brain-supportive herbs.

 

STROKES IN DOGS AND CATS

By W. Jean Dodds, DVM on March 24, 2019

With the untimely passing of actor Luke Perry, awareness of strokes came into the spotlight. Can dogs and cats have strokes? Yes; they can. Here’s what you need to know.

Types

Just like humans, dogs and cats can have one of two types of stroke: ischemic or hemmorhagic.

Ischemic
Ischemic strokes are caused by a blood clot, called a thrombus, which forms inside one of the brain’s arteries. The clot then blocks blood flow to a part of the brain. However, unlike humans, its typically only involve the smaller blood vessels in pets.

An embolism is a small blood clot (or piece of atherosclerotic plaque debris in people) that develops elsewhere in the body and then travels through the bloodstream to one of the blood vessels in the brain.

Hemorrhagic Stroke
There are two types of hemorrhagic strokes: intracerebral and subarachnoid.

An intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel inside the brain bursts and leaks blood into the surrounding brain tissue.

Subarachnoid strokes are typically caused by an aneurysm, which refers to a weakening of an artery wall that creates a bulge, or distention, of the artery. This type of stroke involves bleeding in the area between the brain and the tissue covering the brain, known as the subarachnoid space.

Signs

The symptoms or signs of strokes are similar in dogs and cats. They are rare and usually occur in geriatric pets.

Cats

·         Abnormal eye movements

·         Altered mental status

·         Circling

·         Head pressing

·         Head tilt

·         Muscle spasms

·         Not using the legs normally

·         Seizures

·         Unequal pupil sizes

·         Unsteadiness when walking

·         Weakness

Dogs

·         Abnormal behavior

·         Abnormal eye movements

·         Abnormal eye positioning

·         Blindness

·         Falling to one side

·         Head tilt

·         Inability to walk or walking with an uncoordinated gait

·         Loss of consciousness

Causes

Cats

·         Brain tumors

·         Cancer

·         Diabetes

·         Heart disease

·         High blood pressure

·         Hyperthyroidism

·         Kidney disease

·         Liver disease

·         Lung disease

·         Vestibular disease

Dogs

·         Bleeding disorders

·         Cancer

·         Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism)

·         Diabetes

·         Heart disease

·         High blood pressure

·         High and prolonged doses of steroids like prednisone

·         Hypothyroidism, severe

·         Kidney disease

·         Vestibular disease

Prevention

A stroke is usually caused by an underlying disease. The best preventative measure is to monitor the pet periodically in order to diagnose the disease before a stroke can occur. Disease diagnosis involves twice yearly check-ups in geriatrics and annually in younger pets , which includes routine blood, endocrine and urinalysis screening.

What to Do in the Event of a Stroke

If you think your companion dog or cat has suffered from a stroke, please take him or her to a veterinarian as soon as possible. As well, we recommend that you always keep the phone number and address of your area emergency veterinarian on hand for all pet related emergencies.