By: Dr. Anne Chauvet
Hand in hand with the amazing advancements available today in veterinary medicine are aging-related disorders that can affect our dogs’ brains. Just like us, they can experience symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. As a veterinary neurologist , I routinely see clinical signs that can include sleeping a lot more, not recognizing people, getting stuck in corners or even forgetting familiar routines. A video of a basic neurological exam shows how I check for mentation and other problems.
Just like us, we don’t have to sit around and wait for old age to take over our pets’ brains. In fact, sitting around is part of the problem. Exercise is one great way to ensure our dogs’ brains (and ours) get the oxygen that they hunger for through the increased blood flow that exercise stimulates. Walking is the best all-round exercise for healthy dogs. Your vet will tell you how much is right for your pet’s condition.
Literally, what we eat feeds our brains, so a high-quality pet food with the proper amount of protein, minerals and salt is very important. Our pets’ nutritional requirements are complex, and a balanced diet designed for their needs is fundamental to brain and overall health. Because brains can absorb glucose (metabolized sugar) directly from the blood stream, low blood sugar can slow down the mental processes. For your pets this means it is better to cut the amount of food in half and feed twice a day rather than all at once.
Nutritional supplements also can help feed those little gray cells. Fish, such as wild salmon, is absolutely swimming with healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Antioxidants like ginko biloba help improve cognitive function, and acai berry is a great way to energize those cells. In addition, antioxidants help sweep away damaging free radicals.
While our pets can’t stretch their mental muscles by working the New York Times crossword, you can help them in the use-it-don’t-lose-it category. You absolutely can teach old dogs new tricks, and it’s one great way to get those brain cells firing. Also, vary your walking routine. Take a different route or walk in a new place to keep your dog stimulated with new sights, smells, sounds and situations. I bet you’ll both enjoy a change of pace as will your brains—canine and human.