Each day, Taylor's mental ability slipped a little more. For Kim Bork, watching her 14-year-old basset hound descend into dementia was extremely painful. She began to dread coming home.
"It reminded me of Alzheimer's," she said. "Watching him age and have less interest in life was horrible. I didn't know what to expect next."
For dogs, one of the most devastating health problems is premature aging of the brain. This condition, which affects millions of dogs, is associated with reduced brain function, which results in obvious behavioral changes. In fact, the condition is, in many ways, similar to human Alzheimer's disease and can have similar repercussions for the family. Like human Alzheimer's patients, affected dogs often seem confused in familiar surroundings and may not recognize loved ones.
But a recent clinical study has shown that foods rich in antioxidants and nutrients have a positive effect on behavioral changes caused by canine brain aging. Scientists from Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. are presenting details of what they say is a revolutionary new pet food, Prescription Diet® Canine b/d. A one-year clinical study showed that older dogs fed the b/d food experienced up to 58 percent improvement in learning ability compared to dogs on a control food.
Bork said the diet has made Taylor more responsive and alert. "It took years off his life," she said. "Now he beats me up the stairs again. It's like I have my old buddy back."
The results of this study were presented at the 19th annual North American Veterinary Conference, in Orlando, Fla (January 2002). Pet owners participated in the in-home study using the new diet. They reported that 74 percent of older dogs with a history of house soiling experienced a sudden reduction in "accidents" after only 30 days of using the diet. Furthermore, 61 percent of dogs with diminished enthusiasm in greeting family members showed improvement after 30 days of feeding the diet.
Canine brain aging is a condition that's on the rise as improvements in veterinary medicine lengthen the lives of pets. Normal aging in the brain is made worse by oxidative damage from toxic free radicals.
"Changes in behavior are fairly common in older dogs, yet many pet owners do not recognize the signs or simply accept these changes as part of what they think is the normal aging process," explains Dr. Lyn Huffaker, DVM, Ph.D and Technical Marketing Manager for Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. "The most common changes include disorientation or confusion – the dog may forget which way the door opens or gets lost in the yard. They may display changes in their personality and the way in which they interact with people and other animals, or there may be altered sleep/wake cycle levels with the pet sleeping more during the day and less at night. The pet may even forget previously learned behavior, such as house training."
Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. manufactures Science Diet brand pet foods, sold through veterinarians and finer pet food stores, and Prescription Diet® brand pet foods, therapeutic pet foods available only through veterinarians.