April 2017

Effects of Aging on Canine Cognition

close-up-dogs-eyes

I can’t tell you how often I ask pet parents about their senior dog and the response is “okay, but … I guess he’s just getting old.” I love this conversation opener, because it tells me two things. One, the pet parent is paying enough attention to know something has changed, even if they don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about. Two, there’s probably something I can do to help!

All living things grow old. The aging process is complicated and messy, encompassing a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Some we can control, others we can slow down, and the remainder we just manage the best we can. The good news is, there’s almost always something we can do to make a companion animal feel better.

When we think about what it means to be old, most of us jump to the most obvious complaint of age … aches and pains. The body stiffens, the joints dry out, the discs in our spines shrivel up, and we end up shuffling around like Carl from the movie Up. Almost all senior dogs develop symptoms of osteoarthritis, which is one of the reasons I recommend joint supplements for seniors. If a pet parent says, “He won’t climb the stairs anymore,” or, “He doesn’t want to go for long walks,” then I know we’re likely dealing with pain.

But what about cognitive dysfunction, the age-related decline in neurologic function? Referred to as “canine cognitive dysfunction” in veterinary medicine, some laypeople call it “doggie Alzheimer’s”. While the symptoms can be similar to what humans experience, it’s not exactly the same thing.

wolfhound-close-up

Unfortunately, cognitive decline is quite common in senior dogs. More than half of all dogs over the age of 11 show at least one clinical sign. Since we don’t know for certain all the biological changes that occur in an aging brain, we describe canine cognitive dysfunction as a collection of symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Changes in activity level
  • Changes in sleep/wake cycle (e.g., wandering around in the middle of the night)
  • House-soiling
  • Anxiety
  • No longer adhering to an established routine

For many years, we simply accepted this condition as a price for living a long life. However, we’re learning that there are ways we can actually decelerate cognitive decline in dogs.

One way veterinarians manage cognitive dysfunction in dogs is through medications. Certain drugs that increase the amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine may improve brain function. In fact, the same drug used by dogs can also be used to treat Parkinson’s!

curious-dog

The other way we manage cognitive decline is through the nutrition and personal attention we provide our dogs. New and exciting research is showing that certain types of antioxidants and dietary ingredients can positively impact the brain function of senior pets! I love this because these are safe, easy changes we can use to improve the aging process for all our senior friends:

1. Feed a diet rich in antioxidants. Free radicals in the body accelerate the aging process. Antioxidants, such as those found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, can be added to a dog’s diet to limit the free-radical damage. Several studies have shown that seniors who eat a diet rich in antioxidants exhibit clinical improvement in cognitive function within just a few weeks.

2. Exercise the brain. Keep your pet’s neurons working through lots of daily playtime, walks, and puzzles. We joke that the brain is a muscle; it’s not, of course, but like a muscle it does benefit from regular workouts!

3. Fatty acids. We all know essential fatty acids are good for the skin and coat, but there’s also increasing evidence that a subset of fatty acids called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) serve as a preferred energy source for the brain and can actually improve mental sharpness.

If your dog is getting a little grey around the muzzle, don’t accept “he’s just getting old” as a fact of life. Yes, we all age, but we can do it better by taking steps to preserve health and quality of life.

All my best to you and your lovable, aging dogs!

Dr V Dr. Jessica Vogelsang

Vitamin E for Stressed Pets

domestic-short-hair

As a holistic veterinarian, I feel it is incredibly important to take the whole animal into consideration when it comes to nutrition. And, whenever practical, my preference is to provide nutrients, minerals and vitamins in their natural forms. In this post, I’d like to talk to you specifically about vitamin E, to review both the strengths and weaknesses of natural and synthetic forms.

Vitamin E is an incredibly complex and important nutrient that, among other things, functions as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients that promote health by slowing the destructive aging process of cells (a breakdown called “peroxidation”). In peroxidation, damaged molecules known as free radicals steal pieces from other cells, like fat, protein or DNA. The damage can spread, damaging and killing entire groups of cells. While peroxidation can be useful to destroy old cells or germs and parasites, when left unchecked, free radicals produced by peroxidation also damages healthy cells. Antioxidants can help to stem the tide of peroxidation, thus stabilizing free radicals.

Antioxidants like vitamin E are crucial to the health of companion animals of any age. They can improve the quality of the immune response and the effectiveness of vaccines in young pets, and help maintain a vital immune system in seniors.

Vitamin E occurs in one of two forms, either natural or synthetic. Natural vitamin E is a collection of eight chemically unique compounds that are derived from plants, including four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. More commonly used and less expensive, synthetic vitamin E is one compound – alpha-tocopherol.

For me, the choice of using natural or synthetic vitamin E in my formulas couldn’t be clearer, and neither could the evidence. The synthetic form of vitamin E is not as active or easily absorbed as the natural form of vitamin E. The molecular structure of vitamin E determines how well the body can utilize it. In human trials, researchers found that proteins in the liver specifically select the natural form of vitamin E and largely ignore the synthetic form.

In a Japanese study, scientists found that it took three times the amount of synthetic vitamin E to equal the blood levels of natural vitamin E. In the U.S., researchers found that body tissues and blood retained far higher levels of natural vitamin E versus synthetic. In addition, synthetic alpha-tocopherol vitamin E has only half the vitamin activity of the natural alpha-tocopherol vitamin E.

Why is there such a difference between synthetic and natural forms of vitamin E? The key to understanding how the body absorbs these two types differently lies on the molecular level.

best-buds-napping

The cellular structure of mammals more easily recognizes natural forms of vitamins. And cellular proteins and blood plasma bind to natural forms more readily than their synthetic counterparts. Unfortunately, synthetic vitamins are cheaper and, therefore, are more prevalent in many products on the market today.

So, how can you determine if the products you are using contain the synthetic or natural form of vitamin E? Simply check out the ingredient labels! Natural vitamin E is listed as a-tocopherol acetate, d-alpha tocopherol, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate or d-alpha tocopheryl succinate. Alternately, synthetic forms of vitamin E are labeled with a “dl-“ prefix.

Thank you for all that you do to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

REFERENCES:

Kiyose C, et al. Biodiscrimination of alpha-tocopherol stereoisomers in humans after oral administration. Am J Clin Nutr 1997 (Mar); 65 (3): 785-9

Burton GW, et al. Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E Am J Clin Nutr 1998; 67: 669-84

Traber MG, et al. Synthetic as compared with natural vitamin E is preferentially excreted as a-CEHC in human urine: studies using deuterated a-tocopheryl acetate FEBS Letters 1998 (Oct 16); 437: 145-8

Yu W, Jia L, Wang P, et al. In vitro and in vivo evaluation of anticancer actions of natural and synthetic vitamin E forms. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008;52:447-456.

Blatt DH, Pryor WA, Mata JE, et al. Re-evaluation of the relative potency of synthetic and natural a-tocopherol: experimental and clinical observations. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2004;15:380-395.

Weiss WP, Hogan JS, and Wyatt DJ. Relative bioavailability of all-rac and RRR vitamin E based on neutrophil function and total a-tocopherol and isomer concentrations in periparturient dairy cows and their calves. J Dairy Sci. 2009;92:720-731.

Lauridsen C, Engel H, Jensen SK, et al. Lactating sows and suckling piglets preferentially incorporate RRR- over All-rac-a-tocopherol into milk, plasma and tissues. J Nutr. 2002;132:1258-1264.

Sen CK, Khanna S, and Roy S. Tocotrienols in health and disease: The other half of the natural vitamin E family. Molecular Aspects of Medicine. 2007;28-692-728.

Hayek MG, et al. Dietary vitamin E improves immune function in cats. In: Reinhart GA, Carey DP eds. Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutrition, Vol III: 2000 Iams Nutrition Symposium Proceedings. Wilmington, OH: Orange Frazer Press, 2000; 555-564.

Understanding & Managing Stress

keri-drink

Stress affects everything. Yes, everything. There really isn’t one area of your “world”, body or life that isn’t impacted by stress. Your reactions to stress control everything from your breath to your hormones.

The immediate reactions to stress are what we think of as “fight or flight” responses. Upon experiencing a stressful situation, hormones are released that constrict your blood vessels and raise your blood pressure. Eventually, your hormone levels return to normal and your heart rate is regulated. This is healthy, normal, and fine! However, prolonged, chronic stress can lead to health complications including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The hormones released when we’re stressed include adrenaline, corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. While the first two work quickly in the body to give instant energy (which initially reduces hunger), cortisol hangs around in the body longer.

So while an immediate response to acute stress can be a temporary loss of appetite, prolonged chronic stress that goes unmanaged can be tied to an increase in appetite and craving (carbohydrates specifically), and in turn cause you to store fat specifically around the midsection.

Stress causes many problems because it increases free radicals (bad guy compounds that cause a whole lot of problems). The production of free radicals is what is known as oxidative stress. Though the presence of some free radicals is normal, prolonged oxidative stress causes chronic inflammation. This in turn can cause significant damage to your cells, and complications such as, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and diabetes as well as arthritis, IBS and Crohn's Disease.

Stressful situations themselves are unavoidable, and sometimes a little stress can be a good thing. But there are ways to prevent elevated responses and manage the stress in your life. We hear it all the time that we should take time to relax, de-stress and unwind, but this concept is so much easier said than done. Taking control of being a less-stressed person is something you can work on in only a few minutes a day – you don’t have to go for a massage or book a spa weekend. Try the following quick stress busters:

  • If you have 15 minutes: read a chapter or two in a book.
  • If you only have 5-10 minutes: sit quietly with a cup of tea.
  • If you can only manage 30 seconds: rub aromatherapy lotion on your hands.

happy-outdoors

Yes, you can lower your stress by getting a massage or doing a little pampering, but you can also prevent elevated responses to stress from happening in the first place by practicing meditation, getting enough sleep, exercising, and, yes, eating foods that are linked to mood-boosting, calming benefits.

Oatmeal, leafy greens, celery, cashew, avocado, grass fed beef, and even dark chocolate can have a positive effect on reducing your stress symptoms. Some foods, like oatmeal, spinach, and dark chocolate, have the ability to regulate serotonin, which is the feel-good, mood-boosting and mood-stabilizing hormone. Others, like grass-fed beef and peppers are sources of vitamin C, which has been shown to lower levels of cortisol in the body and reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress.

Perhaps the simplest thing you can do to fortify your health is to supplement your diet with Minerals & Antioxidants blend. The boost of antioxidants helps to fight damaging free radicals. Think of antioxidants as the good guys that fight the bad guy free rads. Not only that, but when mixed and consumed with water, you’re contributing to your hydration to boot. What could be simpler?

Keri Keri Glassman MS.RD.CDN

Tips for Calming Stressed Cats

beautiful-whiskery-kitty

It’s a common belief that cats are highly susceptible to stress. How many memes have you seen referencing “neurotic kitty”? But the truth is, a cat’s normal state shouldn’t be stressed, she should be happy and relaxed! If our kitties are constantly showing signs of stress and anxiety, we owe it to them to identify solutions to help them feel better.

So how do you know if your cat is stressed versus just being naturally feisty? Well, the signs are subtle. Oftentimes, it’s a subtle change in behavior that doesn’t even seem to be related to anxiety. Some of the more common changes include …

  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Isolating themselves from others in the household
  • Excessive grooming
  • Prolonged periods of sleep
  • Excessive vocalization beyond what is typical (remember, some kitties are naturally more talkative than others)
  • Increased scratching
  • Aggression

Over time, stress hormones can contribute to physical symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, changes in appetite or even the painful condition known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Be aware that these signs are symptomatic of other medical conditions, so don’t be too quick to assume you’re dealing with feline anxiety before discussing the symptoms with your veterinarian. One of the best ways to minimize the likelihood of chronic medical conditions is to feed your cat a high quality, appropriate diet. Since you’re reading the Life’s Abundance blog, I’m probably preaching to the choir on that topic!

peeking-kitty

Let’s say your cat is exhibiting one or more of these signs of anxiety. You’ve brought her in for a check-up and medically, everything checks out. What next?

First, try to pinpoint the source of the stress and eliminate it, if possible. We tend to view these issues through our human lens, so it’s important to remember that unexpected things can be at the root of your cat’s stress. Some of the more obvious reasons include changes in living conditions – from divorce, moves, a new companion animal in the house, or new babies – to the most obvious physical cause, which is pain. But little changes can also provoke anxiety: new furniture, a neighbor’s dog barking, a dirty litter box, being denied access to their favorite location, a neighborhood tomcat taunting them from the yard, even music they don’t like! As you can see, it’s a long list.

Environmental modifications can make a big difference. For indoor cats, boredom can be a near-constant stressor, so provide lots of vertical space for exploration (they love being elevated). Home-built or store-bought cat trees are a great solution. Puzzle feeders can be a good source of environmental enrichment, as they appeal to their hunting instinct. Pheromone diffusers or sprays can also have a calming effect for some.

blue-eyed-kitty

And lastly, make sure your kitty is getting daily interaction and enrichment with you. It’ll build their confidence and form deeper connections with their caregivers. Believe it or not, many behaviorists recommend clicker training as a great way to bond with your cat. This gives her a sense of control over her environment and also offers the promise of a yummy incentive like Gourmet Cat Treats for Healthy Skin & Coat. Cats can learn amazing tricks with clicker training and treats, but it’s also a great way to reward good behavior generally.

Try to set aside some one-on-one time for your cat in the space where she is most relaxed. Optimally, this is something you’ll do every day at the same time, because cats are true creatures of habit. No distractions, which means leave your phone in another room and turn off the TV. Brush, pet, sing … do whatever pleases your cat the most. It’ll be good for both of you!

A happy cat means a happy you! If you think your cat is suffering from stress or anxiety, try some of these suggestions to help them live the “purr-fect” life.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM