Cat-lovers have always suspected it. Now vets have proved it. Thousands of dogs in the UK are suffering from disorders of the brain. In short, ours is a nation that owns mad dogs.
A major study of British pets has shown that a third of dogs aged seven and older showed "significant" signs of brain dysfunction.
"Most pet owners are unaware that their pet is suffering from these disorders even though they may see the changes associated with age-related behavioural disorders," says Bo Bronserud, managing director of VetPlus, the company that undertook the study.
"Changes will often be accepted as part of the ageing process, and pet owners may not see the point in taking any action. We are a nation of animal-lovers and the number of animals suffering from 'Alzheimer's' without their owners being aware could be as high as a million."
VetPlus asked 981 pet- owners, chosen through UK veterinary surgeries, to answer questions about changes in their dogs' behaviour as the animals became older. Many reported changes in behaviour that indicated cognitive dysfunction disorders, such as frequent barking and changes to sleep patterns and bladder and bowel activity.
Twenty veterinary practices then conducted clinical trials on a new drug, Activait, giving 20 dogs the drug and 24 more a placebo to see if it would change their symptoms. Scientists found that activity, social interaction and house-training improved in the dogs taking Activait.
Sarah Heath, a leading animal behaviourist, explains: "Pets, and particularly dogs over 8, are more likely to be at risk of displaying signs of cognitive decline. This can result in them becoming less sociable and appearing disorientated within their own homes. They may sleep more and have an increase in 'accidents' around the house."
Pip Boydell, owner of the Animal Medical Centre, spends his working life dealing with diseases of the brain and eye. "Although I retain a degree of scepticism, I find many dog and cat patients with diseases that involve degeneration of brain tissue, how a marked improvement following supplementation of Aktivait," he says. "I now take it myself although there is no evidence it is helping my memory at all..."
'She was confused. I had virtually given up on her'
Sally, a cross-breed, is 17 years old. Her owner is Joe Jowett, 72, from Stalybridge near Manchester. He took her to his local vet when she became very disorientated and did not recognise him.
"Quite frankly, when I took her to the vet, I had virtually given up on her," he says. "She was in a very confused state. Not the lively little dog she usually is. They decided she had had at least three strokes. She was 15 at the time. She's 17 now and she has been on Activait for the best part of two years. The vet said, "Let's give it a go", and it seems to have kept her going. It was about three or four weeks before we noticed she wasn't as dozy-looking. She goes on about three or four walks every day. We sprinkle the capsules on to very thinly sliced beef, which we roll up. It has kept us together for an extra couple of years. I wish they could find something that could do the same for me!"Reuse content