More Pets Encountering Dementia, Medical Problems

As medical technology advances, we're living longer.  But as their care improves, our pets lives are extended, too.  Veterinarians are seeing more and more animals with medical problems, simply related to old age.

"As he's getting older, he's lost his eyesight.  He may have one percent of his eyesight left,"says Bob Pensinger.

His Dachsund, Sammy, is having just a few problems growing older.  After all, Sammy's about 14-and-a-half years old.  That's somewhere around 80 for a Dachsund.

"Now, he's losing his hearing. He doesn't know which direction I'm calling from, so I just go over and bring him if I'm taking him somewhere," Pensinger says.

Sammy's one of so many senior citizens that stroll into Gresham Veterinary Hospital.

"Painful joints. I see so many dogs that come in with arthritic pain," says veterinarian Dr. Bryan Ramsey.

There are medications to soothe pain that until recently could have been unbearable for an animal.

Meanwhile, Sammy's still as sharp though his vision is not.    However, Dr. Ramsey says dementia is a more common problem as these dogs and cats live longer.

"[Symptoms include] the pet being disoriented, wandering aimlessly through the house, not being able to find its food bowl, standing in a corner, or getting stuck behind furniture," Dr. Ramsey says.

So your dog or cat may not seem to be in pain, but if they can't control what they do or act strangely, Ramsey says that the toughest of options may have to be considered.

"Think about the things that make your pet happy -- that bring them joy and write those things down.  I'll tell people many times [as their pets] age, and they can't do those things anymore, that's certainly an indication that Euthanasia might be an option at that point," he says.

It remains an issue that must be discussed as a family.

Pensinger says regular veterinary care keeps Sammy fit as can be, though he needs a little direction.

"Taking care of them after all those years of giving us that joy, that's our obligation," Pensinger says.

Studies indicate as many as two-thirds of all dogs over 15 years old have some cognitive impairment.  There is a new drug called Anipril that researchers say has shown some improvement in impaired dogs.

But Dr. Ramsey tells us no drug available today is a magic pill.

Morgan Palmer, Reporting