The Norman Transcript

January 10, 2013

Old dog with shakes may have dementia

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: My 17 1/2-year-old West Highland terrier-mix has an odd problem, and my vet does not know what causes it.

As she is about to go out, as soon as she gets to the door, she backs up a bit and shakes her head from side to side — sometimes her body shakes, too. However, when she is indoors at night, she has no problems.

The vet says she has no eye issues. She does have arthritis in her hips. Her appetite is good.

Last night at about 2:30 a.m., I heard her scratching a wartlike thing on her leg. When I went to put some medicine on it, she jumped up from her bed and went down the hall to the back door to go out. I let her out, and she had no shaking problems. But when she came back in, she paced back and forth between the bedroom and back door for an hour before I was able to lay her down on her bed. I stroked her neck until she fell asleep. She slept until about 9 this morning.

She did not have the shakes this morning. She ate a healthy amount of food, then laid down on her bed, getting up only for toilet or water.

I have medication for her warts and pain pills for her arthritis — both are vet prescriptions. I hope you will have answers for me. My vet hasn’t made any suggestion as to what her shaking problem is.

— B.M., Camp Springs, Md.

Dear B.M.: In part because dogs and cats enjoy longer lives than in the past, we see more of them with age-related neurological and cognitive problems, including dementia.

Try giving your dog up to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, a few drops of fish oil (working up to 1 tablespoon) and one human multivitamin and multimineral supplement mixed in with her food per day. Discuss with your veterinarian supplements such as Resveratrol, Effac (esterified fatty acid complex), SAMe and choline, and also the potential benefits of various herbs such as ginkgo biloba, gotu kola and Asian ginseng.

A few drops of essential oil of lavender on a bandanna around her neck may help calm her — anxiety is a signal aspect of canine dementia. Alternatively, valerian or Xanax should be discussed with your veterinarian. Prescribing the drug Selegiline can also be beneficial for old dogs like yours, but it needs careful monitoring.

Dear Dr. Fox: We recently moved our house and belongings 1/4 mile away from where we were before. Henry, our black 8-year-old cat, keeps crossing a busy road to return to his old home.

We’ve kept him inside the past several weeks, but this is not ideal. He often wakes up at 4 or 5 a.m. and starts yowling — either for food or to use the outdoor facilities. (He has always used a litter box as a last resort.)

A neighbor loaned us a harness so I could let him out on our back patio and acclimate to his new surroundings. He slipped out of it, but I think this has potential if I can fasten it better without him strangling.

Any ideas? He spent only 20 to 30 percent of his time outdoors at the old house.

— R.B., Columbia, Md.

Dear R.B.: Many cats do what yours is doing — returning to the former home for reasons best known to cats. Some have journeyed incredible distances.

I applaud you for trying a cat harness, but it must be fitted properly to prevent escape. Since he enjoys the outdoors, a cat house or gazebo fitted with a covered litter box and shelter, plus a tree branch or cat gym to climb and laze on may satisfy his outdoor cravings.

You may want to consider adopting a healthy, easygoing cat of his approximate age and size -- perhaps a spayed female rather than a neutered male. Such companionship may turn him into a stay-at-home cat. The new cat should, of course, be strictly an indoor cat unless you have an outdoor enclosure for both of them.

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