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Published March 23, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Dementia may keep dog up

Dear Dr. Fox: My 14-year-old Australian shepherd-mix is having trouble sleeping at night. She is very disruptive, knocking things down and pacing for hours. She sleeps during the day, but is sometimes destructive and will try to break into locked rooms.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: My 14-year-old Australian shepherd-mix is having trouble sleeping at night. She is very disruptive, knocking things down and pacing for hours. She sleeps during the day, but is sometimes destructive and will try to break into locked rooms. I have given her the herbal extract skullcap and a nerve tonic, but nothing seems to work. My vet thinks she may have sundown syndrome and recommends sedatives. What do you think? – S.S., Sequim, Wash.

Dear S.S.: Your poor old dog is suffering from a possible combination of senile dementia and arthritic pain. To alleviate joint pain, give her a comfortable bed; chondroitin, glucosamine and MSM with food; and a daily tablespoon of fish oil. You can also give her up to three baby aspirin a day.

Feed her three small meals a day, and give your dog the equivalent of an adult human dose of either valerian or melatonin before bedtime. If one does not work, try the other; increase or decrease the dosage to effectiveness. Your veterinarian can prescribe Valium or seligiline, which helps many dogs with dementia. Loss of vision, hearing and coordination all work to make old dogs feel insecure and panicky. A full veterinary checkup would be advisable.


Dear Dr. Fox: I’ve been reading your article every week in my local paper. I have a 7-year-old border collie who has started to itch all the time. He is an indoor dog, and he has never had fleas. The itching reached its peak a few weeks ago.

I talked to some friends who say it could be an allergy to Costco’s Kirkland-brand dog food and treats I was giving him. Everyone recommended Natural Balance – a dog food with no grain. I was told to add in some Greek yogurt to help his digestive system. I give him ground beef with an uncooked egg mixed in with the dog food. He gets 1 ½ cups in the morning and evening. He loves the new diet, and my children are good to make sure he doesn’t get their food.

Still, he is itching after a week on the new food. It’s not as bad, but I hate to see him like this. His coat is getting thin, and I worry about him going outside to relieve himself in the cold weather. Is there anything more that I can do for him? – D.S., Sequim, Wash.

Dear D.S.: It can take some time for a dog to overcome a food allergy. Often, an allergy develops to more than one ingredient, and as the immune system becomes challenged, other health problems and allergies arise.

In the meantime, take a holistic approach. Bathe him in soothing oatmeal or using an aloe- or chamomile-based shampoo once a week for three to four weeks. After that, give him clean cotton sheets to lie on. Taking these steps will help reduce and possibly rule out a contact allergy.

Many dogs are allergic to beef and eggs, so try my home-prepared diet using a single protein, like turkey or lamb. My website, www.twobitdog.com/drfox, has my basic dog food recipe you should try. Many manufactured dog foods have some ingredients – additives, preservatives and coloring agents – that may cause health problems, as documented in my book “Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat and Dog Food,” which I co-authored with two other veterinarians. Many such foods, especially dry dog foods, are deficient in essential fatty acids, so giving your dog a source of omega-3 fatty acids, like a teaspoon of flaxseed oil or a few drops of fish oil, may do wonders for your dog’s skin and general health.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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