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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Alzheimer's Alternatives - Natural Therapies Can Help

by Dr. Shawn Messonnier

Canine and feline Alzheimer’s disease, also known as cognitive disorder, is the most common chronic degenerative problem for older dogs and cats, especially past the age of 10. It affects millions of pets in the United States.

The cause of Alzheimer’s in animals is unknown. It appears, however, that inflammation may play a role. On the microscopic level, scientists have noted the presence of abnormal protein accumulations occurring within the brain’s blood vessels, similar to those in people with Alzheimer’s. Ultimately, the brain lesions interfere with proper functioning of nerve transmissions.

Clinical Signs

Several signs may indicate cognitive disorder in affected dogs, including:

  • Staring at a wall
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings
  • Lethargy/lack of energy
  • Excess sleep (especially during the day)
  • House-training problems (usually urinating inside the house)
  • Deafness

Cats share the same clinical signs of cognitive disorder as dogs, plus the following:

  • Poor coat (excessive shedding or thin, dry coat)
  • Poor appetite
  • Chronic constipation
  • House-training problems (usually urinating outside the litter box when other problems related to anxiety behavior are not in evidence)

Note that other conditions, such as diabetes plus thyroid, kidney, heart or adrenal gland disease, can produce signs similar to those associated with cognitive disorder. A full diagnostic evaluation that includes blood and urine testing should be performed by a veterinarian before reaching such a possible diagnosis.

Conventional Treatment

The drug Anipryl has been approved for treating cognitive disorder in dogs; no medication is available for cats. While effective in some patients, this drug is expensive and can have rare side effects. If the drug proves to be effective, Anipryl must be used for the rest of the life of the dog. Natural, drug-free therapies are less costly.

Natural Therapies

Many different natural therapies can help alleviate cognitive disorder, as recommended by a holistic vet. Changes in diet may include antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, herbs such as ginkgo biloba, targeted homeopathics and phosphatidylserine and acetyl-L-carnitine supplements.

While I may incorporate a combination of these in the treatment of a pet with cognitive disorder, one mainstay is supplementation with choline/phosphatidylcholine. Many pets in my practice have had beneficial results with the patented product Cholodin, made by MVP Laboratories. It contains choline, phosphatidylcholine, methionine and inositol.

Several years ago, I conducted a study funded by the manufacturer and found that Cholodin was effective as a sole therapy. Half of the dogs and cats treated with this supplement showed a moderate or significant response within 30 days; another 25 percent of dogs and 20 percent of cats in the study showed at least minimal improvement within a 30-day period. I now prescribe Cholodin for all of my dog and cat patients that are at least 5 years of age, as a preventive measure.

In addition to choline and other natural therapies, I believe that it’s important to minimize inflammation in older pets, as well, because minimizing inflammation may also help prevent or decrease the incidence of other serious disorders. Because common commercial pet foods can have ingredients that can induce oxidative cell damage and inflammation, I recommend feeding pets natural foods devoid of byproducts and chemicals (feeding only wet food to cats).

Other ideas to reduce inflammation include minimizing vaccinations through the use of antibody titer testing, and minimizing or eliminating the use of chemical flea and tick products. In my experience, using natural therapies, beginning when a pet turns 5 years of age, can actually prevent, and at least minimize, the incidence of cognitive disorder.

Shawn Messonier, a doctor of veterinary medicine practicing in Plano, TX, is the award-winning author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats; his latest book is Unexpected Miracles: Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets. Visit

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