The prospect of curbing cognitive decline brings light to a shadowy place.
It has hovered like a dark cloud over many a senior pet wellness exam: the consideration of euthanasia because of cognitive decline.
Karen Martin, DVM, already knew the pain of tackling such considerations, but the issue really hit home when her beloved 121⁄2-year-old boxer, Takeo, started wandering around aimlessly and didn’t recognize things that used to bring him joy.
“When that object of affection no longer barks as you come in the house, or doesn’t even look at you, that’s very difficult to deal with,” said Dr. Martin, owner and operator of East/West Veterinary Clinic in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
“They’re the ones who are supposed to keep us sane so we can deal with all of the other things going on in our lives.”
But these days clinicians such as Martin are finding that questions about cognitive function don’t have to come with ominous overtones. In fact, she now makes such inquiries a routine part of senior wellness checkups, and she speaks with optimism about a growing number of treatment options.
To her arsenal she has added Neutricks, a product released in November by Quincy Animal Health of Madison, Wis. The chewable dietary supplement uses the same patented calcium binding protein as Prevagen, developed by Quincy Bioscience to help people experiencing cognitive decline. Neutricks seeks to replace calcium-binding proteins, aiding senior pets displaying signs of decline in brain function.
Martin said for years she was “very skeptical” of supplements and other alternative treatments, including acupuncture, to which she turned when her second dog was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“I went into acupuncture not believing, not really wanting to believe—thought it was silliness,” she said.
Now she’s a certified acupuncturist and often combines elements of Western and alternative medicine in treating patients for all types of conditions, including cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Her experience with Neutricks has helped upend her skepticism.
A product sample crossed her desk just as Takeo’s decline became more pronounced. She read about research linking the calcium binding protein apoaequorin with the replacement of calcium binding proteins lost through cognitive decline.
A pair of studies involving Neutricks commissioned by Quincy and conducted by the research firm CanCog Technologies Inc. found statistical improvement in cognitive function by senior dogs in control groups.
The more recent study, completed in April, compared senior dogs treated with a high dose of apoaequorin with those given Anipryl, the only compound with regulatory approval for treatment of cognitive dysfunction in dogs.
“The groups treated with apoaequorin showed more accurate learning than the Anipryl group,” CanCog reported.
“Neutricks outperformed Anipryl on a few of the tasks – attention tasks and learning tasks,” said Gary M. Landsberg, BSc, DVM, Dipl. ACVB, Dipl. ECVBM-CA, a veterinary behaviorist in private practice who is also director of scientific affairs for CanCog and an adjunct professor at Ontario Veterinary College in Canada.
“We know it works in a controlled testing environment.”
For Ann-Marie Santopietro, the benefits are apparent in her own home and backyard, where her 14-year-old pit bull, Hooch, is more like himself again.
Two months ago, Hooch was a handful.
“I have a 2-year-old child, and my boyfriend was saying, ‘We just can’t have a dog peeing in the house. It’s time to let him go.’ It was actually causing issues in our relationship,” said Santopietro, a Bristol, Conn.-based territory manager for Butler Schein Animal Health.
As a Butler Schein representative, Santopietro sells Neutricks to clinics; Quincy makes the product available only through licensed veterinarians. Two months ago she decided it was time to give it a try.
“By the third day, Hooch had stopped peeing in the house,” Santopietro said. “It’s made a huge difference in our household.
“I mean, you never want to come to the point of thinking about putting a pet to sleep because of inconvenience. When it’s time—when he can’t eat, can’t get out of his own way—that’s one thing. But not when both he and I aren’t ready.”
A 2009 study found that behavior issues topped the list of reasons for requests to euthanize otherwise healthy animals, accounting for 72 percent of cases. The figure had dropped from 90 percent in 2006.
Martin said it’s easier these days to discuss cognitive and behavior issues during senior pet exams knowing that there are treatment options available. In fact, she finds she seldom has to broach the subject herself.
“Clients bring it up,” she said. “They’re looking for answers.”
Often, aging pets have both medical and cognitive issues to deal with. Sometimes the medical can mask the cognitive. It’s important to do tests and exams with both in mind, practitioners say.
Dr. Landsberg suggests that veterinarians start looking for and asking about signs of cognitive decline with dogs as young as 6.
“Every time the pet comes in, you should ask about behavior problems,” he said. “If there is a problem and it isn’t controlled, there will be a poor bond and people will relinquish their pet.”
As a longtime dog owner and a receptionist for 14 years at The Dalles Veterinary Hospital in Oregon, Kathy Comini-Good knows all about that human-animal bond. Bob, her 14-year-old cocker spaniel, is her “best buddy,” she said. That’s why it was so hard to see Bob lose interest in her and his surroundings.
She tried Neutricks, and saw improvement within a few days.
“After a week, Bob licked my hand, and I had to stop to think just how long it had been since he’d done that,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much that connection was gone until I got it back.”
As she treats her canine pal Takeo, Martin knows that eventually she will face hard questions about quality of life related to his age and his meningioma. But for now, she’s grateful to have her friend greet her with recognition and affection when she comes in the door.
“At least for the short term, I’ve got my boy back,” she said. “That means a lot.”
This Education Series article was underwritten by Quincy Animal Health of Madison, Wis.