Natural Care and Healing For Your Dogs & Cats

Cognitive Dysfunction In The Aging Animal - Another Perspective

Reprinted with permission from the July 1999 issue of Dr. Bob and Susan 
Goldsteins’ Love of Animals newsletter, 606 Post Rd. East, Westport, CT 
06880; for subscription information, call 800/211-6365.

     Because Cognitive dysfunction as it is defined in medical terms refers to an acquired or diminishing mental capacity. It can have many causes ranging from trauma to disease process, although it is most often associated with a diminished mental capacity associated with aging. One of the first things to consider in an aging animal suffering from CD is deafness, since hearing usually diminishes before mental faculties and the consequences of deafness can masquerade as dementia.

     After consulting your veterinarian and ruling out deafness, disease and physical trauma as possible causes of CD and taking any appropriate steps to remedy such problems if they exist, we must look deeper for ways of coping with CD in animals. If the animal is not of a significant age to warrant a diminished mental capacity, one might consider consulting an animal communicator to uncover any emotional trauma or depression that may not be apparent. For our purposes here we will address CD as a consequence of the aging process.

     In my practice as an animal communicator I have many clients with aging animals exhibiting a wide range of age related infirmities not the least of which is cognitive dysfunction.

     Of all of the situations that I see between animals and their guardians, the process of aging and its associated infirmities is one of the most complicated to resolve. To be effectively dealt with it must be addressed from the perspective of both the animal and the human being involved. The reason for this can be seen by examining the preoccupation of our culture with youth and youthfulness and its avoidance and underlying fear of the process of aging, infirmity and death. In earlier cultures the aging process and its attendant qualities would be honored, as would the process of death itself. It wasn't looked upon as a process to avoid, but rather one to be faced with dignity and fortitude.

     Wild and feral animals usually cope in a natural, uncomplicated and straightforward way to aging and death. The more domesticated animals become and the more intimately entwined their lives become with our own, the more like us they become as well. This "becoming" takes in both our positive and negative qualities and unlike their more wild brothers and sisters, our domestic companions begin to worry and ruminate about their own declining physical stamina and diminishing mental faculties. . . all of which intensifies their suffering. Their increased awareness becomes a double edged sword. When I communicate with aging animals who have become confused and disoriented, they are often acutely aware of their diminishing capacities. Many of them express fear of becoming a problem, making a mess, not being able to get up, find the door, find their dish or of being forgotten or left behind.

     To complicate this scenario, we human beings generally fear and avoid thoughts of infirmity and death until they touch us in some personal way. Because an animal's life is so short compared with our own, when we love them and they begin to decline, becoming feeble and forgetful, we are brought face to face with the reality of impermanence both our own and theirs. If we examine this carefully and if we understand that our animal companions often mirror our own fears and neurosis we can begin to see a rather complicated, but beautiful picture unfold.

     For many human beings the aspect of aging that is almost more frightening than the prospect of death itself is the prospect of loosing control of our mind and not being able to think or care for ourselves. Even if our body fails, we can still enjoy and have some control of our lives as long as our cognitive functioning is intact. But what if we begin to forget things? What if we become confused, disoriented and lost? What if the day comes that we simply can't think anymore then what?

     Advances in veterinary care, increased awareness, proper nutrition, dietary supplements, and a loving home all contribute to a longer happier life for our animal companions. Although all of these wonderful advances have the capacity to stave off frailties of mind and body, sooner or later, we must face the fact that none of us were meant to remain on this plane of existence forever and that our minds as well as our bodies may fail us in our declining years.

     To be successful in addressing age related infirmities such as cognitive dysfunction in our animal companions, we must look beneath the surface of things to the greater lesson that is unfolding to us. We have come to earth to learn and to grow. Every situation that presents itself to us is really just a friend in disguise. Every situation that we encounter is really a gift that is trying to provide understanding about something that we need to learn.

     In my experience, one of the greatest gifts that our animals have for us. . . is to bring us face to face with our fears of aging and death itself. When we face these fears through our love and desire to help our animal companions, often we are showered with an outpouring of grace, love and understanding of this miracle of existence. . . both ours and that of our animal friend.

     If we can learn to look beneath the surface, facing our fears the best we can and exploring our feelings in an honest and open way, we can become more peaceful and centered. When we are calm, in almost every case our "failing" animal friend will become more peaceful and able to cope - and we will be the recipient of their invaluable gift of love, calmness and insight. By facing and dealing with our own fears, we will have received one of the most precious gifts our animal companion could give. As we become more peaceful and accepting of the great unfolding mystery of life and death, our animal friend can relax, let go and be the best he can be during the time he has left to share with us.

     From this deeper perspective of the process of aging and dying, all other healing treatments and modalities that are implemented will be more successful than they would be otherwise. Struggle and fighting against the inevitable are replaced with a calm acceptance that helps other forms of treatment to be more effective. Flower essence therapy, gentle massage techniques and soothing, uplifting music can be of invaluable assistance to both you and your animal companion in facing the challenges of the aging body and mind and in addressing the interplay of emotion and feeling between beloved friends of different species.


     In the realm of Flower Essence Therapy, Anaflora's Return to Joy Formula, Senior Formula, Tranquility Formula and Good Dog Formula can all be of assistance in helping your animal friend be more comfortable and facilitating as bright and focused a mind as possible. For immediate stress producing situations that can cause more disorientation than usual such as veterinarian visits, travelling etc. try Bach's Rescue Remedy, Calming Essences or Anaflora's Recovery Remedy.

     At Anaflora we highly recommend taking flower essences with your animal, especially in situations such as those we have been discussing where there is a mutual sharing of fear and anxiety. This is particularly appropriate with the Return to Joy and Special Stress Formulas. If you and your animal are both seniors, you can take the Senior Formula together!

     Robert S. Goldstein, VMD, medical editor of Love of Animals, has been a holistic veterinarian for more than 20 years, using a combination of nutritional, herbal, homeopathic and chiropractic treatments. Dr. Goldstein pioneered an immune-enhancement therapy in the treatment of animals and is an expert in natural treatment and prevention of disease in household pets. Dr. Goldstein holds a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Goldstein is available for private consultation. For more information, call 203/222-0260.