It starts with the unexpected. Perhaps an incident of house soiling that’s totally out of character. Or a lack of response when a dog is called by name. Maybe some aimless wandering, a new phobia, or dazed and anxious looks when entering a familiar place.
These are symptoms of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), a condition of aging that some veterinary practitioners say deserves increased attention in pets, especially now that new tools for treatment are emerging.
The latest option is Neutricks, a chewable dietary supplement designed to protect brain cells and combat cognitive decline in pets.
Released in November as the first product from Quincy Animal Health of Madison, Wis., Neutricks uses the same technology as Prevagen, which was developed by Quincy Bioscience and has been shown to help people suffering from age-related congitive decline.
At the heart of Neutricks is the patented protein apoaequorin, first discovered in 1962 in a species of jellyfish. The idea is that as aging pets stop producing calcium-binding proteins and start to lose brain function, the apoaequorin in Neutricks acts as a replacement protein.
So far, clinical and lab testing have yielded positive results.
A project commissioned by Quincy and conducted by the research firm CanCog Technologies Inc. found statistically significant improvement in cognitive function by senior dogs in a controlled study.
In the study, 24 beagles 9 years or older were placed in three cognitively equivalent groups. They received either a placebo tablet or two different doses of apoaequorin. The subjects were tested using standardized cognitive methods for dogs, including object discrimination, visual search task and a visuospatial working memory task.
Data from the double-blinded placebo testing “suggest that daily administration of apoaequorin has beneficial effects seen in improved learning, accuracy and attention,” lead researcher Bill Milgram, Ph.D., reported in November in a Quincy news release.
“All of the animals tested in the study were aged and showed some degree of cognitive impairment. Thus, one possible interpretation is that the treatment has the potential of reversing age-associated cognitive dysfunction.”
Gary Landsberg, BSc, DVM, Dipl. ACVB, Dipl. ECVBM-CA, is a veterinary behaviorist in private practice who is also director of scientific affairs for CanCog. He’s eager to begin adding Neutricks to the mix of prescription medications and supplements used by patients with age-related cognitive decline.
“I’m delighted as a practitioner that we now have one more product that has been shown to be effective against this disease,” said Dr. Landsberg, whose practice is North Toronto Animal Clinic in Thornhill, Ontario. “Because this product has a somewhat different mode of action, it will complement those already out there.”
Neutricks has been used since late summer on senior patients of Sarah Kalstrup, DVM, at Westside Family Pet Clinic in Madison, Wis. As a test practice, Westside received trial samples, and Dr. Kalstrup said 10 animals with CDS symptoms have been involved in the study.
Kalstrup said the owners of eight of the 10 dogs that began taking Neutricks reported improvement in at least one of the cognitive symptoms. One dog, a 14-year-old black Lab named Guinness, experienced even more stout success.
Before the study period, Guinness started acting like anyone but himself. He was waking three or four times a night, pacing and panting as well as barking repeatedly. His restlessness and confusion disrupted the entire household.
“The owners were beside themselves,” Kalstrup said. “They were saying things like, ‘We can’t go on.’ ”
After the first week on Neutricks, the owners reported profound changes, the doctor said. Guinness was sleeping better and was more alert during the day. He also was more eager to seek attention. No side effects were reported.
When the 30-day trial period ended, the owners had one more question: Where can we get more?
“We were all amazed,” Kalstrup related.
At Westside, an AAHA-accredited small-animal practice, Guinness is among a growing number of senior patients seen by the clinic’s six doctors, including Ken Lambrecht, DVM, founding owner and clinical medical director.
Kalstrup said that even with awareness of CDS, signs can easily be missed. And connecting those symptoms to the disease is an inexact process. From 20 percent to as many as 75 percent of senior dogs show signs of age-related cognitive dysfunction, Landsberg said, with symptoms typically starting at age 9 or 10.
Because the disease is progressive, early diagnosis is critical, he said, noting that veterinarians often have to ask specific questions about senior pet behaviors to get the information needed for a diagnosis.
Quincy provided a check list that Kalstrup found instructive.
“Owners won’t necessarily volunteer information until it’s too late to do something about it,” Landsberg said. “Now we have a number of products that have been tested in an evidence-based way or against a control group, so there’s no reason not to ask the questions.”
The doctors agree that it’s important to perform baseline lab work and other tests to explore the possibility that other medical conditions might be causing the symptoms. Considerations include tumors, organ disease and pain from osteoarthritis or other sources.
Neutricks is available only through licensed veterinarians because Quincy believes the supplement “represents an opportunity to create veterinary-client dialogue about these geriatric symptoms that pet owners may overlook,” said David J. Merrick, general manager of Quincy Animal Health.
“I’m not foolish enough to say Neutricks will work every time,” Merrick added. “But we’re confident it will give pet owners a really good chance for success against age-related cognitive dysfunction.”
This Education Series story was unwritten by Quincy Animal Health of Madison, Wis.