If you can’t teach your old dog new tricks, that could be an ominous sign. Researchers have found that the chance of a dog having dementia with a dog increases by more than 50% with each year.
While dementia is a well-known condition in humans, dogs can experience a similar decline in cognitive function, with symptoms such as disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, bumping into things, difficulty adapting to change and getting lost.
But while previous work has suggested that such cognitive impairment in dogs (CCD) is more common in older dogs, as is the case in humans, the studies have been small and the prevalence is unclear.
Now, a major study has shed new light on such issues in the work that researchers say could help diagnose the condition in dogs — and even help humans.
“Given the mounting evidence of the parallels between cognitive diseases in dogs and humans, an accurate CCD diagnosis in dogs may provide researchers with more appropriate animal models to study aging in human populations,” the team wrote.
In the journal Scientific Reports, researchers in the US reported analyzing data from two surveys completed by the owners of 15,019 dogs, as part of the Dog Aging Project.
Owners were surveyed about aspects of their dogs’ behavior, including whether they tended to linger behind objects or had difficulty recognizing familiar people, as well as factors such as age, gender, breed, health and activity level. of the dog. The team then gave each dog a score between 16 and 80, with a score of 50 or higher indicating that the dog had CCD.
The results, based on data collected between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020, reveal that 1.4% of dogs had CCD.
After taking into account factors such as whether the dog was spayed, breed, and other health problems, the team found that the odds of CCD increased by 52% with each year a dog woke up. However, the analysis suggests that the prevalence of the condition is close to zero in dogs under 10 years of age.
The team also reported that the odds of CCD were 6.5 times higher in dogs with lower activity levels in the past year. While the researchers said exercise may be protective against cognitive decline, they cautioned that their finding could also be due to dogs with CCD being less active due to their condition, while lockdowns and other Covid restrictions may be affecting owners and their activity levels. affect pets.
A history of eye, ear or neurological problems was also associated with a higher chance of CCD, while terriers or toy breeds appeared to be more likely to have the condition, although the team did not report whether this finding persisted. after factors such as age were considered.
The researchers added that estimating which quartile of life the dogs were in helped them tell those with and without CCD apart, suggesting the approach could help identify dogs to be screened for the disease. condition.
Prof Clare Rusbridge, a veterinary neurologist at the University of Surrey who was not involved in the study, said the research helps address how common CCD is and adds weight to the evidence that lifestyle influences the risk of dementia, but said that owners can take preventive measures against CCD, including the use of special diets and involving their dog in physical, intellectual and social activities.
Gregor Majdič, professor of physiology at the veterinary school at the University of Ljubljana, said the link between CCD risk and activity had not been seen before.
“A lesson already emerging from the current study is further evidence that physical activity, including in the elderly, is very important for the well-being and maintenance of [the] aging brains healthy,” he said.
Nick Sutton, canine health and science expert at the Kennel Club, agreed, but added that the study revealed a “sad irony” that while dogs are generally living longer thanks to our understanding of how to get healthy kept, the older they are, the more likely they are to suffer from age-related diseases, including dementia.
“There is no cure for canine dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in humans, but by improving our understanding of these diseases, with research like this, and working towards a One Health approach, we can find better ways to prevent, identify, treat and eradicate these terrible diseases,” he said.