Like humans, dogs’ chances of developing dementia increase with age.

According to new research, dogs’ chance of developing dementia increases by 50% for every additional year they live in their golden years, just like it does in humans.

Over 15,000 canines and their human companions participated in the study, and just over 1% of them exhibited canine cognitive impairment (CCD). CCD causes dogs to gradually develop symptoms like disorientation, anxiety, sleep issues, and changes in how they interact with the outside environment, much like the dementia process does in humans.

The probabilities of CCD increased with age in the dogs in the latest study, increasing by 52% for each additional year of life after age 10.

Additionally, inactive dogs were far more at risk than those who maintained their lively nature as they aged. But experts cautioned that rather than being the root of CCD, this could be a symptom.

Veterinarians have long been aware that as dogs age, they may experience memory loss and cognitive decline.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine’s Dr. Rose Peters, a veterinary neurologist, claimed that “they’re not wired all that differently from us.”

The abbreviation DISHAA is used to condense the indicators that a dog might have CCD, according to Peters, who was not involved in the new study:

  • Disorientation: appearing perplexed or lost in locations that are familiar to you, staring blankly at a wall, or having trouble navigating around items.
  • Interaction changes: becoming more “clingy” or, conversely, losing interest in cuddling. becoming less amiable, angrier, or even hostile toward other people or animals.
  • Sleep changes: sleepiness at night, sleeping more during the day, or displaying other abnormal patterns of sleep and wakefulness
  • House-soiling: Dogs who cease indicating when they need to go outside may wind up staying inside.
  • Activity changes: exhibiting less play interest and more aimless pacing or wandering.
  • Anxiety: displaying signs of separation anxiety or developing a dread of the outdoors or new situations.

Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, a veterinary behaviourist at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says there is a significant caveat, though.

According to Borns-Weil, many physical health conditions can also result in symptoms similar to CCD. Pain from ailments like arthritis is a significant one.

According to Borns-Weil, who was not involved in the study, “if you suspect your dog has signs of cognitive dysfunction, take them to the vet and rule out physical causes.”

The researchers on the new paper, lead by Sarah Yarborough of the University of Washington, claim that although CCD has been studied in the past, the studies were modest.

Data from more than 15,000 canines participating in the Dog Aging Project, an ongoing research project, were used by the researchers for their study. Owners participated in two surveys during the first year: one asking about the health and exercise routines of their dogs, and the other screening for CCD.

The majority of the dogs in the study were young, and slightly over 1% of them were determined to have CCD. Findings in the journal Scientific Reports showed that the likelihood of CCD increased with each extra year of life in animals older than 10 years.

Beyond age, dogs’ levels of activity also demonstrated a strong association with CCD: dogs who were sedentary were over six times more likely to have the condition than active dogs of the same age and breed.

Peters and Borns-Weil agreed that this does not demonstrate that exercise prevents canine dementia because CCD itself may alter activity levels.

Because they are confused, a dog with cognitive disorder may no longer want to go for walks, according to Borns-Weil.

Peters pointed out that studies on people have linked physical activity to greater brain health in later age. So it’s not crazy to think that exercise might help dogs’ brains, according to her.

Borns-Weil added that a significant portion of a dog’s mental stimulation comes from going outside to play or investigate. Keeping your mind sharp as you age has been linked to a lower risk of cognitive decline in humans, though the cause-and-effect relationship is still unclear.

Despite the unknowns, both experts agreed that dogs may have a healthy lifestyle that involves exercise and mental stimulation.

“If people hear about our study and think, there’s a reason to keep my dog active, then that’s excellent,” Borns-Weil said.

CCD does not have a treatment, similar to human dementia. However, families can support their dog in managing in a number of ways, according to the veterinarians: maintaining a consistent daily routine; refraining from moving objects around the house and placing them in such a way that your dog cannot get caught behind anything; using nightlights at night; and providing your dog with realistic opportunities to stay physically and mentally active.

Borns-Weil advised trying a stroll around the yard’s perimeter if a walk around the neighbourhood is too tense-inducing.

Veterinarians can also administer drugs like anti-anxiety pills and selegiline, a substance that is licenced to treat both CCD and the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in humans.

If owners are worried about any behavioural changes in their dog, both experts advised them to visit the veterinarian.

Information about:

Information on canine cognitive impairment is available from the American Kennel Club.

SOURCES: Rose Peters, DVM, a veterinary neurologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine; Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, a veterinary behaviourist and clinical assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts; Scientific Reports, August 25, 2022, online

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