Dogs are at a higher risk for developing canine cognitive dysfunction — a neurodegenerative condition known as “doggy dementia” — after age 10, according to a new study
By Stephanie Wenger. Published on August 26, 2022 03:39 PM
There may be a reason why old dogs can't learn new tricks.
A new study published by Scientific Reports finds dogs' risk for developing canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) — a neurodegenerative condition known as "doggy dementia" — increases by 52 percent each year after the age of 10.
University of Washington scientists found that dogs with the condition may experience "learning and memory deficits, loss of spatial awareness, altered social interactions, and disrupted sleeping pattern."
Veterinarian Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary officer for the North American Veterinary Community, told CNN that pet owners should look for the signs of CCD as dogs age.
"Too often, pet owners think their dogs are just 'slowing down' and don't realize there are things they can do to ease, slow or even stave off cognitive decline," Varble said.
She added that "mental activity and exercise are important for a dog's mental well-being just as it is in humans."
In fact, exercise may reduce pups' risks of developing CCD. Inactive dogs were 6.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition, according to the study.
"The reduced odds of CCD among more active dogs in our cohort may be a result of these same mechanisms," the researchers wrote in the study. "But it is important to note that this correlation could also exist simply because of dogs exhibiting less activity due to their cognitive decline."
Researchers believe the study's findings could be used to help diagnose both dogs — and humans.
"Given increasing evidence of the parallels between canine and human cognitive disease, accurate CCD diagnosis in dogs may provide researchers with more suitable animal models in which to study aging in human populations," they explained in the study.
The researchers studied more than 15,000 dogs in the Dog Aging Project between December 2019 and 2020. The animals' owners were asked to complete surveys on their pup's health and cognitive status, which were then grouped together by age.
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Based solely on age, researchers found that the risk of developing CCD increased by 68 percent for each year after a dog's 10th birthday. However, the odds decreased to 52 percent when other factors including breed, existing health problems and sterilization were considered.
However, the scientists found only 1.4 percent of the dogs were classified as having CCD based on the owners' surveys.