Dementia Isn’t Just a Human Problem. It’s a Pet Problem, Too.

More and more data has come about in recent years pointing to the fact that keeping active and maintaining a regular exercise schedule can help keep dementia at bay in human beings. Well, now the same is thought to be true for our dogs. And why not? Exercise seems to protect brain health, whether you have two or four legs.

senior dog
Photo: Pixabay/AlkeMade

Dementia in Dogs

Cognitive decline in dogs can be stemmed by remaining active, according to research posted in Nature Scientific Reports. After analyzing data connected with more than 15,000 dogs, one of the most significant risk factors for canine dementia —besides age — was a lack of exercise.

“The evidence is clear: Being active is better for your health in a variety of ways than being inactive. That’s going to be true for your dog as well,” Matt Kaeberlein, study co-author and co-director of the Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington in Seattle, stated. “One very simple lesson is: Take your dog for more walks… it would be good for you and your dog. This (study) just further supports the critically important role that exercise and activity play in a healthy lifestyle, both in dogs and in humans.”

Canine Dementia Symptoms

The study involved a sample of 15,019 companion dogs. Their humans provided info on their age, sex, breed, activity level, and health status. They were also asked to fill out a survey regarding their dog’s behavior in order to detect dementia. They reported whether their dog was pacing, walking into walls, or failing to recognize faces that were once familiar to them. Other symptoms included emotional detachment from family, if the dog starts to spend a lot of time by itself, and getting lost in the house, Kaeberlein explained.

woman walking dog
Photo: Pixabay/willea26

Better Subject Models

For this particular study, companion dogs were particularly good subjects to examine because their lives so closely parallel that of humans anymore. We share just about everything with them, beginning with our living spaces, food, viewing habits, and exercise or lack of it. They also age rapidly as compared to people, which means scientists can study their life stages over an abbreviated period of time compared to humans.

What to Expect

Kaeberlein also noted about the changes you can expect to see in animals: “They’ll get stuck in a corner. They’ll just stare. What that will look like to the owners is the dog is just staring at the wall. Sometimes, they get stuck in furniture. That’s a very common sign of dementia, especially in smaller dogs.”

sleeping jack russell
Photo: Pixabay/5500589

Move It or Lose It

When they analyzed the data, the researchers found that 1.4 percent of dogs enrolled in the study were classified as having canine cognitive dysfunction, aka the dog version of dementia. The condition increased a staggering 52 percent with each additional year of a dog’s age. Increasing age is also the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of human dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Earlier this year, a separate study published in JAMA Neurology determined that people who walk 10,000 steps a day can cut the risk of dementia in half. The same likely goes for Spot or Biff, so the two of you should put down your mobile device and get moving PDQ.

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