A new study of older dogs found that problem solving, sociability, boldness and addiction decreased with age and reported no correlations between an enriched diet, lifelong training experience and goals of behavior and cognition after a one-year diet period. A team of researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria and the University of Liverpool, UK present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on September 1
As humans, dogs can experience cognitive decline and behavioral changes as they get older. For example, they may show less curiosity about new objects and show a decline in social response, memory, and attention. Like humans, individual dogs vary in their cognitive decline. Some studies suggest that lifelong training and an enriched diet can slow down cognitive aging in dogs. However, few studies have explored aging in dogs as opposed to dogs in laboratory settings.
To better understand the aging of pet dogs, the authors assigned 119 pet dogs – aged over 6 years and of different breeds – to receive either an enriched diet (including nutrients such as antioxidants, omega fatty acids, phosphatidylserine and tryptophan) or a control diet during a year. They also asked dog owners to report their pet’s past training experiences. After a year of dietary treatment, the researchers evaluated the dogs’ cognition and behavior in a newly developed battery of tests known as the Modified Vienna Canine Cognitive Battery (MVCCB).
The analyzes showed that the aging dogs generally experienced a decrease in four out of six total factors treated by MVCCB: problem solving, sociability, boldness and dependence. The other two factors, training ability and activity independence, showed no change with age. Previous training experiences and an enriched diet showed no significant association with the observed cognitive decline.
These findings suggest that further research is needed to determine if and how exercise and diet can affect aging in dogs. The authors highlight that MVCCB could be a useful tool for detecting age-related changes in dogs for future research.
Author Durga Chapagain adds: “The Modified Vienna Canine Cognitive Battery can be used as a tool to determine behavioral changes and cognitive deficits in older dogs.”
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Chapagain D, Wallis LJ, Range F, Affenzeller N, Serra J, Virányi Z (2020) Behavioral and cognitive changes in older dogs: No effects of an enriched diet and lifelong training. PLoS ONE 15 (9): e0238517. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238517
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