- Like humans, dogs experience mental declines and behavioural changes as they grow older
- It has been suggested that an enriched diet and lifelong training could slow down dogs' mental ageing
- In practice, however, this had no impact on their mental decline
Despite the deep desire to help your dog age gracefully and stay mentally sharp, new research suggests that even the best diet and training won't slow the ravages of time for your furry friend.
Just like their human owners, dogs can experience thinking declines and behavioural changes as they age. They might display less curiosity about novel objects and show a decline in social responsiveness, memory and attention, the researchers explained.
Studies have suggested that lifelong training and an enriched diet could slow dogs' mental ageing, but few have explored ageing in pet dogs in real-life settings.
In this latest study, an international team of researchers led by Durga Chapagain, from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, found that middle-aged to elderly dogs who were trained throughout their life and fed a nutrient-enriched diet for a year performed no better on thinking tests than dogs who received less training and ate a regular diet.
Cognitive test for older canines
The study included more than 100 pet dogs over the age of six years and of varying breeds. The participating dogs were split randomly into two groups: half were fed a nutrient-enriched diet, including antioxidants and omega fatty acids, while the other half consumed a regular diet. The researchers also collected information from the pets' owners about their dogs' previous training.
After a year on the diet, the researchers evaluated the dogs' mental capacities using a cognitive test that is designed for older canines.
Sadly, diet and training were found to have no significant impact on mental decline, the study authors said.
The ageing dogs experienced declines in four particular areas: problem-solving, sociability, boldness and dependency. However, the findings showed that their trainability and activity independence appeared to remain sharp.
The study was published online in September in the journal PLOS ONE.
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