Age affects dogs’ brains, too

Showing signs of brain aging

Spot is getting on in years and his muzzle is turning gray. He doesn’t chase the ball as much as he used to, preferring to nap on the couch instead.

But those aren’t all the changes he’s going through. Spot sleeps a lot more during the day. Then, at 3 a.m., he nudges you awake to let him outside for a potty session. You hear him pacing in your dark bedroom all night long. When he’s not wandering, he stands in the corner of the room, staring blankly at the walls.

What’s going on with Spot? He’s showing signs of brain aging.

As with humans, age can affect dogs. But also like people, some dogs can remain sharp well into their golden years.The symptoms of brain aging, or cognitive dysfunction, are summarized by the acronym DISH: Disorientation; Interaction changes; Sleep or activity changes; and forgetting Housetraining, according to the New York Times.

A disoriented dog may not recognize familiar people and places. He may appear lost, even in familiar places. The dog may not be as alert and exhibit aimless behavior.Canines suffering from cognitive dysfunction lose interest in affection and may even stop greeting family members. Sleep patterns change with cognitive dysfunction; your dog may doze during the day only to meander at night. Senior dogs may forget their housetraining and stop asking to go out. They may lose control of their bladder or bowels.


Of course, other maladies can cause these symptoms. Arthritis, failed hearing, vision or changes in the environment can change a dog’s behavior. Thyroid, kidney or adrenal gland disease can also make a dog act like he is experiencing cognitive decline, according to the New York Times.Pet parents should consult with veterinarians when they first notice these symptoms.Canine brain aging is so similar to humans developing Alzheimer’s that the National Institutes of Health supported a 2-year study held at the University of Toronto and University of California, Irvine.

The research concluded that oxidative stress contributes to cognitive aging, according to DOG Watch, a newsletter for the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Harmful chemicals produced by the body, called free radicals, damage brain neurons, causing learning and memory problems.Researchers found a diet enriched with antioxidants improved an aging dog’s ability to learn and remember, according to DOG Watch. Antioxidants are nutrients and other food additives such as vitamins E and C.

Dogs used in the study ate standard dog food plus an antioxidant blend of tomatoes, carrot granules, citrus pulp, spinach flakes, lipoic acid, carnitine, and vitamins C and E. Anthocyanins, the plant pigments found in certain berries, also show promise in slowing cognitive aging.The reishi mushroom is also known to protect cells against free radicals, improve memory and delay brain aging.You should consult your veterinarian before supplementing your dog’s diet on your own, DOG Watch advised.

Other steps you can take are feeding your dog a healthy, balanced diet and providing regular exercise and mental stimulation (all these can be achieved by going for longwalks and providing him with healthy snacks). So dont think about it twice, go get your best looking leash and start running with your dog. There is no cure for cognitive dysfunction, but a prescription drug can help many dogs with brain aging think more clearly, according to Healthypet.

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