New Study Explains How to Help Preserve Senior Dogs' Brain Function

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When your dog reaches a certain age it's possible they may suffer from doggy dementia, which can affect your pup's ability to learn, remember, and perceive their environment.

A new study suggests that some of the effects of cognitive decline in dogs can be hastened by doing a few simple enrichment activities with them each day.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Kentucky and the University of California, published their findings in The Journal of Neuroscience, showed that social enrichment can bring benefits to senior dog's brains.

The researchers used MRI scans to measure changes in the brain structure of 43 middle-aged beagles over three years. Brain scans "showed that total hippocampal volume increased at an average rate of about 1.74% per year across treatment groups, contrasting with the age-related hippocampal volume decline" observed in previous studies, wrote the research team led by senior researcher Craig Stark, a professor of neurobiology at University of California, Irvine.

Related: Study Finds Interacting with Dogs Helps Concentration and Improves Mood

UPI reports that "All dogs received daily exercise, play with a rotating set of toys and socialization. They also were allowed to play for a half-hour each day in male-only or female-only groups. Beagles assigned to receive the brain drugs didn't do any better or worse than the control group that only received social enrichment, the researchers noted."

However, all dogs appeared to benefit from playtime and social activities.

How You Can Use the Information From the Study To Help Your Older Dog

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs usually starts to appear at around nine years of age. The AKC reports that one study found that 28% of dogs between 11 and 12 years of age have at least one sign of dog dementia, and that increased to 68% in dogs over 15 years of age.

The above study says that the things that enriched dog's senior brains were:

Social interaction:

This could be as simple as merely spending time with your dog. Dogs benefit greatly from spending time with other dogs so take your older dog to the dog park or arrange a dog playdate for them.


Take a different walking route when you take your dog out or if they are used to walking in rural areas, take them on a walk down a city street.

Physical exercise:

This is an easy one, because we all know a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. Walks, playing fetch, throwing a Frisbee, all of these activities can benefit your older dog. You can even see if they have water classes for your older dog in your area.

Sensory stimulation:

Try a puzzle feeder, a ruffle mat, or a new toy. Play a game of hide and seek with one of their favorite stuffed animals. Play music for them. Any of these items can provide sensory stimulation for your dog.

We all wants our dogs to live the longest and healthiest lives possible, including their mental health. These easy ideas are one way to help our dog's brains as they get older.

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