Alzheimer’s impacts countless people, with about a half million new diagnoses each year in the United States alone. It isn’t entirely clear what causes the disease, and there is no cure. However, a new study has found that a similar ailment impacts many aging dogs, and it could provide keys to better understand the disease in humans.
A study published in the journal Scientific Reports examined the prevalence of the neurodegenerative disease canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) in older dogs. They found that it’s a widespread ailment, with dogs having a more than 50% increased risk of developing it each year after they turn 10. This could mean symptoms like learning and memory deficits, loss of spatial awareness, altered social interactions, and disrupted sleeping patterns. Fortunately, the writers say more is being learned about CCD.
They write, “In order to gain a better understanding of CCD in aging dogs, researchers recently have developed assessment tools that are able to distinguish cognitively impaired aged dogs from those who are experiencing healthy aging.”
The current study, conducted by Sarah Yarborough, Annette Fitzpatrick, and Stephen M. Schwarz, used data from the Dog Aging Project to measure cognitive function scores and CCD rates in a broader range of dogs than past studies. In all, they looked at more than 15,000 dogs from across the United States. The Dog Aging Project, which aims to better understand the mechanisms behind healthy canine longevity, uses the Canine Social and Learned Behavior Survey, a CCD rating scale. Yarborough and her team also classified a dog’s lifespan into quartiles and measured how accurate this screening is in each one, which the team says could ultimately help owners utilize preventative measures and lead to earlier detection.
The researchers found that after controlling for confounding factors, CCD risk increased 52% during each extra year of life past age 10. The prevalence before age 10 was almost nonexistent. Among dogs of similar age, health, breed, and reproductive status, there was also a 6.47 times higher risk in those that were inactive. When adjusting for other health and age-related factors, dogs with a history of neurological, eye, or ear issues were also at a heightened risk. Finally, the team learned that lifespan quartile was a reliable tool in identifying CCD positive and negative dogs.
So what does all this mean?
The researchers write, “This quartile estimation could potentially serve as a useful tool to inform whether a dog should be screened for CCD by their veterinarian… given increasing evidence of the parallels between canine and human cognitive disease, accurate CCD diagnosis in dogs may provide researchers with more suitable animal models in which to study aging in human populations.”
The team adds that this promising diagnostic tool, and how it may help address similar health issues in humans, calls for further study.