Doggy Dementia Risk Increases with Each Year of Age, say scientists

Researchers conducting the first large-scale study of its kind have recently found that the odds of a dog becoming afflicted with canine dementia rises by more than 50% with each year of age.  Like humans, dogs can experience decline in cognitive function as they age. Symptoms of canine dementia (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome or CDC / CDCS) may include forgetfulness, confusion, sleep disruptions, inability to recognize familiar humans, becoming less active, difficulties adapting to change, difficulty navigating around objects and getting lost.


Study overview

Scientists analyzed data from two surveys completed by the owners of 15,019 dogs, as part of the Dog Aging Project.  Owners were quizzed on aspects of their dogs’ behavior including whether they had a tendency to get stuck behind objects or struggled to recognize familiar people, as well as factors such as the dog’s age, sex, breed, health and activity levels. The research team then assigned each dog a score between 16 and 80, with a score of 50 or higher indicating the dog had CCD.

The results, based on data collected between late 2019 and late 2020, reveal that 1.4% of the dogs had CCD.  After taking into account factors including whether the dog was sterilized, its breed, and other health problems, the researchers found the odds of CCD rose by 52% with each year a dog is alive. Though the data suggest prevalence of the condition is almost zero in dogs below the age of 10.

Like their human counterparts in which regular exercise is recommended for helping the aging brain stay healthy and to stave off rapid progression of dementia, the scientists also found that the odds of CCD were 6.5 times higher among dogs with lower activity levels over the previous year*. On this last finding researchers note that dogs’ lower activity level may be a function of the dementia condition itself.

Taking precautions

Experts say that preventive measures against CCD (doggy dementia) include the use of special diets and regularly engaging dogs in physical, intellectual, and social activities.

You may also be interested in our previous post: Doggie Brain Training: Teach old dogs new computer game tricks, say researchers


*Experts say that a history of eye, ear or neurological problems is also associated with greater odds of CCD. Certain breeds also appear to be more susceptible to getting CCD, with terriers and toy breeds more likely to have the condition.

Journal reference: Yarborough, S., Fitzpatrick, A., Schwartz, S.M. et al. Evaluation of cognitive function in the Dog Aging Project: associations with baseline canine characteristics. Scientific Reports, 12, 13316 (2022). PDF of study | Synopsis.