Taking your pup for more walks could prevent dog dementia, study finds

·2-min read
Fluffy cocker spaniel on a walk with its owner (Getty Images)
Fluffy cocker spaniel on a walk with its owner (Getty Images)

Regularly walking your dog could protect its brain against dementia, a new study suggests.

Dogs who have little physical activity are more than six times more likely to develop canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), a condition related to the aging of a dog’s brain which leads to memory loss.

Research from the University of Washington, which examined 15,000 dogs between October 2020 and December 2020, found that CCD was more likely to develop in pets as they got older.

But an inverse association between activity level and CCD was also identified in dogs whose owners indicated higher activity levels over the past year.

The study found that the odds of CCD were 6.47 times higher in inactive dogs compared to those who were very active.

Symptoms of CCD in dogs are similar to those experienced by humans with Alzheimer’s disease. These include disorientation, confusion, disturbed sleep and changes in mood.

The findings are in line with previous research on rodents which found that exercise can have protective effects against the development of biological markers characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

The latest study’s author, Sarah Yarborough, said the observations could be the result of the effect exercise has on the brain.

This includes a “reduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the brain that otherwise contribute to neural damage”.

“The reduced odds of CCD among more active dogs in our cohort may be a result of these same mechanisms,” she added.

Another study, published in the Science Daily journal in March, found that exercise also boosts blood flow to the brain, which may help slow the onset of memory loss and dementia.

The study – which observed 70 adults over the age of 55 who have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (an early stage of dementia) – asked half of the group to exercise three to five times a week for a year.

In those who exercised, researchers found an increase in the overall blood flow to the brain.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about the effects of exercise on cognitive decline later in life,” Munro Cullum, a professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and co-author of the paper, said.

“MCI and dementia are likely to be influenced by a complex interplay of many factors, and we think that, at least for some people, exercise is one of those factors,” he added.

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