The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
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Dogs’ cognitive decline may be worsened by other ailments  

Older canines with mental impairment more likely to have concurrent physical conditions, and vice-versa, owner survey shows. 

Age-related mental decline in dogs may be impacted by other physical conditions, a survey of dog owners has indicated.  

The results show a strong association in dogs between signs of the canine equivalent of human dementia and health problems such as arthritis. 

The findings, from a team at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, also showed a moderate link between mental decline and digestive issues, and metabolic conditions such as hypothyroidism. 

They underscore the need for vets who are monitoring dogs with chronic conditions, especially those causing pain, to be alert to the onset of cognitive decline. Similarly, vets who are assessing behavioural changes in older dogs should be especially alert to concurrent diseases.  

Owner questionnaire 

Researchers from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies carried out an online survey with the owners of more than 800 senior dogs of various breeds, to investigate if there was a connection between signs of mental decline and of other health conditions. 

The team interpreted information reported by the dogs’ owners using a tool known as the Canine Cognitive Assessment Scale (CCAS), to evaluate cognitive impairment.  

This was compared with signs of other conditions in the same dogs, relating to four major systems of the body – musculoskeletal-neurological, digestive, metabolic, and dermatological. 

Statistical analysis of the findings showed a strong correlation between cognitive decline and diseases of the musculoskeletal-neurological system, which affect movement. 

Researchers suggest further work should be carried out to investigate if there is a common risk factor that makes both types of conditions more likely in older dogs, as well as whether one condition may cause the other, or if the outcome gives an incomplete picture based on the criteria included in the study. 

Vets dealing with older dogs should be aware of the correlation, the team says, and be vigilant for signs of concurrent conditions in older dogs with either cognitive decline or physical ill-health, particularly where physical signs are painful. 

The study was published in Animals. 

As dogs age, they can develop ill health in the mind and body, but little is known of whether there is any relationship between the two in older dogs. Our dog owners’ survey indicates that there is a strong connection between mental and physical conditions in these animals and highlights the need for vets who are treating for one to be aware of the other.  

Rosalind WrightsonWright Behaviour and former masters student, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

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About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than 800 staff and almost 1400 students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.

The School comprises:

The Roslin Institute

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

The Roslin Innovation Centre

The Hospital for Small Animals

Equine Veterinary Services

Farm Animal Services

Easter Bush Pathology

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.