July 15, 2024

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Your Dog’s Slow Walk Might Indicate Dementia

Your Dog’s Slow Walk Might Indicate Dementia


Your Dog’s Slow Walk Might Indicate Dementia, According to New Research.

According to the latest study from North Carolina State University, a decline in physical function in dogs may also be linked to a decline in their mental function.

Evaluating the walking speed of senior dogs can serve as a simple method to track their overall health and observe whether their cognitive function is experiencing age-related decline.

The lead author of this study, Dr. Katie M. Gisin and Distinguished Professor of Gerontology Dr. Natasha Orbi, both from North Carolina State University, state, “Human walking speed is closely associated with cognitive decline. We hypothesized that this could be the case for dogs as well.”


Your Dog's Slow Walk Might Indicate Dementia, According to New Research.



Orbi and her team measured the walking speeds of 46 adult dogs and 49 senior dogs off-leash. The adult dogs were used as a control group, and their walking speeds were the only parameter measured. The senior dogs underwent additional cognitive tests, and their owners completed a cognitive assessment questionnaire known as the CADES questionnaire. Higher CADES scores indicated more severe cognitive decline.

The method for measuring individual walking speed involved having the dogs walk a distance of five meters under the guidance of a dog handler, then providing them with some food at a location the same distance away and calling them to come off the leash to retrieve it.

Orbi explained, “The challenge in measuring walking speed is that dogs often match the speed of the handler when on a leash, so we measured both on-leash and off-leash speeds to determine which method was more useful. Additionally, we were concerned that body size and limb length might affect gait speed – but if you see a Chihuahua walking next to a Great Dane off-leash, the smaller dog doesn’t always lag behind. We found that size did matter when leashed, but off-leash, size didn’t make a difference. By capturing speed off-leash, we were able to see the effects of fitness and motivation.”

Researchers found that in senior dogs, size didn’t matter when it came to speed; in other words, dogs in the last 25% of their expected lifespan walked slower than adult dogs, regardless of relative size.

Orbi said, “Similar to humans, our walking speed remains fairly stable for most of our lives, but it declines when we’re in the last quarter or so of our lifespan.”

According to surveys filled out by the dog owners, senior dogs that exhibited slower movement had more severe cognitive decline and performed worse on cognitive tests.

Researchers also found that joint pain did not appear to be related to walking speed, although they noted that there were no dogs in the study with severe osteoarthritis. They hope to address this in future work.

Orbi explained, “When you look at functional aging, the two most significant predictors of morbidity are activity and cognition. Activity is heavily dependent on sensory input, central processing, and motor output – in other words, the nervous system – so it’s not surprising that walking speed would be associated with dementia.”

“What excites me most about this study is not only that we found a correlation between dog walking speed and dementia similar to what’s observed in humans but also that the testing method we used is easily replicable because it’s based on food motivation and involves a short distance. It could become a simple screening test for any veterinarian working with geriatric patients.”



Your Dog’s Slow Walk Might Indicate Dementia, According to New Research.

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