The Senior Family Dog Research team at the Ethology Department of Budapest’s ELTE university conducted electroencephalograms (EEGs) on sleeping dogs, using electrodes placed on the head to record electrical activity in the brain.
“From studies with humans and rodents we know that they are extremely useful markers both of memory and cognition but also of ageing and activity,” Iotchev told Reuters.
The study is part of a broader research framework aiming to understand how dogs’ cognitive ability and memory changes with age. Funded by the European Research Council, the interdisciplinary research combines behavioural, neuroscientific and genetic testing methods.
Researchers hope the results will not only help with the understanding of ageing in dogs and the development of therapies to improve welfare, but also aid understanding of the biological background of human cognitive ageing.
Almost one third of 11 to 12-year-old dogs and 70% of 15 to 16-year-old dogs show cognitive disturbances corresponding to human senile dementia, the researchers say. These include spatial disorientation, social behaviour disorders, apathy, increased irritability, sleep-wake cycle disruption, incontinence, and reduced ability to accomplish tasks.
The researchers also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests to identify neural correlates which are associated with cognitive ageing.
“This dementia is really very similar in a lot of aspects to that of humans, so we could use dogs as a natural model of human ageing,” senior researcher Eniko Kubinyi told Reuters.