Have you ever wondered if dogs age the same way as we do? Do they decline in their mental abilities when they age? Will they forget us as they surrender to Alzheimer’s or other cognitive declines?
One theory suggests that as the genetic material –DNA, reproduces itself in each new cell, the successive transcriptions become less accurate. The brain and the nervous system change as a dog ages.
Older dogs have lighter, smaller brains than younger dogs. The change is significant because the older brain is sometimes as much as 25% lighter. Biologists state that change does not necessarily mean that brain cells have been dying off and that the aging process is similar to that in humans.
Jacob Mosier, a veterinarian from Kansas State University in his observations, says that age-related changes in dog behaviors are similar to those in humans. In a healthy young dog, neural information travels 225 miles per hour. However, this slows down to 50 miles per hour in older dogs.
Mosier says that the efficiency of nerve cells diminishes with age, just as it does in humans. Studying how brain cells react by measuring the amount of blood sugar-glucose metabolized at any one time will show how vigorously various brain cells react. The metabolic rate is a good measure of activity level.
An interesting study of how Beagles used glucose showed that by the time the dogs were three years of age, there was a steady decline in glucose utilization. It also showed that by the time the dogs were between fourteen and sixteen years, the glucose use had dropped to half of that of younger dogs.
Older dogs have a slower metabolic rate and a reduced oxygen supply to the brain. This will affect the dog’s long–term memory. However, some of the aging in certain parts of the brain can be offset by providing enriched sensory experiences to your dogs and increased problem-solving and making choices.
Can we nourish and slow down the aging process with antioxidants?
A study at the University of Toronto shows that dogs with high levels of amyloids in their brains-protein deposits- have poorer memories and difficulties learning. Consuming high levels of antioxidants would thus slow down or even reverse the neural damage.
Norton Milgram, the psychologist that worked with a team of researchers at the University of Toronto, prepared a diet rich in antioxidants. They tested young Beagles- younger than two and older Beagles-older than 9. Half the dogs from each group were on the antioxidant diet, while the other half had regular dog food. Six months later, all the dogs were tested-mental abilities where the dogs had to choose objects that differed from others.
The results showed that the antioxidant food seemed to reduce the effect of aging. More studies were later done combining cognitive enrichment 5-6 times per week with the benefits of an antioxidant diet. These results showed that these dogs scored the highest.
Adding fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, raw cabbage, and potatoes are part of the antioxidant diet for dogs and are highly beneficial in slowing down the aging process in dogs. They can be steamed or parboiled with green leafy vegetables.
According to research, vitamin E-enriched foods such as whole grains, fish-liver oil, nuts, and wheat germ are also beneficial. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids found in carrots, collard greens, cantaloupe, peaches, and sweet potatoes should be added as well as selenium fish, red meat, eggs, and chicken to slow down the effects of aging.
Milgram summarized his results this way: “We say that we can teach an old dog new tricks because it’s possible to slow down, or partially reverse brain decline. Some dogs in our tests definitely become smarter.”
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