Slow walking may indicate dementia in dogs.

Slow walking may indicate dementia in dogs.

The Connection Between Walking Speed and Mental Decline in Dogs


As we grow older, both humans and dogs tend to slow down. However, researchers have recently raised an intriguing question: Could the speed at which dogs walk also be an indicator of mental decline? To explore this further, a series of experiments were conducted, involving measurements of dogs’ speed and cognitive function. The results of the study not only shed light on the connection between walking speed and cognitive decline in dogs but also offer a potential screening test for veterinarians to use with aging canine patients.

The study, led by Dr. Natasha Olby, Chair in Gerontology at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, included 46 adult dogs and 49 senior dogs. The researchers measured only the gait speed in the adult dogs. For the senior dogs, both gait speed and cognitive function were assessed, alongside a cognitive assessment questionnaire completed by the owners.

The dogs were divided into groups based on their cognitive testing scores and the questionnaire results. Gait speed was measured by having a handler walk the dogs on a leash for approximately 16 feet. The dogs were then unleashed and called to retrieve a treat from the same distance away. By comparing the on-leash and off-leash measurements, the researchers aimed to determine the most accurate measure of gait speed.

According to Dr. Olby, one challenge of measuring gait speed is that dogs often match the speed of their handler when on a leash. However, when measured off-leash, factors such as body size and limb length do not significantly affect the gait speed. Therefore, capturing gait speed off-leash allows researchers to consider both physical ability and food motivation in their analysis.

The results of the study demonstrated that senior dogs in the last quarter of their expected life span generally moved more slowly than adult dogs of any size. This finding supports the notion that, similar to humans, walking speed tends to decline in the final period of dogs’ lives.

Additionally, the study revealed an association between slower walking speed in senior dogs and more severe levels of mental decline. These dogs also demonstrated lower cognitive test scores and poorer results in the cognitive assessment questionnaire. Notably, joint pain did not appear to correlate with walking speed, although dogs with severe osteoarthritis were not included in the study.

Dr. Olby emphasized that mobility and cognition are vital predictors of functional aging. Mobility relies heavily on sensory input, central processing, and motor output, all of which are controlled by the nervous system. Consequently, mobility and cognition are profoundly interconnected. As walking speed decreases, the amount of input received by the nervous system is also reduced, explaining the correlation between walking speed and dementia.

What makes this study particularly exciting is that gait speed can easily be assessed using a short-distance, food-motivated test. With its simplicity and reliability, this screening test could potentially be utilized by veterinarians to evaluate their aging patients.

The findings of this study, published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, have important implications for understanding mental decline in dogs. The results not only highlight the association between walking speed and cognitive decline in dogs, mirroring the correlation found in humans, but they also provide a promising avenue for early screening and intervention.

In conclusion, dogs’ walking speed can indeed serve as an indicator of mental decline, making it a valuable tool for veterinarians. By measuring gait speed and assessing cognitive function, veterinarians can gather crucial information about their aging canine patients. Identifying cognitive decline early allows for timely intervention and enhanced care, ultimately improving the overall well-being and quality of life for our beloved dogs.


Image Image Source: MedicineNet

Slideshow: When Animal (Allergies) Attack: Pet Allergy Symptoms, Treatment

Curious about pet allergies? Check out this informative slideshow, which explores common pet allergy symptoms and treatment options. By understanding the signs and potential treatments, you can better manage pet allergies and ensure a healthier life for both you and your furry friend.