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Social enrichment ‘protects’ dogs from dementia

Social enrichment can benefit ageing dogs’ brains, new research reveals.

Scientists from the University of Kentucky and the University of California used MRI scans to measure changes in the brain structure of 43 middle-aged beagles over three years.

During this time the dogs were exercised daily, played with a range of different toys, and were allowed ‘free play’ with other dogs for 30 minutes per day.

Analysis revealed the volume of the hippocampus – the brain region linked to cognition – increased for all the dogs at an average rate of 1.74% per year.

This was in contrast to previous studies of beagles, which showed the volume of this area of the brain usually declines over time.

The researchers said: “We argue that these increases may be attributed to the high levels of behavioural enrichment in the present study that included social interaction, exploration, physical exercise and sensory stimulation – all of which are known to induce a number of neurobiological changes.

“We can therefore conclude that adopting a dog and offering it a loving home even when it is middle-aged may improve its longevity and benefit its health in old age.

“It doesn’t hurt to take this as a helpful pet care tip… playing with your dogs may be beneficial to their brain health.”

The researchers added that age-related brain changes and cognitive decline are similar between dogs and people. Therefore, ageing owners may also see benefits from playing with their dogs.

The research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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