THE AGING BRAIN IN DOGS. PROVIDING THE RIGHT NUTRITION

Have you ever wondered if dogs age in 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 dogs age.

Older dogs have lighter, smaller brains than younger dogs. Apparently,the change is very significant in that the older brain sometimes is as much as 25% lighter. Biologists state that change does not necessarily mean that brain cells have been dying off and state that the process of aging 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 at 225 miles per hour. However, in older dogs this slows down to 50 miles per hour. Mosier says that the efficiency of nerve cells diminishes with age, just as it does in humans. Studying the way brain cells react by measuring the amount of blood sugar-glucose that is 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 reduction in the 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 show 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 the team of researchers at the University of Toronto, prepared a diet rich in antioxidants. They used young Beagles- younger than 2 and old Beagles-older than 9.Half the dogs from each group were put on the antioxidant diet, while the other half had a normal balanced dog food. Six months later all the dogs were tested-mental abilities where the dogs had to choose objects that were different 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 extremely beneficial in slowing down the aging process in dogs. They can be steamed or parboiled with green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E enriched foods such as whole grains, fish-liver oil, nuts, wheat germ are also beneficial according to research. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids found in carrots, collard greens, cantaloupe, peaches, 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 in 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.”

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Woofs & Wags!

Image Copyright  Claudia Bensimoun

Text Copyright © 2012

Advertisements

WOLVES AND DOGS! DOMESTICATION AND TAMENESS

Wolves and Dogs

Wolf_je1-3.jpg

 

Image Credit: Wiki

The mystery of dog domestication and tameness has always fascinated me. The transformation of one animal species-wolves, into another –dogs probably, according to geneticists, started in China from three female wolves. A combination of information from both archaeologists and geneticists came up with some interesting facts.

Genetically, dogs are wolves, but in many other ways, dogs are something else altogether. Mentally, physically and behaviorally dogs show considerable differences. A wolf does not reach sexual maturity until it is about 2 years old; dogs can begin mating as young as 6 months old.

Wolves-both males and females can only mate once a year. These differences between wolves and dogs are the result of variations in hormonal flows.

Raymond Coppinger, a biologist states that the transformation of wolves to dogs probably took place around 15,000 years ago. He mentions that this happened due to fairly good- sized aggregations of people in permanent settlements. These people created low-grade waste dumps which in turn attracted scavengers. Thus wolves whose flight distances were lower than others came into contact with humans and the tamer-ones adapted to humans living in close proximity. Natural selection took over and the wolves that could survive from feeding off food -dumps would begin to differ from those wolves whose flight distances would not permit them to be that close to humans. These ‘tamer’ wolves then reproduced with each other and their tameness became more pronounced. The tamer wolf evolved with a smaller brain and smaller skull. This was because a larger brain was not needed to scavenge in the dump. The smaller wolf would stay longer at the dump and run far less than the larger one, which if surprised would run away sooner and farther and stay away longer.

According to biologists, permanent settlements are needed to create the niche that transformed a few wolves into dogs. But why the quality called tameness? What caused some of the genes of wolves to express themselves differently, at different times? Biologists believe that the thyroid gland is the key to domestication. Wolves who had a higher stress tolerance that resulted from being around people would presumably have different rhythms of the thyroid hormone. This is turn would promote other physical and psychological changes- leading to the domestication process.

 

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Woofs & Wags!

C.B

 

Text Copyright © 2012 Claudia Bensimoun

Singing the ”Back -to -School Blues”

Singing the “Back-to-School Blues”
by Claudia Bensimoun

The “Back-to-School Blues” not only affect parents, but their dogs too. A suddenly empty and silent home can be stressful and strange for your dog. This can lead to behavioral and eating problems stemming from boredom, anxiety and loneliness. Some dogs even become aggressive if left alone all day. Dogs are extremely social and most enjoy being around their families.

Here are a few tips on making the adjustment easier for Fido:

Get Fido used to being alone again. This is called ‘alone time’ but should only be done in small increments of time to start with. It is later extended until the school day ends and the kids are back home.

Keep Fido active.  This could mean instead of taking him out twice a day, increasing his walks to three times a day. Encourage the kids to participate in walking Fido, taking him for mini walks when they are home .This is a great way to combine exercise for your kids and Fido. It has been proven that kids who walk their dogs have a stronger bond with their dogs than kids that don’t. Remember also that a fast paced walk after school improves your dogs’ health and gets rid of any excess energy.

Take Fido with you to school to drop off the kids. Dogs simply love this and actually look forwards to jumping in the car and leaving for school. They get to see where their favorite siblings spend their day. It is also reassuring for them to know where everyone has gone to after the summer holidays. Wait until after school ends and Fido will soon be ready to jump right back into the car to bring his favorite family members right back to where they belong. This time with a huge grin and tail wag.

Include Fido in homework and reading time with the kids. This is where it gets really interesting. Smaller breeds do well sitting on couches or right up on the table next to the homework. Some miniature breeds insist on being right up there next to the pile of homework. Fido will gaze admiringly at the kids and this has been proven to improve homework and especially reading skills. Children love reading to their favorite canines or solving a math’s problem out aloud. This in turn encourages bonding.

Leave a reminder at home.  A favorite has always been to leave a kid scented t shirt, old sneaker or sock. Something that has a familiar scent .This will calm him. If he has access to a bed, next to a window overlooking the driveway, make sure that the blinds are open for him to see you returning from school or work.

Schedule some couch potato time.  Disney Channel or Animal Planet on the television can leave Fido fully entertained and your home won’t feel so quiet. It will also reassure him that everything is still the same and that his favorite family members will soon be back to watch the same channel. After all, Disney was on during the summer so nothing has really changed.

Stay low key when leaving in the mornings.  This is perhaps the most important step you can take.  Car keys, backpacks and lunch boxes are clinking and clanging – and Fido is waiting by the door waiting to be included in all this back-to-school excitement. If you cannot bring your dog with you to do drop off, then the next best thing is to leave quietly without causing any anxiety.

Reduce the stress.  Avoiding stressful situations or changes in routine such as feeding or exercise times will also help your dog to adjust to the new back-to-school routine .If your kids are fed an hour earlier with back to school, then try feeding Fido at the same time.

Keep Fido involved in your routine as much as possible. If either parent works from home, this is an ideal time to spend extra quality time with your dog. This means quality alone time. Longer walks or runs. Trips to the pet store. Taking him to the beach, stables or Dog Park and basically enjoying that one on one time with him. Dogs live for this. This will increase his self confidence and there is no limit to the amount of fun you can have together.

Use the Buddy System.  This is not the solution for every situation, but a few experts suggest bringing home another dog to keep Fido company if he is to be alone during the day .Dogs love company and do not enjoy being alone.

Keep boredom at bay with interactive dog toys. These toys are fun, and a mental workout for your dog. The dog pyramid in a bright red plastic is a safe, chewable toy. Air Kong squeaker tennis balls and squeaker bones are also safe favorites. Remember that these interactive toys cannot replace you for a long period of time but will keep boredom and destruction at bay. Buying Fido new interactive toys at around the same time that back to school supplies are bought is always fun. Your dogs rely on you. Their daily routine can be a big challenge if not enough mental stimulation is given, especially to puppies and young adult dogs. During the first week of school, try giving Fido a new interactive toy 30 minutes before leaving home.  This can help to prevent that listless pacing around and encourage him to play with his new toy and not focus on everyone exiting the house.

Get your pet sitter involved in the process.  Busy pet owners cannot always devote the time it takes to implement these ideas and activities.  Your pet sitter can help with most of the tips outlined in this article.  A 30-minute visit can break up your pet’s time alone while providing the exercise and one-on-one attention that can help prevent your pet’s “Back-to-School Blues.”

Many dogs suffer from separation anxiety and other forms of stress when left alone. This can show up in cases of mild whining, lethargy, panic attacks and aggression towards humans and other dogs. Some dogs even plan their escape routes as soon as the front door is opened. Others will simply follow you around before you leave and whine all the while refusing to eat and appearing ill.

Dogs read our emotions clearly. By making very little fuss as everyone leaves for school and work, and by changing your dog’s associations with everyone’s activities as they leave, Fido will be less anxious and stressed. Your dogs rely on you, so it’s important to create your schedule around their needs. This can be challenging for everyone especially if you have things to do after school and work. In the end, your organized schedule should make the time you spend with Fido more enjoyable.

Claudia Bensimoun

Copyright © 2012

Freelance writer