Canine Cognition: Introducing the Brain Health Study

April 20, 2023 - 5 minutes read

Our Canine Cognition series explores the many ways in which our scientists are studying how dogs think and experience their worlds. Follow this series to learn more about the work being done by an incredibly diverse team of experts at the Dog Aging Project.

Read all articles in the Canine Cognition series here.

Introducing a new avenue of cognitive research

At the Dog Aging Project, we study age-related cognitive changes through a variety of research avenues. We ask our participants to complete surveys and hands-on activities designed to assess how their dog is experiencing the world. We link this important information to the results of our genetic and biochemical analyses. In this way, our scientists can begin to untangle the natural course and potential causes of cognitive decline and develop interventions to increase the period of time in which our dogs experience good quality of life. The Brain Health Study is a crucial extension of this research. 

What is the Brain Health Study?

The Brain Health Study is a nationwide study funded by the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health, and is being conducted in collaboration with the Cornell University Veterinary Biobank to investigate the potential links between Alzheimer’s disease and a similar condition in dogs called canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). CCD is a behavioral syndrome in older dogs that is defined by the development of symptoms similar to those observed in Alzheimer’s patients. This may include confusion, shifts in overall demeanor, or other changes in behavior that can dramatically affect our dogs’ quality of life. CCD may be as prevalent as 35% in dogs older than age eight.

How does the Brain Health Study work?

Starting in April 2023, invitations to be part of the Brain Health Study are being sent to selected Precision Cohort members. Those who decide to be part of the Brain Health Study will continue to be members of the Precision Cohort and will continue to participate in all Precision Cohort activities such as Sample Kit collection visits and annual surveys and activities. The primary difference is that at the end of the dog’s natural life our team of veterinary specialists will conduct a postmortem exam and collect important biological samples in order to closely examine the brain changes that may occur in senior dogs.

Participation in the Brain Health Study is completely voluntary and donation at the end of the dog’s natural life is optional.

Even if participants in the Brain Health Study express interest in participating, they can change their mind at any time in the process and can still participate in the Brain Health Study without postmortem sample collection. We understand these decisions are not made lightly. Participants expressing interest in the Brain Health Study will be connected with a Veterinary Care Coordinator—a highly-trained, veterinary professional with experience in end-of-life care, that can guide participants and answer any questions through the entire process. Like the rest of our Dog Aging Project Pack, all dogs enrolled in this study live and play at home with their families.

What will we learn from the Brain Health Study?

“We hope to have findings that translate into better diagnostics and treatments for both dogs with cognitive dysfunction and humans with Alzheimer’s”

— Dr. Marta Castelhano, director of the Dog Aging Project Biobank.

Not only are our Dog Aging Project Pack members vital for the advancement of veterinary medicine, but their participation and contribution have the potential to aid in translational research. We are truly grateful for the continued support in our mission.

Check out the Brain Health Study FAQs to learn more!

2 Castelhano with Huckleberry Finn, DAP participant II

Dr. Marta Castelhano

Research Team