Dogs with Dementia Experience Same Sleep Disturbances As Human Dementia Patients, Study Finds

Sleep disturbances are known to be common among dementia patients… human ones, anyway. However, dementia also impacts dogs, and a new study aimed to see if dogs living with the disease experienced similar issues.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have been conducting a clinical trial on canine aging and cognition, and a portion of this work focused on whether brain activity during sleep was linked with cognitive decline. The findings, published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, show that dogs with dementia do suffer from sleep disruptions, much like humans with the disease.


To investigate the question, the team utilized non-invasive electroencephalography, or EEGs, which involved electrodes attached to a dog’s skull with sticky gel and no sedation. The researchers say past studies tended to involve surgically implanted electrodes, and this non-invasive option is relatively new.

The study included 28 elderly dogs, which were all given complete physicals, had their cognitive health tested, and whose owners completed the Canine Dementia Scale questionnaire for their pets. The team studied four stages of sleep in these dogs: wakefulness, drowsiness, REM, and NREM – the deep sleep attained before REM. These last two phases are fairly important for brain health.

Alejandra Mondino, postdoctoral researcher at NC State and lead author, explains, “In NREM, the brain clears toxins, including the beta-amyloid proteins that are involved in diseases like Alzheimer’s. REM sleep is when dreams happen, and this stage is very important for memory consolidation.”


However, dogs with dementia appeared to be missing out on these portions of the sleep cycle. The researchers found that the higher a dog’s dementia score, the less NREM and REM sleep they were getting. The team says the dogs’ brain activity when they were sleeping was comparable to how it behaved during wakefulness.

The researchers say their findings may help with early diagnosis of dementia in dogs, which is relatively common, with the risk found to increase by more than 50% for every year of a dog’s life past age 10. There’s also hope that this type of research can help people.

Natasha Olby, study co-author and Distinguished Chair in Gerontology at NC State, explains, “We now know that EEG signatures are useful indicators of canine cognitive dysfunction. The work further establishes the dog as a model for Alzheimer’s disease. Hopefully therapeutic trials in dogs will help to direct our choices of treatment development for people.”


There are some things you can do that may help lower your dog’s risk of dementia. Those include teaching them new tricks, making sure they get plenty of walks and new experiences, and feeding them a balanced, whole food diet.

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