Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study

Neurobiol Aging. 2005 Jan;26(1):77-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2004.02.014.


The effectiveness of two interventions, dietary fortification with antioxidants and a program of behavioral enrichment, was assessed in a longitudinal study of cognitive aging in beagle dogs. A baseline protocol of cognitive testing was used to select four cognitively equivalent groups: control food-control experience (C-C), control food-enriched experience (C-E), antioxidant fortified food-control experience (A-C), and antioxidant fortified food-enriched experience(A-E). We also included two groups of young behaviorally enriched dogs, one receiving the control food and the other the fortified food. Discrimination learning and reversal was assessed after one year of treatment with a size discrimination task, and again after two years with a black/white discrimination task. The four aged groups were comparable at baseline. At one and two years, the aged combined treatment group showed more accurate learning than the other aged groups. Discrimination learning was significantly improved by behavioral enrichment. Reversal learning was improved by both behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification. By contrast, the fortified food had no effect on the young dogs. These results suggest that behavioral enrichment or dietary fortification with antioxidants over a long-duration can slow age-dependent cognitive decline, and that the two treatments together are more effective than either alone in older dogs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / drug effects
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Dogs
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Food, Fortified*
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Reversal Learning / drug effects
  • Reversal Learning / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Antioxidants