Cognitive Assessment / Laboratory

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We have developed a battery of laboratory-based cognitive tests that can provide a general profile of cognitive ability in dogs and cats. All of the tasks require the subject to make a specific response, and if correct the animal is provided with a highly palatable food reward. In most cases, cat tests are the same as those used in dogs. Furthermore, cats, like dogs show age dependent decline in cognition, and clinically a percentage develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

Complex Learning and Memory

The delayed-non-matching-to-position task (DNMP) has been developed to assess both learning ability and memory. The task requires an animal to learn a general rule: to remember the location of an object and to subsequently respond to the object at a different location (the non-matching location). This is a particularly useful task because performance varies directly with age: young dogs learn the task rapidly; older dogs learn more slowly, and very old dogs may be unable to learn even with extensive training. Memory can be assessed by varying the time interval between the first presentation and the test trial. The longer the time interval (delay) the more poorly the animals perform.

Errors on the DNMP increase with age and significant deficits are seen as early as six years of age in dogs.

Accuracy in learning a DNMP task in cats as a function of age. The adult cats were between 3 and 4 years of age; the old cats ranged from 7 to 9 and the senior animals were > 11.

Selective Attention

This task measures attention by assessing a dog's ability to select one correct object when presented with 1-3 incorrect objects (distractors).

Even though the correct object is always the same, errors increase when distractors are increased. Performance also varies significantly with age. In this task, senior dogs (11-15 yrs) performed more poorly than both old dogs (8-9.5 yrs) and adult dogs (3-4.5 yrs).