Senior Family Dog Project

Funding: ERC Starting Grant (EVOLOR-680040, PI: Eniko Kubinyi)
Contact:, or Family Dog Project on facebook)
Start: 1/06/2016
End: 31/05/2021

Predicting cognitive ageing by behavioural, neuronal, and genetic biomarkers

Understanding how active, healthy ageing can be achieved is one of the most relevant problems today. The rapid ageing of the human population will significantly change society, creating health care and economic challenges. Translational work aiming to address which factors shape the trajectory of cognitive ageing are limited as the traditional animal model species do not spontaneously develop age-related neurodegenerative disorders. Laboratory animals are also kept under conditions that likely jeopardize the ecological validity of the findings.
The study of companion dog ageing is significant from at least two perspectives. Firstly, dogs are increasingly recognized as animal models in ageing research. They share our environment, are exposed to the same hazards, receive advanced medical care, display comparable socio-cognitive skills, and develop similar age-related pathologies.
Secondly, 87 million pet dogs live in Europe. The relatively extended lifespan in dogs artificially enhances the proportion of dogs with cognitive decline which is a serious welfare concern. Research could facilitate the early recognition and treatment of detrimental conditions in ageing dogs, as well as inform strategies for a preventive and predictive approach (e.g. feeding, physical and mental exercises).
Our project aimed to explore the cognitive ageing of family dogs using an interdisciplinary approach with behavioural, neuroscientific, and genetic testing methods. Our goal was twofold: to enhance translational research on cognitive ageing and increase canine welfare. We characterised the canine ageing phenotype with cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations and identify age-related biomarkers.

Our results lend support to the dog’s potential as a model of cognitive ageing and provide knowledge relevant to the quality of life of dogs and owners alike. In 58 peer-reviewed papers (52 Q1) we described age-related changes in pet dogs’ cognition, personality, vocalisation, sensory perception, brain activity, gut microbiome composition, and gene expression. Main results: we found similarities with humans in: 1) the age-related changes of personality traits; 2) the “positivity effect”, i.e. a diminished reactivity to negative emotional stimuli in older dogs; 3) sleep spindles (EEG patterns in sleeping dogs’ brain) which can be used as a biomarker of cognitive ageing; 4) a negative association between memory performance and the levels of Actinobacteria in the gut, mimicking observations in people with Alzheimer’s disease; 5) genetic mutations, specific to ‘Methuselah’ (22-27-year-old) dogs in genes related to longevity; 6) increased expression of an ageing biomarker gene in the brain; 7) positive correlation between age, cognitive dysfunction score, and an Alzheimer’s disease-associated protein in the brain. Tissues originated from our novel Canine Tissue and Brain Bank (CBTB). The visibility was high with more than 1000 disseminations, including e.g., The Times, BBC, The Washington Post, Horizon.

Staff in 2021

Internship: Laura Gillet (F, 2017 01), Andrea Piseddu (I, 2017 03), Daniel Tejeda (M, 2017 03), Louis Le Nézet (F, 2017 04), Pauline Marty (F, 2017 05), Petrouchka Hulbosch (BE, 2017 09), Madalyn Seveska (USA, 2018 01), Rachel S. Carson (USA 2018 01, 08), Iris Smit (NL, 2018 03), Aylin Bersch (180625-0831), Rachel Carson (180701-0831), Amelie Montenon (180716-0826), Remi Boudou (180716-0826), Kinga Wlodarczyk (180716-0826), Andrea Piseddu (2019), Enrica Aguzzoli (2019), Fabricio Carballo (guest postdoc researcher, 180901-190131), Andrea Sommese (2019)

Alumni: Postdocs: Boglárka Erdélyi-Belle, Anna Gergely, Patrizia Piotti; Dog trainers: Luca Rostás, Bálint Óvári Rita Báji; Students: Fanni Tompai, Cecília Czibere, Renáta Böröczki, Frida Katona, Bianka Stiegmann, Anna Egerer, Szilvia Fekete, Zsófia Dobó, Pedro Correia, Lenke Czakó, Éva Gunde, Motahareh Al Amjadi, Rebeka Tóth, Zsófia Réti, Sarolta Marosi, Alexandra Deés, Felícia Erdélyi; Assistants: Borbála Győri, Ágnes Modrovics.

Collaborative partners: Ádám MiklósiMárta GácsiAttila Andics, Anna Kis, József Topál, Ádám Kettinger, Balázs Egyed, Tibor Vellai, Mária Sasvári Székely, Zsolt Rónai, Tamás Felföldi



Ongoing data-collection

If you have a Methusaleh dog (older than 16 years above 20 kg or older than 20 years under 20 kg), please send us his/her DNA. You can easily collect DNA samples from your dog (see the pictures below). If you agree to provide your dog’s sample please follow these steps and ship the dried swabs together with the essential information about the dog (name, age, sex, breed, etc.) in an envelope to the following address: Eniko Kubinyi, Department of Ethology, Budapest, Pazmany Peter setany 1/C, 1117, Hungary. More info: