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Ageing does not significantly affect performance in a spatial learning task in the domestic cat ( Felis silvestris catus )

By S. McCune, J. Stevenson, L. Fretwell, A. Thompson, D. S. Mills

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A spatial learning task was used to examine cognitive function in 36 cats (1.0-15.1 years of age), with a control for motor function. No significant age-related decline in cognitive function was found. Initial selection of 75 cats showed no significant age differences between young (0-3 years), adult (3.1-8 years), senior (8.1-12 years) and geriatric cats (12.1-15.1 years) locating food rewards in a holeboard box. Consequently, the senior and geriatric groups were combined because of a concern that age effects may not be seen in the 8-12-year-old cats. Differences between these three age groups of cats to learn the position of three food rewards in an array of 30 otherwise empty (food-scented) positions were non-significant. Differences between age groups remained non-significant for retrieval of rewards from these three positions even when masked with a tissue paper cover. There was no significant effect of age on speed of reaching each criterion. Although the total number of errors was similar, there was a significantly increased proportion of working memory errors (when the cat returned to a previously baited position) and decreased proportion of reference memory errors (when the cat put a nose or paw in an empty position) with increasing age. There was no effect of age on motor function, with success in a plank-crossing test related only to plank width. These findings support previous work suggesting that the cat differs from other species in the way in which it demonstrates age-related declines in cognitive function. Further studies using different testing methodologies are required to assess other cognitive functions that may decline with age.

Date 2008
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 112
Issue 3/4
Pages 345-356
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, Melton Mowbray, Leics LE14 4RT, UK.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Age
  2. Aging
  3. Animal physiology
  4. Cats
  5. Mammals
  6. Memory
  7. nose
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. Pets and companion animals
  10. Research
  11. Studies
  1. peer-reviewed