By the time dogs turn 11, about a third will suffer canine dementia, also called canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCD). Sadly, symptoms like anxiety, confusion, behavior changes, and house soiling can make your dog’s golden years a much more stressful experience than you’d like.
So what can you do to help your dog age gracefully and comfortably, and can a special diet for doggy dementia help? Luckily, plenty of evidence suggests that the proper nutrients can slow down cognitive decline in senior dogs.
But to know what to look for in diet and supplements, it’s vital to know what CCD is and what it does to the brain. Then it’s easier to understand how nutrition and natural supplements for dog dementia can help (1).
What Causes Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
As dogs get older, physical changes in their brains affect their ability to learn, remember, and process information (cognition). This is caused by genetics and other factors, and it’s very close to what happens in the human brain with Alzheimer’s (2). But let’s look at what causes cognitive decline.
- The brain can’t get enough proper blood flow and fuel from glucose
- Calcium and proteins (amyloid plaques) clump together in the neurons
- Cells stop clearing away toxins and cause chronic inflammation
- Free radicals damage brain cells (called oxidative stress)
So let’s look at how diet can slow this process and limit the damage.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet For Doggy Dementia
Reducing the inflammation in the brain is the first step. Start with:
A Raw Or Minimally Processed Diet
A fresh, preferably raw, whole food diet is best to limit inflammation. Heat-processed food like dry kibble or canned food releases inflammatory glycotoxins (advanced glycation end products or AGES). In older dogs, a study shows that AGEs build up in the brain’s neurons (3).
Extruded food or kibble also switches on pro-inflammatory genes called cytokines (4). So it’s best to go for food that is as natural as possible to minimize inflammation.
Choose Anti-inflammatory Food
Other natural antiinflammatory ingredients you can add to your dog’s diet include CBD oil, bone broth (15), berries, and small amounts of brightly colored vegetables. Plants that contain the phytonutrients lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin are helpful to prevent dementia in people. You can get these in:
- Egg yolk
- Orange and yellow peppers
When it comes to meat, look for lean meat low in saturated fat. Pasture-raised sources are best. When adding fish, look for sustainable, wild-caught fish. Smaller fish, like sardines, build up less contaminants. Keep poultry in the diet limited to the high amount of omega-6 fatty acids in poultry that promote inflammation.
Provide The Brain With An Alternative Source Of Fuel & Improve Blood Flow
MCT Oil & Ketones
One of the most vital steps in helping dogs keep their brains healthy is ensuring those neurons get the energy they need. Since they can’t get as much glucose any more, ketones are key. The brain can use ketones for fuel when it doesn’t have enough glucose. One supplement, pure MCT oil, has an express pass to the liver, making more ketones than any other fat.
It also ensures more of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, crosses the blood-brain barrier. DHA is essential for brain function, so this is critical.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids like EPA & DHA lower inflammation, improve overall blood flow in the brain and strengthen the neurons’ cell membranes. So you can’t overstate how vital these are for aging dogs.
Adding omega-3 fatty acids is also a great way to get help with the chronic inflammation in a senior dog’s brain. For reasons of sustainability, perhaps the best and most effective and ocean-friendly source of EPA and DHA is green-lipped mussel extract.
The focus here is on EPA and DHA. But these are not the only important fatty acids that can benefit your dog. This article on omega oils for dogs gives a more comprehensive overview.
However, one other anti-inflammatory fat that is equally important is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Early studies suggest that GLA actually protects the brain from AGEs or glycotoxins that damage memory. By far the best source of GLA (and a good source of other key omegas such as Stearidonic Acid or SDA) is ahiflower oil.
So to sum up, the three highly recommended oils for canine cognitive dysfunction are:
- MCT oil
- Green lipped mussel extract
- Ahiflower oil
Doctors used to think ginkgo biloba helped blood flow in the brain in human patients with dementia. But the real benefit is that it is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that protects brain cells from damage. Studies show that giving your senior dog a ginkgo supplement of 40 mg per 10 kg of his body weight helps with behavior problems in about eight weeks (6).
Folic acid is another great vitamin that helps blood flow. But the major benefit of B vitamins is that they may prevent blood flow issues in the brain because they lower a disease marker called homocysteine. The main ones are:
- Cobalamin (B12)
- Thiamin (B1B)
- Folic acid (B9)
- Pyridoxine (B6)
Natural sources for these vitamins include fish, particularly sardines or herring, salmon, tuna, and organ meat. These are also water-soluble vitamins, so giving your dog a B vitamin supplement is safe, as anything extra will be excreted in the urine.
Reduce Free Radicals And Oxidative Damage
The next critical step in helping dogs with dementia is to remove all those free radicals damaging the brain cells and the mitochondria (the cells’ powerhouse). Free radicals are a byproduct of the body’s metabolic processes. They’re unstable atoms that damage cells and cause aging and disease. This means your dog needs antioxidants that fight free radicals and mitochondrial cofactors that help the cell function.
Add Mitochondrial Cofactors
Mitochondrial cofactors include the amino acid L-carnitine and the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid, two cofactors that help the aging brain (7). Some breeds like Doberman Pinschers and Boxers often suffer from carnitine deficiencies and can benefit from supplementation.
Red meat, organ meat, poultry, and fish are natural sources.
Several antioxidants are vital to fight free radicals and protect cells in the brain. Leading the pack are vitamins E and C. Feeding a mix of brightly colored vegetables like spinach, carrots, and berries can supply most of the necessary antioxidants, including vitamin C. But it’s a good idea to add a vitamin E supplement as its hard to get a good amount of this in your dog’s diet.
Other essential antioxidants include:
- Selenium (selenium is particularly important as it works closely with vitamin E)
A supplement called phosphatidylserine also shows promising results as it enhances the signals between cells.
One study had good results with the following mix of supplements (8).
|Supplement||Small dog dosage (smaller than 10 kg or 22 pounds)||Large dog dosage (bigger than 10 kg or 22 pounds)|
|Omega-3 fatty acids DHA/EPA||35 mg||70 mg|
|Vitamin C||20 mg||40 mg|
|L -Carnitine||13.5 mg||27 mg|
|a-Lipoic acid||10 mg||20 mg|
|Vitamin E||10 mg||20 mg|
|CoQ10||1 mg||2 mg|
|Phosphatidylserine||1 mg||2 mg|
|Selenium||25 mcg||50 mcg|
Clear Out The Amyloid Plaques & Calcium In The Neurons
Next, focus on nutrients that specifically help the brain clear out the waste gathering in the cells.
Choline is an essential nutrient that helps in brain development and in synthesizing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Choline also blocks the production of that nasty amyloid plaque in the brain. You can get choline supplements for dogs with cognitive dysfunction. Natural sources include eggs, organ meat like kidneys or liver, and shiitake mushrooms.
Other nutrients that help clear amyloid plaque are:
- Turmeric extract (curcumin)
- Green tea extract
- Black pepper extract
Lion’s Mane Mushroom
One food that is showing good results for Alzheimer’s and dementia is Lion’s Mane Mushroom (9). Lion’s Mane seems to help clear out the amyloid plaque, but studies show that it also …
- Reduces inflammation
- Helps neurons in the brain function, survive, and develop
Lion’s Mane has not been studied specifically on dogs, but other animal studies show no signs of it being toxic.
Other Good Nutrients For Brain Health
L-arginine is an essential amino acid for the immune system, renal, and gut health. Dog food that meets the AAFCO guidelines for nutrients has insufficient arginine for aging dogs, who need far more than dogs at other life stages.
Studies of dogs fed a diet with arginine in levels above the AAFCO guidelines show that senior dogs have better brain function (11). Arginine is an amino acid supplement you can add.
Another potentially helpful protein is taurine. Dogs are able to make their own taurine from the essential amino acids L-methionine and L-cysteine, however many breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Cocker Spaniels, and Bulldogs often can’t make enough of it. It’s also a good addition to an aging dog’s diet in general
The brain contains quite a bit of taurine, so it’s usually good to add it to a dog’s diet for heart and eye health.
It can also work well for an aging brain (12). Foods highest in taurine include shellfish (clams, mussels, & scallops), turkey, and chicken.
SAMe is found naturally in almost every part of the body. It helps protect cell membranes and also produces and breaks down neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Studies show that it helps keep old dogs active and aware of their surroundings. This is available at vet stores as a liver support supplement.
PEA is a pretty powerful anti-inflammatory compound that works on the same receptors as CBD. PEA shows very promising effects on the cells that cause inflammation in the brain (microglial & astrocyte cells) (14). So this is a great supplement to consider adding.
Food for doggy dementia is an option to slow cognitive decline. Knowing what to look for on the label and what supplements you can give your senior dog is half the battle. Of course, prevention is always better than cure, so feeding your dog a healthy diet from a young age can help him age gracefully. You can also help keep your aging dog from declining mentally through an exercise routine, playtime, and fun activities.
- Pan, Y., 2021. Nutrients, cognitive function, and brain aging: What we have learned from dogs. Medical Sciences, 9(4), p.72.
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- Anderson RC, Armstrong KM, Young W, Maclean P, Thomas DG, Bermingham EN. Effect of kibble and raw meat diets on peripheral blood mononuclear cell gene expression profile in dogs. The Veterinary Journal. 2018 Apr 1;234:7-10.
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- Reichling J, Frater-Schröder M, Herzog K, Bucher S, Saller R. Reduction of behavioural disturbances in elderly dogs supplemented with a standardised Ginkgo leaf extract. Schweizer Archiv für Tierheilkunde. 2006 May 1;148(5):257-63.
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- Kushairi N, Tarmizi NA, Phan CW, Macreadie I, Sabaratnam V, Naidu M, David P. Modulation of neuroinflammatory pathways by medicinal mushrooms, with particular relevance to Alzheimer’s disease. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2020 Oct 1;104:153-62.
- Kawagishi H, Zhuang C, Shnidman E. The anti-dementia effect of Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceum) and its clinical application. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. 2004 Apr 1(249):54-7.
- Pan Y, Kennedy AD, Jönsson TJ, Milgram NW. Cognitive enhancement in old dogs from dietary supplementation with a nutrient blend containing arginine, antioxidants, B vitamins and fish oil. British Journal of Nutrition. 2018 Feb;119(3):349-58.
- Chen C, Xia S, He J, Lu G, Xie Z, Han H. Roles of taurine in cognitive function of physiology, pathologies and toxication. Life Sciences. 2019 Aug 15;231:116584.
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- Mar-Solís LM, Soto-Domínguez A, et al. Analysis of the anti-inflammatory capacity of bone broth in a murine model of ulcerative colitis. Medicina. 2021 Oct 20;57(11):1138.
- Khan SA, Haider A, Mahmood W, Roome T, Abbas G. Gamma-linolenic acid ameliorated glycation-induced memory impairment in rats. Pharmaceutical Biology. 2017 Jan 1;55(1):1817-23.