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Nutritional Support For Dementia In Dogs

on November 19, 2020

With advances in nutrition and veterinary care the lifespan of our pets is increasing. In 2013 a report by Banfield Pet Hospital showed that the average age for cats had increased by 12 months since 2002 and the lifespan of dogs by 6 months. This means that we have a higher population of elderly pets that need extra care and support through their twilight years. 

What changes should you expect as your dog gets older?

Apart from physical changes, for example a change in gait (the way they move) due to joint disease, your dog can start to display changes in behaviour that can be likened to the signs of dementia (cognitive dysfunction) in humans. Signs of dementia or Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) in dogs can be explained with the acronym DISHA. DISHA stands for disorientation, interactions (which are usually altered, so for example they may not interact with human or pet family members in the same ways as before), sleep-wake cycle changes, house-soiling and activity level changes. For more information, read our article on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. 

What treatment can you give an elderly dog suffering from Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?

Getting older is inevitable but dealing with the consequences of brain aging is not. Many owners are unaware that there are treatments for cognitive dysfunction in dogs and therefore don’t seek veterinary advice. However, there are several different ways of managing canine dementia and making your pet more comfortable, so it is recommended that you ask your vet about:

  • Medication
  • Behavioural Therapy
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Nutritional support

Recent research into nutritional support for CCD is very encouraging and there is now plenty of information available on different supplements. Here’s a few of the most promising supplements currently being used for our canine companions. 

Nutritional support advice for dogs with dementia


Antioxidants include nutrients such as Vitamins C and E and Selenium. They help to counteract unstable molecules called free radicals. These free radicals (also called reactive oxygen species or ROS) are produced during normal cell metabolism causing aging and if left unchecked can lead to disease or illness. Toxins such as pollution and other factors including sunlight (sun burn) can increase the number of free radicals produced in the body too. Several studies with dogs have shown that foods enriched with antioxidants can help reduce the effects of aging on canine cognition.

Mitochondrial Co-factors

Mitochondria are microscopic structures found in the body’s cells. They work by taking in nutrients and creating energy for the cell to use. Unfortunately, they can create more of the unstable free radical molecules during this process. However, scientists have discovered that some substances can increase the efficiency of the mitochondria so that less of these unstable and damaging molecules are produced. These beneficial substances include the amino acid L-Carnitine and Alpha-lipoic acid which is another type of antioxidant. Good sources of L-carnitine include meats, fish and dairy products, although smaller amounts can be found in seeds, grains, nuts, Brewer’s yeast and some vegetables such as broccoli. Alpha Lipoic acid can be found in organ meats (liver, heart, kidneys) and in smaller amounts in yeasts and vegetables such as spinach. 

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Many people have heard of Omega 3 fatty acids in relation to their anti-inflammatory properties and use for joint disease. However, there are many more applications for Omega 3 fatty acids, and it is an important nutrient for brain development and maintenance. For example, it has been shown that diets supplemented with a type of Omega 3 called DHA, can improve trainability in puppies. Further research using marine sources of DHA such as oily fish or algae have shown to improve cognitive function in older dogs.  

Phosphatidylserine (PS)

Like some of the other nutrients above (Vitamin C), phosphatidylserine can be synthesized in the body by healthy dogs. However, it can also be found in food sources. Healthy animals can produce their own and it is found in the brain, but studies have shown that supplementation with this natural phospholipid can improve cognition and memory in older animals. 

Green Tea Extract

Fruits and vegetables contain active substances called flavonoids and carotenoids. These substances are being researched for their possible health benefits for both people and animals. Green tea extract is a very good source of many of these flavonoids, which act as powerful antioxidants and protect the brain against toxins, reduce inflammation and promote memory, cognition and learning. However, green tea has been shown to be extremely toxic to dogs if taken on an empty stomach and at higher doses than recommended. Therefore, it should be taken with caution and dosage instructions followed carefully.

Ginkgo Biloba

This is an herbal product that appears anecdotally to be safer at higher doses than Green tea Extract. Further clinical trials on the safety of Ginkgo are lacking currently. However, it is reported to have some excellent health benefits to human dementia patients and studies with animals regarding cognition have also proven positive. It is also reported to improve blood flow and is recommended for heart patients. This does mean that it is not suitable for dogs that have impaired blood clotting ability. 

There are several different ways of managing canine dementia and making your pet more comfortable.

Medium Chain Tryglycerides (MCT)

Medium chain tryglycerides are a type of fatty acid. One of the most popular food sources of MCTs at the moment is coconut oil which has been promoted as having many health benefits including being helpful in improving brain function. It is theorised that the MCTs in coconut oil provide an alternative source of energy for the brain (instead of glucose which comes from digestion and absorption of food). However, there are only a few studies in dogs using MCTs so it is unlikely you will see any canine cognition supplements containing this at the moment. It might be one to watch for the future. 

Help for the aging brain

There are now several different supplements for elderly dogs available that contain a combination of some of these active ingredients. As discussed though, not all-natural ingredients are safe at higher doses, so it is important to follow the feeding instructions carefully. Aside from a nutritional supplement, if your dog is showing signs of cognitive dysfunction then there are behavioural and environmental modifications as well as medications that can help so it is definitely worth that trip to your vet. 

Banfield Pet Hospital (Accessed 17.01.17)
5 signs of dog dementia (Accessed 17.01.17)
Dementia in dogs (canine cognitive dysfunction)
Vauzour et al (2008) The neuroprotective potential of flavonoids: a multiplicity of effects. Genes Nutr (2008) 3:115-126
Pan et al (2010) Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. British Journal of Nutrition (2010), 103, 1746-1754
Cotman et al (2002) Brain Aging in the Canine: a diet enriched in antioxidants reduces cognitive dysfunction. Neurobiology of Aging 23 (2002) 809-818
Snigdha (2016) Effect of mitochondrial co-factor and antioxidants supplementation of cognition in the aged canine. Neurobiology of Aging 37 (2016) 171-178
Reichling et al (2006) Reduction of behavioural disturbances in elderly dogs supplemented with a standardised Ginkgo leaf extract.