Many of our pets are living longer lives, but along with an aging body comes an aging brain.
Senior pets need more help ensuring there’s a good quality to those waning years. So what can you do to help?
Well, new diets and supplements may help dogs who suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction — called cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) — live out their remaining years in good mental health.
What Is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
CDS is a progressive, age-related neurogenerative disorder similar but not identical to Alzheimer’s disease in people. A recent study showed the age breakdown in older canines who are affected:
- 8–10 years old: 3.4%
- 10–12 years old: 5%
- 12–14 years old: 23%
- Over 14 years old: 41%
What Are the Symptoms?
Borrowed from a new study, the acronym DISHAA can help you and your veterinarian assess your own dog:
- Interaction with people or pets altered
- Sleep/wake cycles altered
- House soiling, learning and memory altered
- Activity changes
- Anxiety and signs of fear
Most of my CDS patients exhibit waking up in the middle of the night, staring into corners or not being able to back out of a corner, forgetfulness, new anxieties and/or house soiling.
Since our geriatric patients are more prone to many other diseases, coming up with a diagnosis of CDS should be made with your veterinarian after a full medical assessment and discussion of the changes you see in behavior and mentation.
Diets and Supplements
As certain dogs and people age, they suffer from age-related inflammation in the brain and the inability to convert food and nutrients into necessary brain energy.
NeuroCare, a new diet developed by Purina Veterinary Diets, may offer these older patients some new hope. A recent study showed some promising results: A majority of dogs with CDS showed some improvement after 90 days of eating this diet exclusively. The diet also meets the nutritional needs of our older pups.
The composition of NeuroCare diet includes MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) and a blend of nutrients including arginine, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. MCTs produce ketones, which are an alternative energy source for the brain. In certain Alzheimer’s patients, MCTs have improved brain function.
Why Not Just Supplement MCTs?
MCTs are found in coconut oil, palm oil and dairy. MCT oil alone is also available. Claimed health benefits of MCTs are numerous: weight management, better brain function, improved metabolism and digestion, protection from bacterial and viral infections — and the list goes on.
So why not throw a scoop of coconut oil into old Roger’s food bowl? I wish it were that easy.
MCTs and supplements work best when part of a whole nutritional plan. For some of us who love pizza, pasta or carbohydrates of all shapes and colors, it would be great if we could load up each morning with some MCT oil, antioxidants, omega-3s, some POMI juice and a few other supplements, and head to McDonald’s for a breakfast sandwich and eat a deep-fried lunch.
But supplements added to a crappy diet or a diet that can’t be metabolized easily won’t work.
If advanced research can give us nutritionally balanced pet diets — where the rest of the ingredients don’t eradicate the benefits of MCTs, vitamins and supplements — I’m all for it. Most nutritionists believe these diets work best if fed exclusively.
A Full Medicine Cabinet
Simply stated, it may be easier to treat your dog with a diet he likes rather than shoving lots of pills down his tired muzzle and supplementing home-cooked or other dog food.
We do not have a specific drug to “fix” CDS, but the list of drugs and supplements used to lessen the symptoms of CDS is long: Neutricks, Senilife, melatonin, selegiline, omega-3s, SAMe, Novifit, MCTs, antioxidants — a lot of medications.
CDS patients may also require medications to treat concurrent diseases. Add medications to treat specific symptoms of CDS, like anti-anxiety meds, sleep aids and incontinence drugs, and you have a lot of medications to administer.
I don’t jump on any new drug or diet bandwagon lightly. The veterinary drug and food industry throws lots of drugs and products at us before there is enough evidence or safety data to back up their claims.
But good and unbiased research, although in early stages, shows promise for “brain” diets. I think they are worth a try. And don’t forget that enrichment, stimulation and love are some of the best medicines for your CDS patient. That goes for all our pets!
- Landsberg G. Canine cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome: What’s New on Diagnosis and Management? Clinician’s Brief. April 2017.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed May 31, 2017.