Updated November 28, 2020
Old dogs commonly develop a form of dementia we call Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. I’ve written about the signs of CDS and its treatment elsewhere.
Here I want to update you on the latest evidence about foods and dietary supplements that might benefit dogs with CDS. I’ll discuss each ingredient first and then the foods that might contain them.
Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids
Probably the most established food additive for CDS has been fish oil, and other sources of PUFAs. They appear to do little harm except in dogs prone to pancreatitis but there is surprisingly little evidence that they work for dogs. Just one paper on shape recognition.
They commonly appear in nutrient mixes for CDS, and that seems like a good approach.
Adding antioxidants to dog diets can improve cognitive function. The diet in the study was supplemented with Vitamins E and C, a mixture of fruits and vegetables, alpha-lipoic acid and l-carnitine (see below).
Medium Chain Triglycerides
Recent excitement has been created by MCTs. Purina in particular have been driving the discussion via a new food.
Interestingly, these older dogs did not have CDS and still showed improvements in cognitive function.
There is much promotion of B vitamins, but no studies where they are used alone. Just one study where they were used in a combination.
Whether effective or not, they’re almost harmless.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
One study showed that dogs fed BCAAs made fewer errors in agility trials. That’s all we have right now.
Cognitive function improved when L- carnitine was fed with a range of similar substances (mitochondrial cofactors), but not when fed alone.
There is currently insufficient evidence for the use of the following:
- cysteine and methionine
- avocado oil
- nicotinamide riboside
- Gingko biloba
- Polyphenols (eg, resveratrol, curcumin, and flavonoids)
- green tea extract
The Best CDS Food
As you can probably see by now, adding nutritional supplements to a senior dog’s diet is very hard to do well. It’s much easier (and possibly more reliable) to buy a food that used the latest evidence in its design.
Two examples are Hills Prescription Diet b/d and Purina NeuroCare.
My advice is to investigate the products available in your country and look carefully at ingredient lists. Almost certainly, not all the known beneficial additives will be present in one. However there should be at least one company offering a diet containing a few of these.
Additionally, don’t forget that diet alone is only part of the approach. Social, cognitive, and physical activity together with optimal dietary intake is recommended for successful brain aging.
Related: Do Dogs Need Senior Foods?
References available on request.