By: Adrienne A. Kruzer, RVT | Aug 27, 2019
Often referred to as doggy Alzheimer’s disease, canine senior dementia, or canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a problem that affects the brain of an ageing dog. Cognitive dysfunction is actually a group of symptoms that result from these changes in the brain and not from one specific disease. Unfortunately, a lot that experts still don’t fully understand why these changes occur but what researchers suspect is that they are a result of an accumulation of proteins called beta-amyloids and a breakdown of neurons within the brain.
Several different treatment options exist for dogs with signs of cognitive dysfunction however there is still no cure. Slowing the progression and decreasing the severity of symptoms are usually the goals of treating dogs with CCD and several supplements and at-home therapies are available for owners to utilize. Consider talking to your vet about trying some of these natural remedies for canine cognitive dysfunction.
This naturally occurring compound is produced in the body of dogs and may also go by the names S-Adenosyl L-methionine, SAM-e, or S-Adenosylmethionine. But regardless of the spelling or abbreviation used, SAMe works within the body by producing an antioxidant called glutathione, among other functions pertaining to cell health. As an antioxidant, glutathione helps to scavenge free radicals and prevent cellular damage throughout the body, including the brain. Depending on which pathway SAMe takes in the body, it also helps ensure cells work properly. Simply put, for dogs with cognitive dysfunction, supplementation of SAMe can help their brains function more normally.
The body of a dog needs B vitamins for its cells to function properly. Without B12 (cobalamin), B9 (folate), B6 (pyridoxine), and other B vitamins, normal functions within the body would not occur. As pets age, sometimes they begin to lack these essential vitamins so supplementation can be helpful. B vitamins are considered water-soluble which means that there is little to no concern of over-supplementation. This is why B vitamins are often added into a number of supplements and foods even if a dog hasn’t been tested for a depletion of these vitamins.
Unlike B vitamins, vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin but it is still essential for a dog’s mind to work properly. It acts as an antioxidant to allow normal brain function and protects against cellular damage. This vitamin is usually prevalent in quality dog food but older dogs may benefit from additional supplementation of it.
A specific part of the milk thistle plant, silybin can provide more antioxidant properties to help protect cell function in a dog’s brain. Silybin is sourced from the silymarin which is found in the seeds of the milk thistle plant. Milk thistle and silymarin products are also available but the amount of the beneficial silybin that they contain may not be provided on the label.
Sometimes seen in the form of phosphatidylcholine preparations or lecithin, phospholipids are vital to the health of a dog’s brain. Research has shown that phospholipids are essential to brain function and they are found in the cell membrane. Choline is often supplemented alongside phospholipids to help a dog metabolize and make use of this ingredient.
Found in tea, l-theanine is an amino acid that can help with stress as well as brain health in dogs. It is found in several dog supplement products either by itself or along with other ingredients.
This supplement should be used with caution as it can cause bleeding problems in dogs that are taking other products such as fish oil, those that have a pre-existing bleeding disorder or need surgery. Despite these concerns, research has shown promising results in helping decrease behavioral changes in dogs with CCD as well as people with dementia.
A source of Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil helps with overall brain function and to decrease inflammation throughout the body. Fish oil contains fatty acids such as EPA and DHA which have been shown to be very important in brain health and development.
Typically sourced from palm or coconut oil, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil has shown to be especially beneficial for pets and people with seizures. They may help to improve overall mental function in dogs with CCD as well.
Both milk-whey and colostrum contain milk proteins that provide amino acids such as l-tryptophan for brain health and development. They can help alleviate stress and anxiety and may help support dogs with CCD.
A common aspect of CCD is stress and anxiety. By utilizing techniques and products that help a dog’s stress level stay low, symptoms of CCD may be able to be better managed. Avoiding stressful situations, keeping hyperactive puppies, kittens, and children away from a dog with CCD, and regularly monitoring a dog’s stress level may help the severity of CCD. Supplements, pheromones, medications, pressure wraps, and other items specifically designed for canine anxiety and stress may be needed on occasion as well.
An easy yet important part of any treatment plan for canine cognitive dysfunction includes maintaining a consistent routine. This means that your furniture in the home doesn’t get rearranged, feeding times don’t change, your dog’s bed stays in the same place, and bedtime is at the same time each day to decrease the potential stressors for your dog. Change is difficult for some dogs with cognitive dysfunction to process so by limiting the amount of different information your dog needs to process you’ll help keep its stress level lower. These things are also important for dogs that may be losing their vision.
Old dogs can still learn new tricks. Regular mental stimulation and behavioral enrichment can help keep a dog’s brain functioning more normally. Puzzle toys filled with food or treats, training to learn a new command like “give paw,” and exploring new areas outside while leashed can all provide mental stimulation to any dog, even those with CCD.
As research continues, new therapies and antioxidants will be recommended to help support dogs with cognitive dysfunction and hopefully one day a cure will be found. As always, discuss with your veterinarian before starting any supplement or therapy plan.