Doggy Dementia: The Nourishing Guide

Posted by Maureen Lake at

doggie dementia

Once your dog gets a few years under its belt, you will start to see some subtle changes or what's know as doggy dementia. A few more years after that and the odds are that you will see many visible changes. Getting older is hard for all of us whether you're a canine or not. What's needed at this stage of development is a guide for maturing dogsMy hope is that sharing some of the research I've found might help you and your best friend during the years to come.

Doggy Dementia

Doggy dementia is common and an expected part of maturing. Studies show that 20% - 30% of dogs older than seven years suffer from some degree of cognitive dysfunction. While dogs age 14 years and older, the number rises to 68% (Laflamme, DP). That's disheartening. Senior dogs can suffer from dementia with similar effects to Alzheimer's disease in people. Just like in us there is a range from mild to severe dementia, but it typically gets worse with time. I started noticing some doggy dementia with Keria this past year and spoke to my vet about the food Hills has developed called Brain Aging Care or b/d. I started noticing changes in Keira's behavior almost immediately. What a smarty pants! Keira became more alert, playful, interactive and sleeping less during the day. I'm by no means recommending this food, but it sure has given Keira a boost. Keira doesn't like the food very much, so I find myself doctoring it up a lot to get her to eat it. I love the effect it's had on Keira's temperament, but I don't like the price tag that comes along with it or the fact that I have to special order via the vet! I started to dig into some research to understand what I could do with real food to help supplement her diet.  

Free Radicals and Doggy Dementia

One of the key factors in dementia (human & canine) is an increased damage to the brain caused by "oxidative stress" which means there are more radicals than the body can detoxify. Free radicals are unstable molecules that look to steal another electron in the body to become stable. There are numerous reasons why these atoms are unstable including illness, environmental pollutants, pesticides, etc. The problem is that these free radicals are toxic to cells and damage proteins, lipids, DNA and other important molecules. Damage occurs over time, and its progression is finally evident with doggy dementia. The brain is especially vulnerable to these nasty free radicals for three main reasons:
  1. The brain has a high rate of oxidative metabolism which free radicals love to attach to and wreck havoc.
  2. Left unprotected this damage to the neurons results in cognitive decline or even death.
  3. The brain has a high lipid count which free radicals love to get a hold.

How To Stop Free Radicals

Fortunately for us and our pups, science knows that antioxidants can scrounge around and find free radicals and fight the effects of oxidative damage. Antioxidants are man made and will prevent or delay cell damage - they have super powers! Antioxidants are totally remarkable when you think about it! We now know that a diet rich in antioxidants will combat the effects of free radicals on the brain. We also now know that senior dogs fed an antioxidant-rich diet will improve in cognitive function. Amazingly the effects of dietary changes are pretty fast, which explains the immediate changes I saw in Keria using Hills b/d.

Antioxidant Examples

  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • Beta-carotene
  • Vitamin A
  • Lutein
  • Lycopene
  • Vitamin C

feeding an apple helps with doggie dementia

Foods Rich in Antioxidants

We're lucky when it comes to finding foods that are rich in antioxidants. This list is the top ranked dog-friendly foods in order of their antioxidant level. (Thank-you  USDA)
  1. Red Beans
  2. Wild Blueberry
  3. Red Kidney Beans
  4. Pinto Beans
  5. Blueberry
  6. Cranberry
  7. Artichoke (cooked)
  8. Blackberry
  9. Raspberry
  10. Strawberry
  11. Red Delicious apple
  12. Granny Smith apple
  13. Russet potato
  14. Black bean
  15. Gala apple
Yes, antioxidants are powerful, they're like storm troopers hunting down free radicals at all cost. But, other foods offer incredible support for brain function that needs mention.

Two Brain Friendly Supplements For Doggie Dementia


coconuts are great for doggie dementia

  • Coconut Oil:
What more can I say about this amazing oil? Just think, not too long ago it was vilified as unhealthy, but now we know it's medicinal qualities. The reason it's so helpful for dog's with dementia is because of the medium chemical size chain that sets it apart from other oils. This chain makes it easier to absorb, digest and use more quickly by the dog's body. Consider this; most older brains don't metabolize glucose for energy very efficiently. Coconut oil becomes an alternate source of energy which is amazing since the brain needs a ton of energy to function. A super food for our dog's supercomputer! A super food for our dog's supercomputer! The coconut oil you should use needs to be unrefined or cold pressed. Always try to shop for organic brands. Dog's seem to love the taste so you should be able to add it to your dog's food or on top of some scrumptious fruit.  
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
What's so important about Omega 3? Interestingly, about 20% of the brain's cerebral cortex is made up of DHA. Studies now tell us that supplementing with DHA supports cognitive health in aging brains, and a lack of Omega 3 can cause neurons to become stiff and inadequate.  

Gluten Is Terrible For Brain Health

It's well known that gluten in people is tied to impaired brain & memory functions. Gluten is known to cause all sorts of inflammation when eaten. The last thing you want your maturing dog to do is to eat a grain that causes brain related inflammation. It just makes sense that removing gluten from your dog's diet makes doggie sense. Doggie dementia is real and heartbreaking especially when you realize that the discomfort, anxiety, compulsive licking, confusion, disorientation, & disrupted sleep patterns are due to aging brain dysfunction. Luckily, there are simple nutritional steps to take to help prevent, manage & maybe reverse these devastating effects. We want our best friend with us as long as possible, happy with joy!

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  • Thanks for a great, informative article! I really need to think about using coconut oil with our dogs – the benefits are wonderful from what I’ve read.

    nichole on
  • Good info but I think the free radicals as a cause might still be a theory or potential factor as you say. I give my dog cranberry vitamins for his urinary track but they might also have the added anti-oxidant benefit. He’s about 12 and fortunately (and sometimes unfortunately) smart as a whip.

    Sherri Telenko on
  • I’m not as informative about cats but I’m sure they suffer from it too. Part of our aging process- darn it!

    Maureen Lake on
  • Thank you Valerie! This means the world to me!!

    Maureen Lake on

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