We none of us like to think of our beloved dogs getting old. It’s heartbreaking to witness any loved one ageing, but with dogs its that much more difficult because they can’t tell us how they’re feeling. And if they’re not showing any obvious signs of physical discomfort such as mobility issues, it’s very hard to know what’s actually going on inside. That’s why it’s so important to look for signs of canine cognitive dysfunction in our dogs, and to endeavour to minimise its impact as much as possible.

Story at a glance

Just what is canine cognitive dysfunction?
Causes of canine cognitive dysfunction
How nutritional therapy can help canine cognitive dysfunction sufferers

It’s astonishing how many similarities there are between dogs and human beings. That’s one of the many reasons for the unparalleled bond between us.

While dogs age so much more quickly than we do, roughly six to seven times faster, the stages of development in both species are remarkably similar.

We both go through puppyhood (childhood), adolescence, adulthood, senior years and a final geriatric phase towards the end of our lives. The trick with both species is to make those transitions as seamless as possible. To manage is such that they run from one to another with no discernable signs of those transitions. No bumps in the road, no excruciatingly negative impacts.

And how do we do that for our constant canine companions? By following the same keys for human health and longevity:

Provide them with a healthy, minimally processed, fresh food diet
Keep them fit and active
Adjust their food intake to account for the change in their nutritional requirement as they age and become less active
Keep them physically engaged and mentally stimulated

There’s no biblical imperative that says that dogs have to experience digestive problems in later life. Yes, their metabolism may slow, but that’s easily accounted for with dietary adjustments and natural supplementation where necessary. They don’t have to suffer from debilitating arthritis and painful joint problems either. Avoiding these is easily within the remit of the average pet parent.
Neither is there any compelling reason why dogs have to become overweight or obese as they age. These conditions are totally unnecessary and will only worsen any existing joint or mobility problems.
And they don’t have to suffer from canine cognitive decline in the same way so many dogs do as they reach senior status if you take the proper precautions.

In fact there’s no good reason why your dog cannot age with dignity in the same way we all hope to as we reach our golden years. Much of it is within your control to determine what quality of life your senior dog will have as he or she ages. And by and large, it doesn’t have to involve vets and medication, expense and inconvenience. It simply involves diligence.

According to Rodney Habib & Dr Karen Shaw Becker in their best-selling book The Forever Dog, “Almost one-third of eleven- to twelve-year-old dogs and 70 percent of fifteen- to sixteen-year-old dogs show cognitive disturbances with symptoms corresponding to human senile dementia; spatial disorientation, social behavior disorders (e.g., problems recognizing family members), repetitive (stereotypical) behavior, apathy, increased irritability, problems with sleep, incontinence, and reduced ability to accomplish tasks. Together, these symptoms constitute a typical, age-related, progressive decline in dogs’ mental abilities, which is usually referred to as canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, otherwise known as doggy dementia.”

What is canine cognitive dysfunction?

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a disease commonly seen in senior dogs. Its symptoms are similar to those of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in human beings.

Canine cognitive dysfunction creates changes in the canine brain. Changes, such as the death of nerve cells, the slow down of mental function resulting in memory loss, reduction in movement and the loss of (forgetting) learned behaviours from training early in life.

If your dog is suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction, it may well exhibit symptoms more commonly associated with senile behaviour and dementia. A dog will often find itself confused in familiar places. Even in the home, where it may spend long periods of time in one particular area. Commonly, a dog suffering from CCD will not respond to being called or fail to respond to previously familiar commands. It may also experience abnormal sleeping patterns, and while some of these symptoms may be simply be attributed to old age, when a number of them are combined, there is a higher likelihood that they can be attributed to your dog suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction.

Symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction

As previously mentioned, it is likely to be a combination of symptoms that point to your individual dog suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction.

For example, a senior dog failing to respond when being called could simply indicate age-related hearing loss. A senior dog inexplicably toileting in the house during the night could simply indicate a fleeting digestive problem. But when these and other signs are witnessed in combination, especially if they involve previously uncharacteristic behaviour patterns such as separation anxiety, phobias, aggression or compulsive disorders, they give a clear indication that there is likely to be a deeper issue.

So just what are the symptoms that your best friend might be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction? Sadly, many of these can be a particularly distressing and all-too-familiar to anyone who has witnessed a parent or a relative suffering from dementia:

Disorientation. Disorientation can be described as the loss of ability to navigate the house or to remember where specific places and items are. For example, furniture, the corners of a room or even its bed.

Interaction changes. Decreased interest in social interaction such as grooming, petting or playing.

Sleep/wake cycle changes. Though most of us won’t be awake to witness restlessness throughout the night, your dog sleeping for lengthy periods throughout the the day is something you will most definitely be aware of.

Reverse housebreaking issues. Toileting indoors. Not letting you know that your dog needs to go outside to the toilet.

Physical activity level. A marked reduction in interest in going outside. A decrease in responses to normal stimuli such as familar people and sounds around the home.

Causes of canine cognitive dysfunction

The causes of canine cognitive dysfunction are the result of a number of factors. Your dog’s genetic makeup, its environment and experiences have a bearing. Its breed, age and weight also have a major impact on when age-related decline might set in. Just as larger, heavier breeds of dog traditionally live shorter lives, so does their rate of cognitive decline begin earlier than in smaller breeds. Hereditary diseases also play a part, as does injury and trauma.

Another common contributor gaining increasing credence is the presence of so-called ‘zombie cells’. According to Live Science, zombie cells, scientifically known as senescent cells, “are cells that stop multiplying due to damage or stress but don’t die. Instead, these cells release a slew of molecules that summon immune cells and spark inflammation. The immune system clears these zombies from the body, but with age, it becomes less efficient; thus, the cells accumulate and drive inflammation that contributes to diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoarthritis”.

Functional foods and canine congnitive dysfunction

Functional foods are foods that have the potential to positively affect your dog’s health, beyond its basic nutrition. In other words, they are not foods which simply sustain it on a day to day basis. They are foods which contribute to keeping it healthy. If you like, it’s the difference between you and I eating a takeaway pizza and a green salad. Both will sustain you, but the green salad wins hands down in the nutritional benefits department.

Functional foods include fruits, vegetables, grains, algae, legumes, nuts and seeds. These contain the highest number of life-giving antioxidants. On average, 64 times the antioxidant power of other functional foods such as meat and fish, and modified foods such as yogurt and cottage cheese.

Functional foods are known to help to fight age-related diseases. Not just canine cognitive diseases but cancer, heart disease, diabetes and all the major diseases that strike fear into the heart of every dog parent. You should endeavour to add as many of these functional foods as possible to your senior dog’s diet.

Researchers Elizabeth Head, Jaime Rofina and Steven Zicker in a paper entitled Oxidative Stress, Aging and CNS disease in the Canine Model of Human Brain Aging, first published in the American journal Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, concluded, “The most important aspect of this work is the discovery that cognitive performance can be improved by dietary manipulation. Furthermore, the effects of the dietary manipulation were relatively rapid. Antioxidants may thus potentially act to prevent the development of these age-associated behaviors, and possibly even neuropathologic change, by counteracting oxidative stress”.

In other words, through your dog’s diet, you have the ability not only to positively influence the outcome of canine cognitive dysfunction, but to increase longevity and prevent or minimise the implications of any serious canine disease.

The likes of green leafy vegetables are known to slow down cognitive decline, as are various types of berries courtesy of their antioxidant properties. Between them they improve learning and memory performance by improving the plasticity of the senior brain. Eggs too are considered beneficial for cognitive function. All these are assimilated by the gut giving them the power of drugs without the associated side-effects of synthetic products.

The mechanisms by which this process works is still under investigation. But one thing is for certain. The microorganisms (bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses) that live in your dog’s gut directly influence cognitive function as well as its overall health. An invariably poor commercial diet causes gut dysbiosis, an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. The resultant inflammation in the gut causes inflammation in the brain.

According to Functional Foods: An Approach to Modulate Molecular Mechanisms of Alzheimer’s Disease published in The National Library of Medicine in the USA, “If microbiota, the population of billions of bacteria living in our intestine and that are likely to have an effect on brain functions, is in condition of dysbiosis, this causes an inflammatory stress not only in the gut, but also in the brain. Numerous tests suggest that the intestinal microbiota plays an important role in brain development and that there is a two-way relationship, between brain, intestines and bacteria colonizing the intestine, which has been identified as the brain–intestine–microbiome axis, able to modulate the functions of the gut, the immune as well as the central nervous system”.

It doesn’t matter that this article focused on the relationship between the gut and the brain in humans. As is frequently the case, the first-established models establishing the gut-brain axis involved experimentation on mice. The same two-way effect first studied in mice, applies equally to human beings and man’s best friend.

Supplementation & Nutritional support for canine cognitive dysfunction

It is well established that as dogs age, just as with humans, they metabolise glucose less efficiently. Since glucose is the main source of energy for the brain, alternative source of energy need to be found. Step forward medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as found in coconut oil, omega-3 fatty acids, milk thistle, phosphatidylserine and s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).

Coconut oil
Medium chain triglycerides such as found in coconut oil, have been scientifically proven to improve brain function. MCTs have be shown to be an excellent alternative source of energy for both the canine and human brain as they age. MCTs have proven to be more even more effective as brain food when combined with omega-3 fatty acids.

Use organic cold-pressed virgin coconut oil by adding it to your dog’s food or mixed with yogurt and fruit as a treat. Coconut oil also has antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties which help with weight loss, digestion, fat absorption and benfits your dog’s coat and skin.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Just as coconut oil offers your dog a multitude of benefits over and above its use as brain food, omega-3 fatty acids are also a nutritional powerhouse for your dog’s body as well as its brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids such as found in fish body oil and algae oil have renowned anti-inflammatory properties. While their DHA and EPA help fight obesity, improve skin and coat condition, help fight cancer, decrease inflammation and do an amazing job in protecting against arthritis and joint problems, it’s DHA that is particularly beneficial in supporting good cognitive health.

If you don’t already supplement your dog’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids, you most certainly should now. And if ever you have another dog in the future, begin adding fish body oil (the likes of salmon oil, not cod liver oil), to its diet from day one!

Probiotics
Probiotics, aka good bacteria, aid in digestion and the absorption of nutrients by breaking down food into small enough particles to be absorbed by the bloodstream to fuel your dog’s body and to strengthen its immune system.

Probiotics in the form of natural yogurt, kefir or cottage cheese should be added regularly to any dog’s diet, but this takes on added importance to the senior dog whose digestive system might need a little help as it begins to slow down.

Since it’s never too late to start adding probiotics to your dog’s diet, please do it now. And if you want to make doubly sure you keep your senior dog’s digestive order in tip-top condition, also add a soil-based probiotic supplement. One with as many different species and as many colony forming units (CFUs) as you can find.

Taking into account the proven relationship between gut microbiota (the sum total of all the bacteria and other organisms living in your dog’s gut) and the brain, it stands to reason that any imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis) is likely to negatively impact your dog’s cognitive function.

To that end, I recommend adding a good quality soil-based probiotic to your senior dog’s diet. Soil-based probiotics contain bacteria found in the soil. In the past, dogs would have ingested such beneficial bacteria by rooting around in soil, burying and in turn digging up bones. Today however, few dogs have the opportunity to root around in soil as once they did.

In order to improve your dog’s gut microbiota and in turn reduce any inflammation that might be in the brain or elsewhere in its body, add a soil-based probiotic for good measure.

Phosphatidylserine
Phosphatidylserine is a class of lipid, a type of fat made up of two fatty acids, which covers and protects the cells of the brain and carries signals between them. Animal studies suggest that the level of phosphatidylserine in the brain decreases with age. It was once supplemented with bovine cortex (the brain cells of cattle), but this practice was discontinued following the discovery of mad cow disease.

Scientists have now created a synthetic form of phosphatidylserine using soy lecithin or cabbage which is said to prevent cognitive decline. Further studies are required, but a supplement for dogs is available which is said to be effective in preventing memory loss.

There are however a number of natural sources of phosphatidylserine, one of which is sunflower seeds. Nutrient-rich sunflower seeds contain some of the healthiest fats known to man. Since sunflower seeds are healthy for your dog, I recommend adding a healthy helping of freshly ground sunflower seeds to your senior dog’s food on a daily basis.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)
Another chemical compound known to benefit liver function together with the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and that may also benefit canine cognitive dysfunction sufferers is SAMe. S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe for short) is a naturally occurring compound normally found in virtually every tissue of the body. SAMe is not found in food so would need to be supplemented if required.

Were you aware that the senior dog has special dietary requirements that can help it remain happy and healthy well into old age?

Resveratrol
Although clinical trials may be limited, there is currently considerable interest in the root of a plant that, in the UK and many other parts of the world, is an invasive species with an almost unrivaled reputation in the ‘impossible to get rid of’ department.

Japanese Knotweed was introduced into the UK in Victorian times by German Botanist Phillipp Franz Von Siebold to cultivate and sell as an ornamental plant to wealthy clients attracted by its fashionably shaped leaves. Unknown to anyone at the time save perhaps the peoples of its native East Asia, the roots of the Japanese Knotweed contain a natural polyphenol known as resveratrol. If you’re unfamiliar with this substance, it’s this which gives red wine its health giving and longevity reputation.

Evidence suggests that not only is resveratrol beneficial to dogs suffering from cancer and Lyme disease, its antioxidant properties may also benefit senior dogs suffering from the early stages of canine cognitive dysfunction. At present there is little more than anecdotal evidence as to its benefit to senior dogs, but that’s where a lot of our knowledge of canine nutrition comes from. It comes from dog nutritionists like myself and from enthusiastic breeders and pet parents willing to research and then trial prospective beneficial ingredients and then record their findings for others to benefit from.

Despite the current lack of scientific data to the effectiveness of Japanese Knotweed root, resveratrol is a proven winner in the health department. Since dogs can’t have grapes or red wine, I for one am happy to promote the dried root of Fallopia japonica/Polygonum cuspidatum as a viable alternative source of resveratrol to the diet of the senior dog.

Essential fatty acids
As the term implies, essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats which are ‘essential’ to the wellbeing of your dog. Dogs cannot make essential fatty acids themselves and they cannot do without them because they are involved, one way or another, with virtually every biological process. Every bodily function from regulating the immune system to maintaining a healthy heart. From cancer prevention and diabetes control to protection against arthritis and joint problems. Improved skin and coat condition, epilepsy reduction and inflammation reduction and control. But key amongst those benefits from the point of view of your senior dog is optimal functioning of the cell membranes in the brain resulting in improved cognitive function. Protection against canine congnitive dysfunction.

All fats are made of fatty acids, but not all fatty acids are essential fatty acids. So what purpose do they serve? Fats act as fuel. Fats provide a dog with energy. When a dog exercises or plays, for example, the very first thing he or she will use for energy is those fats. That’s one of the reason fats are so important. Fats contain twice as many calories as carbohydrates or protein. In other words, they provide twice as much energy. Fats also enhance the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. None of these can be synthesized by your dog’s body because they’re fat-soluble vitamins. In other words, they can only be dissolved in fats or oils.

Dogs are not like human beings. For the likes of you and I, there are good fats (unsaturated fats) and bad fats (saturated fats). In humans, saturated fats are responsible for high cholesterol and heart disease amongst other things. In the world of dogs however, no fats are bad fats. Dogs just shouldn’t eat too much animal fat (saturated fat) because they’re likely to gain excess weight, which in itself carries numerous health risks of course.

There are numerous dog-friendly sources of healthy fats – omega-3 and omega-6. Many of them are plant-based. Hemp seeds and hemp seed oil, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil for example. Then there’s safflower oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and coconut oil. They’re all good canine-safe, plant-based sources of essential fatty acids for dogs.

Fish body oil and oily fish themselves are of course excellent sources of EFAs. Fish such as sardines, herring, mackerel and salmon are particularly good for dogs

Importantly, all the above are so much better than any synthetic essential fatty acid supplements. So before asking your vet to prescribe synthetic EFA’s or buying them online because marketing man has made the packaging look appealing, take a look at what Mother Nature has provided for our dogs. After all, she was providing natural remedies for man’s best friend for thousands of years before man-made supplements were even thought of!

Curcumin
In their excellent book The Forever Dog, Dr Karen Becker and Rodney Habib refer to curcumin as “the Swiss Army knife of supplements” and with good reason. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties par excellence. It’s a powerful antioxidant rich in vitamins and minerals. It can help with anxiety, arthritis and join pain. It’s a potent weapon against canine cancer and, particularly in this case, its of huge benefit in the battle against neurodegenerative disorders such as canine cognitive dysfunction.

In case you didn’t already know it, the most famous source of curcumin is turmeric. Either grate a little fresh turmeric onto your dog’s food twice a day, or add 1mg of dried turmeric per kilo of your dog’s body weight to its food twice a day.

And if you’re reading this and you have a younger dog? For its many anti-inflammatory benefits, start adding turmeric to your dog’s diet every day for life. It’s one of those supplements you can’t ever start soon enough, no matter how old your pup!

Carnosine
Carnosine, also known as L-carnosine, is a substance naturally produced in small quantities in the body. It’s made from two amino acids, two of the building blocks of protein, alanine and histidine.

Food sources for carnosine include meats such as beef, chicken, pork and turkey, together with other animal products such as eggs, milk and cheese, but only in tiny amounts. It can also be found in fish such as salmon.

While you could give your dog carnosine in supplement form, I personally prefer to give my dogs one of the best sources of natural carnosine, muscle meat. Add heart, liver and kidney to your senior dog’s diet in addition to normal skeletal muscle meat.

Fisetin
While some scientists are focusing their attention on developing drugs to counteract zombie cells, there is a natural plant compound known to reduce the level of damaged zombie cells in the body. Called fisetin, it’s a polyphenol credited with providing the yellow/ochre colouring agent to certain fruits and vegetables.

Studies show that fisetin has the capability of extending the life of flies, mice, worms and yeast. It has also demonstrated anti-cancer properties with the ability to reduce age-related conditions such as cognitive dysfunction. Early studies suggest this plant compound could be similarly beneficial to humans and by inference, dogs, with whom we human beings share the larger part of our DNA.

As luck would have it, many fisetin-rich plants are perfectly safe for your best friend to eat and enjoy. These include, in order of their richness in fisetin, strawberries (light-years ahead of the other fruits on the list), apples, persimmons, kiwifruit, peaches, cucumber and tomatoes.

Your dog’s diet is the key to combating age-related diseases such as canine cognitive dysfunction. A fresh food diet rich in antioxidants such as fisetin is likely to be immeasurably more effective than any synthetic drug in halting cognitive decline!

Milk thistle
While milk thistle is perhaps better known for its cancer-fighting properties and as a natural support for the liver, studies also show that milk thistle’s silibinin can help protect against cognitive decline brought about by oxidative damage.

Garlic
For years we’ve been hearing about how bad garlic is for dogs because, like onions, it’s a member of the Allium family. Well, guess what? Turns out garlic, fresh garlic that is, is hugely beneficial for man’s best friend in just the same way that it’s health-giving for humans.

Garlic contains a compound called allicin which is known to be beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Its considerable antioxidant properties also make it beneficial in combating neurodegenerative diseases such as canine cognitive dysfunction.

The one caveat with the use of garlic is that it should always be fresh. No garlic supplements of any kind for your constant canine companion please. As for quantity, start by adding small amounts of freshly chopped garlic to your dog’s food bowl at the point of serving, building up to: 9-11kg – 1/8 clove, 11-22kg – 1/4 clove, 22-34kg – 3/4 clove, 46kg+ – 1 clove.

Some experts say you can safely feed your dog far greater quantities of fresh garlic, but these quanities should be well within safe limits.

Medicinal mushrooms
Scientific studies show that medicinal mushrooms can help protect the brain from degenerative diseases such as canine cognitive dysfunction. The most effective of these are said to be lion’s mane, reishi, cordyceps and chaga mushrooms.

But there’s a lot more to ‘shrooms than that. Mushrooms are an excellent prebiotic, a form of dietary fibre that feed the good bacteria in the gut. They’re also known to increase longevity. And while medicinal mushrooms stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of benefits, it seems that all edible mushrooms have much to offer.

They also boost the immune system, help control inflammation, have the ability to reduce appetite in overweight dogs, and have cancer fighting properties. Importantly with mushrooms, they each offer their own medicinal benefits. Turkey tail and chaga mushrooms are said to be best at fighting cancer, while lion’s mane are said to nourishing the central nervous system. Lion’s mane, reishi, cordyceps and chaga mushrooms, as already know, are best at protecting the brain from degenerative diseases, while reishi mushrooms are known as the mushroom of immortality, with a usage dating back more than 4,000 years. And don’t knock the porcini, grey and yellow oyster mushrooms either. Even the humble button mushroom has plenty to off your dog!

I recommend adding a medicinal mushroom complex to your senior dog’s diet. A blend of different medicinal mushrooms in capsule form to give your dog the widest possible benefits. Top this up by regularly adding fresh mushrooms as often as you can. And don’t worry about buying mushrooms for dogs. A human mushroom blend for humans will be just fine for your dog!

Pomegranate
Pomegranate might seem a strange choice of food for a dog. It’s hard to imagine a dog sitting down and tucking into a juicy pomegranate out of choice. But this rather exotic fruit has rather a lot to offer your dog in terms of health benefits. Particularly your senior dog. And while some of us have been giving our dogs pomegrante seeds for years, it turns out we might have been throwing away the most nutritious part of the fruit. The peel!

A study carried out at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in Izatnagar concluded that pomegranate peel extract (PPE), had a positive effect on canine gut health. Numerous other studies suggest it has positive heart and cognitive health benefits likely to benefit the senior dog in particular. Rich in antixoidants, it is said to be beneficial in fighting inflammation as well as being able to limit the growth of certain types of cancer cell.

CBD oil
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about its use in canine or for human health, the supplemental use of CBD oil is a controversial subject. Some say it works, some say it doesn’t work. Some say its benefits have been proven, others say its benefits are apocryphal. What is for certain is that its use is becoming more widespread, and for some at least, it seems to work.

Cannabidiol (CBD oil) is a product derived from cannabis. Despite the fact that it is derived from the marijuana plant, CBD does not create an intoxicating effect because the cannabinoid that causes that effect, THC, has been removed from the product.

Natural treatment

While there is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction, there are two proven therapeutic forms of symptom masking that are within your control. Exercise, play and learning, and dietary intervention to improve cell membrane health.

Exercise

There’s a saying I have been using since long before I can remember. Movement is exercise. Now I appreciate that, strictly speaking, the two are different, that while exercise is movement, not all movement is considered exercise. But from the point of view of your senior dog, they amount to one and the same thing. Use it or lose it!

Daily movement therapy
Your dog may not know it’s in its twilight years. That is something this particular canine nutritionist very much hopes and prays to be the case anyway. And it may not experience depression in the way that you and I do. But there’s no doubt that man’s best friend is capable of displaying signs of sadness similar to the human emotion of depression. And just as it’s long been established that regular exercise can boost the morale when human beings are depressed, it can unquestionably do the same for your senior dog.

The amount and type of exercise your dog is capable of very much depends on its age, its body and its personality. As a general rule of thumb though, most experts agree that a senior dog should walk at least 30 and ideally 60 minutes a day in order to keep joints and muscles in reasonable working order.

Sadly (and generally totally unnecessarily), many dogs display signs of mobility issues very often from middle age onwards. So by the time they reach their senior years they are particularly arthritic and capable only of much more limited exercise. Nonetheless walking remains good physical and mental exercise even for the most arthritic dog, and if yours is only capable of shorter walks, try and encourage two or three 15-minute walks a day. Just make sure you go at your dog’s pace and don’t make it do more than it wants to do. Allow it to rest when necessary.

The following should apply to almost all senior dogs:

Don’t stop walking. Your senior dog may no longer be able to cope with long walks, but just having the opportunity to stretch its legs and to spend time sniffing outdoors simply being a dog is hugely psychologically beneficial.

Keep it regular, keep it gentle. Keep your dog’s exercise both regular and gentle. Little and often is better than fast, furious and fleeting. Regular, gentle exercise is far less stressful on arthritic joints and aching muscles. This will help keep your senior dog active for longer.

Be mindful of the weather. Your dog may have been an all-weather dog in its heyday, but older dogs don’t do well in extreme conditions. Don’t walk your senior dog when it’s too hot, and if it’s cold, particularly if it’s a breed that traditionally feels the cold anyway, invest in a dog jacket for it.

Keep it familiar. Familiarity might bring contempt in many cases, but not where your senior dog is concerned. As we age, we all of us are comforted by familiar surroundings. With places we know, with sights, sounds and smells we are familiar with. In the case of your dog, this especially applies to the placement of things where he or she expects to find them. This could be exceptionally important if your dog starts to lose its spacial awareness.

So keep to familiar routes when walking as this will stop your dog from becoming anxious and confused. Similarly around the house, don’t go moving furniture around and placing objects in unfamiliar places where your dog can walk into them. This again is just going to cause your dog extra stress.

And be aware too of making sudden movements or putting your dog in a situation where it can be taken unaware and startled by the sudden movements of other things such as cars and cyclists. If you can’t avoid a situation, distract your dog with treats or comfort.

Bring the outdoors indoors. Your dog might be old, the weather might not be suitable (too hot, too cold, too wet), but that doesn’t stop your dog needing exercise, or, at the very least, mental stimulation. It’s an established fact that dogs tire more easily with mental stimulation than physical exercise. So indoor games like hide the treat provide both physical exercise and mental stimulation and allow your senior dog to go at its own pace.

Puzzle toys too are a great idea. There’s plenty of these on the market or you could even make your own. It’s surprising what you can do with a cardboard box, a couple of loo roll inserts and a bag of dog treats!

Time-restricted feeding

The theory of time-restricted eating (TRE), that of creating an optimimum eating window, tells us that when we eat is just as important as what we eat. Those two things alone are said to be the most important factors in determing both lifespan and healthspan, the period of life during which we can expect to remain healthy.

This scientific theory applies to all animals, including dogs and human beings. So if modern science is correct, and this is very modern science, the healthiest way to feed your senior dog is by creating a defined eating window. An ‘optimum feeding window’ if you like. A defined window within which you feed your dog which, by implication, means there is also a defined period during the day when you don’t feed your dog!

According to Dr Emily Manoogian of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, the benefits are profound. They include improved digestion, better heart health, improved hormone balance, reduced depression, improved energy levels, reduced risks for cancer, reduced inflammation, reduced body fat, reduced hypertension, improved motor coordination, reduced gut distress, increased resilience, improved blood glucose, improved muscle function, increased longevity, reduced infection severity, improved brain health, improved sleep, reduced risk for dementia, reduced anxiety and improved alertness. There’s clearly a consideral benefit to both ourselves and man’s best friend in eating and feeding within a restricted feeding window!

The optimum feeding window for both humans and dogs is said to be eight to twelve hours. Studies involving mice carried out at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, found that mice fed within an eight to twelve hour window live longer than mice with unrestricted access to food 24 hours a day. The message then is clear. For any dog, and especially for a senior dog, one of the ways to improved health and longevity is with time restricted feeding.

Summary

One of the most unfortunate aspects of canine cognitive dysfunction is that the better you feed your dog throughout its life, the better you care for it, the more likely you are to witness this distressing period in a dog’s life.

Relatively few dogs reach old age today. Largely due to highly-processed commercial dog food and questionable veterinary practices such as over vaccination, dogs are living shorter, unhealthier lives than at any time in history. This means that the average dog is more likely to succumb to cancer or liver failure than it is to reach a point where it is likely to suffer from canine senile dementia.

So in a way, if you have gotten this far, you should be congratulated for at least helping your best friend reach old age…

Alternatively, if you would prefer a one-to-one consultation for your best friend, I would be more than happy to help with your dog’s canine cognitive dysfunction. Please contact me if I can help.

Gerald Pepin

Gerald Pepin

Canine Nutritionist

Gerald Pepin is a qualified canine nutritionist, writer, speaker and homemade dog food advocate. Gerald believes that good nutrition can improve or cure most canine health problems and that the natural way is always the best way when it comes to healing man's best friend. A life-long lover of German Shepherds, Gerald and his wife The Dog Chef have two GSDs and live in rural Somerset.

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Homemade Dog Food Recipes

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4 out of 5 dog health problems can be cured or improved purely with a healthier diet. No vet intervention, no expensive medication, just fresh food.

When it's been scientifically proven that fresh food is healthier and life expectancy greater, why would you feed your best friend anything else?

Homemade Dog Food Recipes

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