Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a gradual neurological degenerative disorder of senior dogs that is often compared to dementia, senility and even Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Over time, CDS impacts cognition, or the mental abilities and processes involved in knowledge, memory, judgment and problem solving.

Cognitive decline in dogs is typically manifested as behavioural changes in one or more of the following categories:

  • Disorientation in the home or yard
  • Changes in social interactions with family members
  • Disruption in sleep patterns
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Decreased levels of activity

The general treatment goals for CDS are to slow down the rate of cognitive decline and to relieve any pain or distress associated with changes in physical and/or mental status. Traditionally, CDS has been treated with a combination of medications (Selegiline) and oral supplements. Recently, several studies have indicated that nutrition plays a pivotal role in helping to combat this syndrome.

There are three major nutritional components that have been identified as crucial in supporting cognitive health in dogs.

Anti-Oxidants & Free Radicals

Aging in most animals is accompanied by the progressive accumulation of oxidative (or free radical) damage to body tissue, including brain tissue. As cells age, the mitochondria, which is the part of a cell that is responsible for releasing energy from molecules in food, begin to increase the release of free radicals. Large amounts of free radicals can cause damage in older dogs’ brain tissue, which can contribute to cognitive dysfunction and brain lesions.

Anti-oxidants work by decreasing the effects of free radicals in body tissue. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are the two most important anti-oxidants that have been found to inactivate free radicals and prevent cellular damage. Flavonoids and carotenoids, which are molecules commonly found in fruits and vegetables, have also been identified to aid in neutralizing damaging free radicals. Studies have found that when dogs suffering from CDS are fed an anti-oxidant-fortified diet, they display up to a 61% increase in enthusiasm in greeting family members and a whopping 74% reduction in housesoiling accidents.

Fatty Acids

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA) are fatty acids that are naturally found in high concentrations in the brain. These fatty acids aid in maintaining brain cell health and brain connectivity by maintaining strong cellular membranes and promoting healthy blood flow to brain tissue. Several studies have found that diets rich in fatty acids, in combination with anti-oxidants, can delay or partially reverse age-related deteriorations in learning.

Medium Chain Triglycerides

Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are a common nutrient that is found in vegetable oils. As a dog’s brain ages, the tissue starts to have a hard time obtaining energy from traditional sources like glucose (sugar). When this occurs, brain tissue does not receive adequate nutrition to maintain optimal cognitive function. MCT serve as an alternative energy source for brain tissue. Studies have found that dogs fed a diet high in MCT display improved memory, attention and learning abilities in comparison to dogs fed a diet not containing MCT.

peutic veterinary diets that contain these essential nutritional components. If you have any concerns regarding behavioural changes in your older dogs, be sure to bring them to your regular veterinarian for proper assessment, diagnosis and treatment. With many advances over the past 10 years, we are able to give our beloved companions longer and happier lives in spite of the effects of CDS


Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON.


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