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DOG Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) – and how meat might prevent senility

Lovely blitz dog rip 2014

Do you have a young dog you want to keep happy and healthy as long as possible? Or do you have an older dog that you want to prevent getting senility? Did you know that adding more meat in their diet might be the major way to do that?

  • We look at what mental decline older dogs can experience.
  • What DOG Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) actually is
  • What food ingredients can naturally prevent or neutralize these incredibly bad effects.

Its amazing how much our dogs can love us, and how much we do for our pets, but often their brain is one of the most neglected organs that we try and improve or prevent deterioration. That is, we often rely on major food companies to tweak a few extra trace elements in their kibble and leave it at that.

I was amazed recently when I delved into the topic of Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) that tends to affect older dogs, and how many owners accept this disease, misguidedly as a ‘natural’ part of dog ageing. But misdiagnosis or complacency often means a dog’s decline can lead to rapid brain function decline, and even euthanasia.

“Cognitive (DOG) functions include the mental processes of perception, awareness, learning, and memory, which allow an individual to acquire information about the environment and decide how to act. “  ref 1

“ Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a neurobehavioral disorder affecting geriatric dogs and cats that is characterized by an age-related decline in cognitive abilities sufficient to affect functioning, with behaviour changes that are not attributable to other medical conditions.” Ref1

The authors of the research paper this information is taken from stress that it is very different from medical issues causing the brain to atrophy, and early intervention can reverse or at least stabilise much of a dog’s mental decline.

If you were wondering how concerned you should be – here are the alarming statistics:

“The prevalence of CDS in dogs is extremely high, ranging from 28% in 11- to 12-year-old dogs to 68% in 15- to 16-year-old dogs.1 … CDS in cats was 36% in a population of 11- to 21-year-old cats.” Ref 1

Two ascertain if a dog’s mental confusion is medical related (organ issues, tumours on spinal chord etc) or an issue of CDS (diminished brain function) –  an initial checklist for CDS possible signs are often used.  These signs in senior dogs are things such as:

  • disorientation
  • avoidance or major changes in social interactions with humans and other animals
  • sleep–wake cycle changes,
  • house soiling,
  • and changes in activity levels.
  • Locomotor and exploratory behaviours.
  • aged dogs might spend more time near a mirror suggesting a deficit in habituation to the reflection of a dog image

The causes of dog CDS

As CDS is a brain related decline, it has been found that it is actually brain death by oxidation that does the major damage.

“The brain consumes 20% of the body’s total oxygen. Its high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids and lower levels of endogenous antioxidant activity make it very susceptible to oxidative damage. Cellular metabolic processes release reactive oxygen species, which can lead to oxidative damage to proteins, lipids, DNA, and RNA, resulting in neuronal death. Normally, the activity of endogenous antioxidants balances the production of toxic free radicals. However, protective mechanisms begin to fail with age. Oxidative damage is associated with cognitive decline in dogs.” Ref1

Physiologically a dog with severe CDS will have lost a lot of brain mass and atrophy of cerebral cortex and basal ganglia.  They don’t get this back by any treatment – however there are standard chemicals you can provide to your dog to slow or prevent much of the decline. See below.

Technically, humans with severe dementia or Alzheimer’s can have the same damage.  Specifically, “reduction in the number of neurons, generalized gliosis, degeneration of white matter, demyelination, neuroaxonal degeneration, increases in ventricular size, meningeal fibrosis and calcification, and the presence of β-amyloid (Aβ) plaques. Functional changes include depletion of catecholamine neurotransmitters (norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine), a decline in the cholinergic system, an increase in monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) activity, and a reduction of endogenous antioxidants.” Ref 1

In both diseases, the aged brain develops an abnormal Aβ deposition in brain parenchyma and the walls of the cerebral blood vessels. Aβ is a protein produced by the degradation of amyloid precursor protein. The prefrontal cortex is the first area affected, followed by the temporal cortex, the hippocampus, and the occipital cortex. Regardless of position, the amount and extent of Aβ deposits correlate with the severity of cognitive impairment.”  Ref 1

So that is the bad news. And in the past, there was very little that humans or dogs could do to stop the brain rot. Brain decline used to be thought to just be an issue of genetics, or just general ageing – but the last decade has uncovered extremely simple and common NUTRIENTS that can prevent much of this CDS caused brain decline in older dogs having such a major effect.

There are a lot of behavioural therapies, that include off lead dog walking (one of my favourites that my dog gets pretty much every day of the week.  But lets look at what they call Nutritional intervention –  what you can add to their diet, to safeguard them against such a debilitating disease.

NATURAL FOOD NUTRITION to prevent CDS in your older dog

max and Archie dog 2013 They say “Diets containing antioxidants, mitochondrial cofactors, phosphatidylserine, and omega-3 fatty acids have proven beneficial for geriatric patients. “  ref 1

We will look at what effect each of these classes of chemicals have, and how you can easily get them into your dog!

1   Antioxidants

As the introduction on CDS suggested getting rid of bad FREE radicals in the dog’s body is a major goal. No free radicals, then low oxidation of the brain and its interfaces etc.

Part one of the food list includes mostly vegetable matter: “flaxseed, carrots, spinach, citrus pulp, tomato pomace, grape pomace,” ref 1.  And these are often included in dog kibble in small amounts.  The issue with feeding these in LARGE doses, is that any fruit of vegetable with substantial carbs in them, means adding substantial energy to the diet, and the need to reduce other components – often meat being the things negligently sacrificed.

α-lipoic acid, (Alpha-lipoic acid ) is an antioxidant made by the dogs body. It is found in every cell, where it helps turn glucose into energy.

red meat and organ meats are good sources of alpha-lipoic acid. Vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, spinach also have it.  But if your dog has a very low level of meat in its diet, it makes sense in adding more meat and Alpha-lipoic acid, not more carbs !

OTHER major common anti oxidants are: vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B12, pyridoxine (Vitamin B6),

The above chemicals are mostly VITAMINS.  Aafco dictates the minimum level of minerals and vitamins required to be in dog food, for it to be legally called Complete and balanced.  And the level that they recommend is already higher than just about ANY known natural source.

Noting care must be taken with adding ANY fat-soluble based vitamin such as vitamin E, as this can accumulate in a dogs liver


choline (this is a organic, water-soluble compound recommended by aafco as 1360 mg/ Kg) , MEAT is high in this chemical.

l-lysine, (an essential amino acid)  l-tryptophan (an essential amino acid) , l-carnitine,( an amino acid derivative that transports fatty acids into your cells to be processed for energy.)  and β-carotene (pigment found in plants)

Out of the 22 amino acids that comprise protein, NINE are classed as an “essential amino acids” – one that CANT be made by a dog’s body, so must be obtained by food.  MEAT is the most bio available form of protein AND so the best source of these essential amino acids

, l-carnitine can be created inside of a dog’s body from the non-essential amino acids (protein) they eat.  β-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A (ie can make vitamin A) it comes from carrots; dark-green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and green leaf lettuce; sweet potatoes. Since commercial dog food includes sufficient Vitamin A, one of its main uses in dog food is as a powerful anti-oxidant.

2  Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) for dogs

MCTs are fats usually created from coconut, palm kernel oils and dairy products. There are mostly used to assist weight loss, athletic performance, seizures, and to thwart Alzheimer disease. MCTs are said to reduce levels of Aβ deposits in the brain and improve mitochondrial function. This is why they can help prevent dog cognitive decline:

“Glucose (a specific sugar usually in our bloodstream) is the main energy source of neurons. However, glucose metabolism is reduced with aging. Other energy sources, such as ketone bodies, may be needed to maintain neuronal metabolism. Dietary medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) can increase the levels of ketones in the blood, which can be used as an alternate energy source for cerebral functioning. Fatty acids derived from MCTs could provide up to 20% of the brain’s energy requirements.” Ref 1

In other words, an older dog’s brain cells might be starved of energy that MCTs might help provide  – as dead neurons typically are not replaced.  Adding MCT, is just covering all the bases for a dog showing signs of mental decline.

In tests they have seen that “Dogs given a diet supplemented with 5.5% MCT for 8 months showed significantly better performance on cognitive tasks than control dog” ref 1

The difference in fats that dogs consume for health is that MCTs or medium length chain fats, contain 6–12 carbon atoms, whereas most dietary GOOD sources of fat, such as fish, nuts  olive oil etc, are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs).

Fat has two and a half times the energy of protein or carbs, and we recommend adding Omega 3 from salmon oil, or fish and roo treats already for skin conditions and brain and heart health.  coconut oil has an MCT content of about 54% which is great, but if you are going to use it with your dog, ensure that you are still using animal Omega 3.

3 Phosphatidylserine for your dog

Cell membranes are primarily made up of phospholipids, the most abundant one being Phosphatidylcholine (PC).

This is another chemical you may never have heard of, but is found in some easily obtainable foods your dog will love.

“Phosphatidylserine is a natural phospholipid in cell membranes and is found at high concentrations in the brain and at synapses. It facilitates membrane-dependent neuronal processes; enhances acetylcholine release; inhibits loss of muscarinic receptors; activates synthesis and release of dopamine; and may improve memory, learning, and social behavior in dogs and cats”  ref 1

Some sources suggest Phosphatidylserine  is found mainly in soy, white beans, egg yolks, chicken liver, and beef liver.

But search a little more and we find that Phosphatidylserine is found in many meats and fish. Only small amounts are found in dairy products and vegetables, with the exception of white beans and soy lecithin.

The normal dosage of PC for the dog and cat ranges between 0.5 & 1.0 mg/Lb.

Since we mainly provide meat sources, let’s look at the amount of PC in red meat and beef liver (OFFAL).

  • Chicken heart  404  mg/ 100g
  • Offal (average value)   305  mg / 100g
  • Tuna  194 mg/ 100g
  • Chicken liver  123  mg / 100g
  • Chicken breast, with skin   85 mg / 100g
  • Beef meat  69 mg / 100g

A quick tip: while we sell beef liver dog treats, I also use it daily with the dog pack I walk, and it’s the world’s number one training treat.  Besides being super economical, it is also high in: Zinc (immune system). Iron (for hemoglobin production), Copper (energy creation), Phosphorus (bone and tooth formation), Selenium (metabolism.)

If you daily feed your dog beef liver dried dog treats, you are already covered for older age and its value of Phosphatidylcholine inclusion.

4   S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAMe) and dogs

SAMe is a compound found naturally in the body.

SAMe helps produce and regulate hormones and maintain cell membranes, and like many of the chemicals required to keep the brain well, this chemical diminishes in older dogs.

“S-Adenosyl-l-methionine (SAMe) is an endogenous molecule synthesized by the liver and other cells throughout body and formed from the amino acid methionine. SAMe is essential for the major biochemical pathways and metabolic reactions in the liver. Exogenous SAMe increases endogenous production of the antioxidant glutathione, resulting in increased serotonin turnover and increased dopamine and norepinephrine levels.“  ref 1

To recap, SAMe is made in the body from methionine (one of the NINE essential amino acids).  And again, it’s worth noting that meat is high in bio available (to dogs) and hence high in methionine, the precursor to SAMe.

SAMe can also be created in a dog’s body via homocysteine and folate.   Noting that Homocysteine is a non-essential amino acid formed from methionine.

In SAMe tests of dogs with cognitive impairment –  they were given 18 mg/kg SAMe tosylate for 2 months. They showed” significantly greater improvement in activity and awareness at 4 weeks and 8 weeks compared with placebo-treated dogs/”  ref 1


Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a major cause of dementia in dogs.  It wrecks the quality of their and your life, and if a dog is genetically predisposed towards getting this syndrome as they age, there are several common chemicals that they might already eat, on a meat based diet that can dramatically assist in their brain staying well.

Much of the CDS cause can be attributed to oxidative damage hence why anti-oxidants like blueberries are often added to dog food. Even flaxseed can be used (though its not as useful as Animal based omega 3 for the very necessary essential fatty acid.

Aafco mandated vitamins also have a part to play in helping with CDS, but you can also subsidise vitamins as long as you don’t go beyond the fat soluble maximum limits.

l-lysine, l-tryptophan and methionine are just three of the NINE essential amino acids that are highest and most available in meat products (and hence meat dog treats) that can play a crucial part in reducing brain issues.

Aafco guidelines for dog food only require 18% Protein (FROM ANY SOURCE).  This is an extremely low value. And even though many commercial dog foods might have up to 30% meat to reach this low protein minimum …   THIS is the main source of amino acids that your dog will get.

Raw fed dogs often get up to 80% meat in their diet, meaning that they will receive ample amounts of the NINE essential amino acids that Cant be created inside of the dogs body (ie have to be obtained from food sources).

If you don’t feed this kind of level of meat in your dogs daily diet, supplementing with 100% single ingredient MEAT dried dog treats, are an exceptional idea.  And as we now know, even vital for brain health in middle aged and older dogs.

Phosphatidylserine that is important for forming cell membranes in the brain, and is naturally very high in beef liver (as well as red meat and chicken).  ANOTHER reason to include more meat in your dogs diet.

You can buy dog food that is said to enhance older dog brains, or vet prescribed laboratory based formulations, but as you can see so many natural foods, often meat based also provide a lot of that help.

If you are keen on more information on keeping a dogs brain in good shape,  we also created this article on dog brain ageing


Ref 1    Management of Dogs and Cats With Cognitive Dysfunction   August 4, 2017 |   Lynne Seibert  DVM, MS, PhD, DACVB

Ref 2    Phosphatidylcholine   drbillspetnutrition  website

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