Can a special diet improve your dog or cat’s brain function as he ages?
According to studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2010 and 2012, nutrients called medium-chain triglycerides as well as nutrient blends containing fish oil, B vitamins, antioxidants and arginine can provide an energy boost to the brain. The studies showed that adding them to foods helped support and maintain brain function in the areas of memory, social interaction, and learning ability.
To get a handle on how the researchers came to their conclusions, I spoke to lead author and senior research scientist Yuanlong Pan at Nestle Research Center in St. Louis, Missouri, and Janet Jackson, vice president and director at Nestle Purina PetCare Nutrition Research.
The brain needs a constant supply of energy to function effectively. Pan says the brain’s ability to use glucose — which it needs to power all those brain cells — declines with age. In humans and animals, learning and memory ability start to deteriorate around middle age. I can sure testify to that!
In dogs, the researchers found that medium-chain triglycerides, which are found in botanical oils such as coconut oil, were easily metabolized and used by the brain cells.
For cats, the nutrient blend used ingredients that were thought to reduce or eliminate the risk factors associated with brain aging and dementia. Arginine, an essential amino acid, helps with blood flow; omega-3s provide DHA and reduce inflammation; antioxidants contribute to healthy cell membranes; and B vitamins aid metabolism, Jackson says.
To test whether the substances really helped, dogs and cats were evaluated on such things as short-term memory and ability to use a landmark to find a treat. They found the dogs supplemented with MCTs and the cats supplemented with the nutrient blend had significantly better performance than those in the control group.
“We’ve done work with pet owners, and to see those visible changes that occur in [pets’] attention span, in their memory, their activity, that’s been very rewarding,” Jackson says.
If you’re concerned about cognitive decline as your pet enters middle age or the senior years, ask your veterinarian about foods formulated to support brain function. You may find yourself living with a pet who has a renewed love of life!
Tell me: Would you feed your dog or cat a food that would enhance his brain health?