How To Support Your Dog’s Brain Health

The brain; that all important organ each and every one of us, and our pets, has! It controls everything in the body, whether it’s thoughts, memory, touch sensitivity, emotions, coordination, temperature regulation, endocrine (hormone) regulation, or any other process in the body. The brain is so important, and keeping it healthy should be every pet owner’s mission! But how do we do that? Find out in this blog post, how to keep the brain healthy!

Changes Through Life Stages

From teeny puppy, to elderly senior dog, your dog’s brain goes through many changes! As a newborn, your puppy will immediately know what to do when it comes to feeding –  this is because the behaviour is instinctive – meaning they’re born automatically knowing how to feed, breathe, move, vocalise etc. Their eyes and ears are completely shut for the first two to three weeks, so instinct goes a long way! A puppy’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 2 years! As your puppy reaches 4 to 5 weeks, the next 8 or so weeks are absolutely crucial in socialisation and cognitive development. Many reputable breeders use a socialisation scheme called Puppy Culture, which is a socialisation structure to ensure your puppy gets the best socialisation and is comfortable in all new experiences they may come across in life! This cognitive stage is one of the most important times to focus on brain health.

As your puppy reaches 6-12 months, hormones start to come into play. The brain is a huge producer of many hormones, so brain health during this stage, called ‘adolescence’, is extremely important. During this stage, you may find your puppy’s behaviour relapses a little, and you may find they become anxious in some situations. It is important to feed and supplement to aid brain health during these stages, and also take your training regime back to puppy basics. Keep reading to find out about diet and supplements for brain health!

During adulthood, your dog’s brain health can massively dictate it’s typical mental state, how full his or her ‘anxiety bucket’ is, and how low the baseline of that bucket is – ie, their threshold of tolerance in some situations. The ‘anxiety bucket’ is a great way to look at a dog’s brain when it comes to tolerance – those with poorer brain health will have a higher baseline  – think of a bucket. An empty bucket is a good sign – it means the dog is level headed, calm and happy. The bucket of a dog with poor brain health, will have material in the bottom of it, making less space for emotions to fit in it. Every trigger, or negative stimuli the dog experiences, adds into the bucket – when the bucket is full, the dog reacts. This is called Trigger Stacking. Those with poor brain health will fill their bucket quicker than those with good brain health (and more room in the bucket to start with!).

As your dog reaches his or her senior years, and progresses through them, the brain health can begin to decline, just as it can in humans. As the dog ages, the body often starts to produce proteins known as Beta-Amyloids, which leave deposits on the brain. These deposits left on the brain cause nerve destruction, and leaves plaque in the brain, which hinders cognitive health. Plaque being present in the brain reduces the production of the all important neurotransmitters, which are the ‘messengers’ involved in almost every bodily process.

As you can see, brain health should be a focus of all pet owners, throughout their pet’s life.

What Causes Poor Brain Health?

There are a number of reasons a dog may have poor brain health, so let’s take a look at them!

  • Genetics can have a huge affect on brain health. If brain health is poor due to medical reasons along the breeding line. A genetically poor brain, will pass down through generations.

  • Stress levels during welp can have an enormous impact on brain health in puppies. If a mother dog in welp is stressed, sadly this can have an affect on the puppies’ brain health. If we think back to our bucket analogy, puppies from stressed mothers will naturally have a lower threshold for tolerance, or a higher baseline in their bucket!

  • Socialisation in the first 12 weeks of age can impact a puppy’s mental capabilities. If properly done, the puppy will be set up for a higher chance of success as it ages, if not done correctly, a lack of socialisation (new smells, sights, sounds, objects, ages of people, races in humans, transport methods, textures, and finally other dogs) can lead to poor brain health from an early age.

  • Free Radicals are oxygen atoms in the body, containing an unpaired electron in their orbit, making the molecule unstable and reactive. These unstable oxygen atoms lead to oxidative stress, which opens the body, and especially brain, up to some serious health conditions, including cancer, a rapid cognitive decline and other issues. These are most commonly found in dogs fed diets lacking antioxidants, and also in ageing dogs.

  • Inflammation in the body, especially common in those lacking omega 3 in the diet, causes inflammation on the brain, which can lead to brain disease, affecting hormone release, and production of neurotransmitters.

  • Poor gut health is another common reason a dog may have poor brain health. This may seem quite disconnected, given the gut and the brain are at complete opposite ends of the body, but the two are connected by a pathway known as the gut-brain axis. The gut is much like a roundabout, and connects to many different parts of the body, which are the roundabout ‘exits’ – one of these exits heads to the brain, and the brain back to the gut. Poor gut health affects the brain, and poor brain health affects the gut.

  • Neurotoxins in or around the pet are sadly something we see all too often in our initial consultations. Neurotoxins we commonly see used in or on pets include flea, tick and worm treatments, both oral, and spot on types, and neurotoxins often used around pets include various surface or floor cleaners, laundry products, and home fragrance products, as well as gardening products used outside both by the general public on private property, and by council contractors on public property. The world around us really is toxic, and this can massively affect our pets’ brain health. You can read more about environmental toxins in the home here, and in popular walking destinations here.

  • Unbalanced or poor diets can cause brain health to deteriorate, as they are lacking in nutrients such as B Vitamins, omega 3, and antioxidants. Those feeding dry food diets will often experience gut health issues too, which in turn reduces brain health.

  • Ageing affects brain health through often completely natural causes – as the brain ages, it’s health can decline, so it’s up to us to ensure we feed and supplement to achieve a healthy brain as possible as our pets go into their senior years.

Nutrition for Cognitive Health

When it comes to nutrition with a focus on brain health, we always recommend feeding fresh food where possible. Feeding an ultra-processed dry food diet can negatively affect brain health due to it often lacking bioavailable nutrients, omega 3, and also being drying on the gut, which as discussed, has an affect on brain health.

When feeding a fresh diet, whether that is raw or cooked, we can alter it to add in extra nutrients required for brain health, such as omega 3. Using foods rich in antioxidants, and vitamins B, C and E can massively benefit brain health, too.

Antioxidant rich foods, like blueberries, kale and raspberries help combat oxidative stress, by reducing the amount of free radicals in the body. You can read more about the benefits of blueberries here. Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant.

B Vitamins work alongside omega 3 fatty acids to produce neurotransmitters used in both the flight or fight response (Noradrenaline), and the circadian rhythm, which controls sleep patterns, mood and ability to concentrate on tasks (Dopamine). This important vitamin can be found in various meats, fish and vegetables, as well as eggs.

Findings Here

Vitamin C is particularly useful in ageing dogs, as those with canine cognitive dysfunction (the dog version of dementia) are usually found to be deficient in it. Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and broccoli are all great sources of Vitamin C.

Findings Here

Vitamin D is shown by numerous studies, to be less present in those with cognitive decline, suggesting that it is essential to reduce cognitive decline – the more vitamin D available, the better the cognitive capabilities of the dog. Oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolk are all great sources of Vitamin D.

Findings Here

Magnesium regulates receptors involved in memory, learning, and all round brain health. When these receptors become overstimulated the brain can undergo immense pressure, and lead to brain damage. Magnesium ensures the correct amount of receptors are present at all times. Magnesium can be found in abundance in green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and wheatgerm.

Findings Here

Zinc may require supplementation in your dog’s diet, as it is hugely associated with mood and cognitive function. Those with anxious or easily stressed dogs may find their dog has a zinc deficiency, and that their diet is not providing enough of it. Zinc has been shown to also enhance brain connectivity with the olfactory network – aka the scent network. Foods rich in zinc include oyster, red meat, poultry and nuts (though avoid peanuts and macadamia nuts).

Findings Here

Supplements for Cognitive Health

There are a number of supplements we can offer our dogs to benefit brain health, such as:

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: these help reduce inflammation naturally occurring in the body due to excess omega 6 being consumed as part of the natural, meat based diet. Learn how to choose the right omega supplement for your pets here.

Lion’s Mane is a type of medicinal mushroom, often referred to as the ‘smart mushroom’, as it contains beneficial compounds known to improve memory, focus, and general brain function. This incredible mushroom also contains potent antioxidants to help combat, and prevent oxidative stress.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Gingko Biloba is a plant native to China, which is often known as the ‘smart herb’. It is high in powerful antioxidants which help to fight free radicals, and aid brain health and cognitive ability.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Ashwagandha is a herb traditionally used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It is well known for its memory enhancing, and stress reducing properties, which is very important when it comes to keeping the brain healthy.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid present naturally in the membrane of brain cells. It acts as a protector for the inside of brain cells, from the environment, and sends messages between brain cells. As pets age, these important phospholipids start to deteriorate, leaving the brain vulnerable to damage.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Brahmi is another powerful herb used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. It hosts amazing benefits for the brain, such as stimulating memory and concentration. This herb is great, especially for ageing dogs, as it encourages the formation of new neural connections in the brain, and also acts as a potent antioxidant, able to reduce oxidative stress.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Turmeric is a fantastic supplement for so many reasons, brain health being one of them. The active compound in turmeric is called Curcumin. Curcumin really is a powerhouse nutrient, benefiting your dog with antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress, and omega 3 fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties to reduce inflammation on the brain. It is also suggested that Curcumin may improve memory and cognitive ability as it promotes the formation of a protein known as Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) which is responsible for growth and health of neurons.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Enrichment For Brain Health It is very important to include enrichment in your dog’s regime, to help keep the brain healthy and cognitive abilities strong. Enrichment is an absolutely fantastic way of emptying the ‘stress bucket’ we mentioned throughout this blog post, and avoid a reaction due to overstimulation and overstacking of triggers.

You can use old cardboard boxes and toilet roll tubes to hide treats in, fold treats into a towel, of buy specifically made snuffle mats, lickable mats and bowls, dog puzzle games and toys, work on some trick training, or even take your dog to a variety of different places.

Allowing the dog time to relax and rest through the use of enrichment, means there is less pressure on the brain, and the risk of free radical production through stress is reduced too!

Findings Here
Findings Here

We hope this important topic has been made simple for you to understand, and support will be easy for you to implement on your canine companions! If you feel you could use some 1 to 1  help in generally improving your dog’s brain health, please don’t hesitate to contact us! Our Optimise Packages for Cats and Dogs can help improve your pet’s lifestyle!

Team MPN x

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