Ever since Red was diagnosed almost 3 years ago, I’ve learned how many options there are to treat a dog with dementia.
When I first realised my sweet girl had dementia, (yes it was me my vet never mentioned the possibility), I was given a prescription only drug called Selgian, and told there was nothing else to treat her with. I have a fantastic vet, but he does not prescribe supplements so I took his recommendation and started her on it right away. As much as I prefer a more natural approach when possible, I will absolutely use drugs when necessary. She would wander and circle for hours without settling, I was at my wits end and didn’t even know the reason for her behaviour. I wasn’t going to say no to something that could help.
Long story short within just a few days I noticed a big difference, and haven’t looked back.
My search for more ways to help
Over time I started researching other ways to help with her doggie dementia symptoms. I did a lot of Google searches, and joined a FB group, and the amount of information I got was astounding. Supplements I had never heard of were actually helping alleviate some of the symptoms, and dog and parent could rest. Each time I found something of interest I ran it by my vet. He may not stock alternatives but he’s open to hearing about them and commenting when he can.
I wish our vets were a bigger help and support in this instance
This is not vet bashing, this is me wishing more of them had a bigger arsenal and support system when it comes to recommendations to help our dogs.
I see firsthand what a cruel disease dementia in dogs is. Of course all disease sucks (how else can I put it), but to watch your dog circling aimlessly, stuck behind a door, staring blankly at a cupboard or crying for no apparent reason, not much is more heartbreaking.
A couple of vets I’ve spoken to will not recommend or even mention an option if they haven’t personally tried it, and there’s no “scientific” proof it works. I’m not going to comment on that, but I will say I’m happy to consider options based on the experiences of others in the same boat.
What is the best natural treatment for a dog with dementia?
The best natural treatment is the one that works for your dog. I’m not being funny, this is serious. I love that we have options and like anything, not every treatment will work on every dog. The best product ever may work for your dog, but not for mine so luckily there’s something else that may be the best for us.
A routine and a schedule are crucial
I am a firm believer in the importance of a routine and schedule in a dog’s life (cats as well to a certain extent), no matter the age. From the day a new dog walks into my home they are on a schedule, and in the case of a dog with dementia, it’s particularly helpful.
In their confusion they do get some comfort in knowing what’s happening when, and I see that with Red. She’s always known exactly when it’s feeding and walking time, but of course sometimes things come up and her schedule has to be adjusted slightly. When that happens she doesn’t handle it as well anymore, most noticeably if it’s first thing in the morning. She starts her day unsettled and can find it difficult to adjust once I’m back. What often happens is she can’t stop wandering, and she’s anxious.
She also used to be fine on day trips or a few hours out with us, but now I find she’s a bit more anxious during those times as well so I prefer to leave her at home if it won’t be for too long.
A quick word of caution
Natural doesn’t mean harmless, so I do recommend you find a holistic vet or a vet trained in alternative therapies to speak with first regarding dosage, suitability for your dog etc… I know not everyone does that, so whether you decide to seek advice or go it alone based on what you read here and elsewhere is entirely up to you.
I’m not a vet, and aside from the products I’ve personally given my dog Red, the others I listed are based on research and experiences of other users.
Some on the list are the herbs or single ingredient, others are “finished” products that contain them.
Where dosages are listed I would consult a holistic vet to determine whether it is a suitable product for your dog, and the dose is appropriate.
- Needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that mediates brain function like mood. A deficiency of this neurotransmitter is believed to be a contributing factor for dementia.
- Shown to be effective in reversing signs of dementia in dogs and cats
- “Recommended dosage is 50 to 100 mg daily for a 50-pound dog.” (Natural Dog Health Remedies)
- Helps prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain
- Helps improve memory and energy
- Stimulates the appetite in people with Alzheimers
- Slows the effect of free radicals on the body
Leave a light on
A few members in my Senior Dog Care Club FB group have mentioned leaving a light on at night. I’ve never tried that because Red is blind, but they have found it helps comfort their dogs, especially if they start to wander at night. Sounds like it’s definitely worth a try!
- Omega 3s are “good fats” that have anti-inflammatory properties, can reduce cholesterol and prevent blood clots.
- Krill Oil and Flaxseed Oil are both excellent sources.
(A note about Krill, not to discourage you just inform – because it’s such an excellent source of omega 3s krill fishing has increased while habitats have been disappearing)
- Made naturally in the body and found in every cell
- Antioxidant that can stall or improve mental decline
- Used to treat many conditions including dementia
Read more about it in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Here is a brief explanation why coconut oil is sometimes recommended to help a dog with dementia.
The theory behind coconut oil’s potential use in AD [Alzheimer’s disease] is that ketones might provide an alternative energy source for brain cells that have lost their ability to use glucose as a result of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.” (petmd.com)
An important thing to be aware of is the high calorie content in coconut oil, and large amounts can cause diarrhea, pancreatitis and gastrointestinal problems
I have tried it for Red, and gave her about 1/8 tsp, and it didn’t take long for a touch of pancreatitis to rear its ugly head, and that’s too dangerous to risk so I immediately stopped.
Has been used to treat dementia in dogs – enhancing long term and short term memory
To learn more, here are some interesting results of a clinical trial in an abstract entitled “Reduction of behavioural disturbances in elderly dogs supplemented with a standardised Ginkgo leaf extract“
Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland at the base of the brain, is used for dogs with anxiety, suffering from epilepsy and to help restore the sleep/wake pattern which is often disrupted in dogs with dementia.
It works within just a few minutes of taking it, and can last for about 8 hours. Considered safe to use as long as needed. I read that dosages vary from .5mg-1mg for a small dog – 1mg-3mg for a medium dog, and 3mg-9mg for a big dog. Obviously check those numbers with your vet.
An Ayurvedic herb used in India to enhance memory and concentration
An anti oxidant that helps neutralize free radicals
An antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals
Helps optimise the function of neurotransmitters in the brain
- Traditional herb of both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine
- Improves the flow of oxygen to the brain, helping memory and improving mental awareness
- Strong performance in Alzheimer’s studies
- Reduces depression and agitation in dogs with CCD
Resveratrol (Japanese knotweed)
A chemical extracted from grapes, it is an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and beta-amyloid deposits (problems that affect blood vessels)
Helps support cognitive health
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Antioxidant used to slow CCD (canine cognitive dysfunction)
Antioxidant used to slow CCD
Green Tea Extract
Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, that protect the brain against toxins, promote memory, and reduce inflammation. Green tea extract is a good source of flavonoids, but can be toxic to dogs if taken on an empty stomach or in too large a dose. If this is an option you’d like to explore, it should only be administered under the direction of a veterinary professional.
Valerian root is an herbal supplement with mild sedative qualities that humans have traditionally used to alleviate insomnia, stress, and anxiety. Integrative veterinarians also recommend it for their anxious canine patients.
“Researchers aren’t precisely sure how valerian works, but they think it may increase the amount of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. “Valerian root is believed to work via the receptors of the GABA, which blocks nervetransmissions between neurons that stimulate activity. Therefore GABA has a calming effect,” explains Wynn, who is board certified in veterinary nutrition.” (petmd.com)
Bach Flower Remedies
A system of 38 different flower remedies, Rescue Remedy is the one most commonly used for helping deal with anxiety in pets. I know it has gotten mixed reviews as to its efficacy in helping reduce anxiety, and it has never helped any of my dogs. Having said that, they claim to be able to help with a variety of issues by combining various remedies. If you’re interested in learning more about them, I have included a link to their website.
This is all a bit confusing, people wondering if they’re giving their dogs marijuana. There is a difference between CBD oil from Hemp and CBD oil from the cannabis plant, and the oil given to dogs is not marijuana but hemp. It has been quite successful in helping with epilepsy, and many pet parents use it to help with the anxiety that accompanies dementia. As with most things, it has helped some dogs and not others, so it’s a case of trial and error.
I haven’t tried it yet for Red, I’m a bit on the fence about it at the moment. I think what she’s taking now is fine, but I may have a reason to try it down the road.
Here are some brands recommended to me by a holistic vet and those who have found CBD oil helpful. One point – my holisitic vet recommends organic.
Golden paste (turmeric)
Turmeric not only has amazing health benefits for us, but it does for our dogs as well, including helping with the symptoms of dementia. Given the huge amount of information about turmeric and golden paste I decided rather than writing an article about it and re-inventing the wheel as it were, I would link to some so you can get a better understanding of what it’s all about.
Senilife (U.S.) – Aktivait (U.K.)
Senilife supports brain function in older dogs and contains ingredients such as Ginko Biloba, Vitamin B6, cod liver oil and Vitamin E.
“Aktivait for dogs is a feeding supplement designed to help maintain optimal brain function during ageing in dogs. Aktivait capsules contain natural antioxidants and other nutrients renowned for their beneficial effects on the brain. Aktivait capsules help restore and maintain your dog’s energy levels and vitality, and can improve their memory and mental alertness.” (product description from petprescription.co.uk)
Nutramind is a high strength support for brain and mental function, consisting of Omega 3s, gingko biloba, fish oils and B vitamins.
My holistic vet mentioned nutramind and few weeks ago, but when she mentioned it was a high strength oil, I was concerned because of Red’s susceptibility to pancreatitis. I decided to try it, just not give her the whole gel cap at one time. It’s been about 3 or 4 weeks since I started her on it, and I give her one whole capsule a day which I prick and squirt onto her breakfast. Thankfully she hasn’t had any adverse reaction and I like knowing she’s getting all these very helpful ingredients.
Manufactured in the UK by the same company that makes nutramind, it was created to calm anxious dogs, cats and horses, and help reduce unwanted behaviours. Red takes one in the morning and one in the evening to help with her anxiety. It’s as easy as opening the capsule and sprinkling it on her food with a little water mixed in.
Here is the ingredient list –
L-Tryptophan – is a natural amino acid found in many proteins which is involved in the production of the hormone Serotonin and has been shown to help support aggression and stress.
GABA – is an important neurotransmitter in the brain and is responsible for relaxing the nervous system. Maintaining GABA can help support anxiety and phobias.
L-Theanine – is an amino acid component of Green Tea and is involved in Dopamine neurotransmitter function. It has been shown to have a calming effect in dogs and cats.
Passiflora Incarnata – Commonly known as passion flower this extract has long been known for its ability to relax and reduce tension. Biochemical studies show that natural flavonoids are a key active ingredient and that Passiflora aids the effectiveness of GABA brain receptors which promote relaxation.
B Vitamins – helps to optimise the integrity and function of neurotransmitters within the brain.
Studies have shown acupuncture and acupressure has helped humans with dementia, “Acupuncture Rejuvenates Alzheimer’s Disease Patients” and has been known to slow the progression of canine dementia, supporting brain function and cognitive responses. Not to mention how beneficial it is to your dog’s overall well being.
I took Red for twice weekly treatments for 3 months, and while I didn’t notice a difference at the time, when I stopped it that’s when noticed how much it helped with her overall wellness.
Fruits and vegetables
Antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties found in certain fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cognitive decline i.e. spinach, blueberries, raspberries, carrots, tomatoes. Consult with your vet before adding them in case there are restrictions on certain foods due to health issues.
Hill’s Prescription Diet
A few days ago I discovered Hill’s makes a canine dementia formula. I know that a home made or raw diet would better suit an article on natural treatments, however this formulation does have a lot of natural supplements added. The quality of the supplements and how much has actually withstood the manufacturing process are not issues I can answer, but this is another potential weapon in the fight for our dogs.
“Some natural compounds also exist for the treatment of cognitive dysfunction in North America. Hill’s Prescription Diet b/d Canine is the only diet tested in both laboratory and clinical trials. The diet is a sodium and phosphorus restricted senior diet with added alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnitine, which help mitochondria function more efficiently. It is also supplemented with antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, flavonoids, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids. This diet was tested in a laboratory for more than two years. From that study, the researchers learned that a combination of brain enrichment and this fortified diet is the most effective in improving learning and memory.” (dvm360)
How do I know how much to give?
Remedies, supplements, herbs and any other kind of medication should only be used under the instruction of a qualified holistic vet, or vet with training and experience in alternative protocols.
You can certainly find recommended doses on the internet, but it’s safer not to.
We like “quick fixes.” Have a headache, pop a pill, instant relief.
Herbs and supplements typically work much more slowly than Western medicines, and a significant amount of time is usually needed before improvements can be seen or measured in human or animal.
To contradict myself a little, I have read about many cases of doggie dementia where change took place quite rapidly.
Mental stimulation and environmental enrichment
This is not a supplement or a drug, but it can be just as effective a treatment.
- Stick to a routine for feeding, walking, training…
- Daily exercise – the length, intensity and frequency will depend on the fitness of your dog. Even 5-10 minutes 2 or 3 times a day will help.
- Mini training sessions – you taught him to sit and give you his paw years ago, but he may have forgotten. Hide a treat and get him to find it.
- Go out – take a drive, visit a friend who has pets, walk in a new neighbourhood
- Interactive toys and games – play tug of war, stuff a treat toy with a favourite food
- Don’t re-arrange the furniture – it may confuse him
- Get clutter off the floor – he may trip
- Spend time together – let him know he’s not alone
Bioacoustically designed classical music
This has been the most incredible thing I could have done for Red. Even when she’s feeling particularly anxious, I put on this CD and she calms down very quickly. Created by a psychoacoustic expert and veterinary neurologist, studies have shown it reduced anxiety behaviour and induced calmness in 70% of dogs in shelters or kennels, and 85% of dogs in households.
Dementia in older dogs – conclusion
A diet rich in antioxidants, mental stimulation and some physical exercise have been known to improve cognitive abilities. If your dog does have dementia, get him to the vet as soon as possible, since your best chance of helping is before the disease has become too advanced.
Read about my experiences caring for Red, who suffers from dementia in dogs.
Let me know what supplements you have found helpful by leaving a comment below, or on my Facebook page.
I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, a new Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.