I know a lot of senior dog parents living with pups who have canine cognitive dysfunction, and a large majority are looking for a natural dog dementia treatment option. I totally get the interest in all natural pet products, especially when it seems our dogs are overloaded with drugs. Having said that, I have absolutely no problem treating my dogs with medication if that’s what they need. I would never deprive them while searching for a natural alternative, but I like to include them whenever possible…and beneficial.
**There are affiliate links in this post, so if you make a purchase I may receive a commission. This has no effect on the price for you.**
When I first realised my sweet girl Red 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. The active ingredient is selegeline and can be found in Anipryl in the U.S. and Canada. She was already taking a few different medications, but with what I believed to be my only option, and desperate for something to help her because I was at my wits end, I got the drugs and home we went.
Within just a few days I saw a massive difference and never looked back. Typically we’re told it could take a few weeks so imagine how happy I was when I finally found some peace for both of us.
My search for more ways to help
Over time I started researching other ways to help with Red’s symptoms of dog dementia, and I couldn’t believe the amount of information about this disease I knew nothing about. Dog dementia supplements I had never heard of or been told about were actually helping alleviate some of the symptoms, and dogs and their parents could finally get some rest. Each time I found something of interest I ran it by my vet. He may not stock alternatives but he is always open to hearing about them and commenting when he can.
I wish our vets were a bigger help and support
This is not vet bashing, I am the first one to sing the praises of my wonderful caregiver, and I do just that. This is me wishing they knew more about dementia in a dog, and at least told everyone about the medication which too many don’t even bother to mention. I know many vets will not mention anything based on anectodal evidence alone, and if there is no scientific proof it works, it basically is not an option.
I was up close and personal with this cruel disease, and like all of you experiencing the same, you need guidance, hope and help. If a lot of people are signing the praises, as long as it’s not dangerous I want the option of knowing about it and trying it based on the experiences of others.
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, no matter how old they are. From the day a new old dog walks into my home they are on a schedule, and in the case of a dog with dementia, it’s particularly helpful. I’m not saying that every morning your dog has to eat at 7:00am and if it’s 7:20 life as we know it is over, I mean they know roughly what time things happen when. It’s always worked really well over the years for us.
In the confusion that comes with dementia, I noticed it was particularly important for Red. She was knew exactly what time she was eating (believe me she would let me know if I was late) and going for walks. Of course sometimes things came up and her schedule had to be adjusted slightly, and she was always fine with that…until she got dementia. She didn’t handle changes well, most noticeably first thing in the morning. If she started her day unsettled, she would be more anxious.
Don’t get discouraged
I know the feeling of helplessness, watching your dog wander, unable to sleep or rest and you at the end of your rope. I have been there and was there for about a year and a half. You are going to hear that XYZ is the best product ever and you must buy it. That may be true, but it’s important to realise not every product will work well for every dog. My dog did extremely well on Selgian, but many dogs don’t. Be encouraged by the number of natural options out there, try one at a time and see how it goes. The one that everyone is raving about may not do it for your pup, but something else hopefully will.
I know you want natural but dementia is nasty so don’t shut the door to other options as well. You may find a combination of both will be THE answer.
A quick word of caution
First of all, natural doesn’t mean harmless so I recommend you always speak to your vet before trying one of the options you find below. If your vet isn’t a fan of alternative or natural therapies, or doesn’t know enough to offer you the advice you need, consider finding a holistic or integrative vet trained in alternative therapies. You don’t have to give up your current vet if you’re happy with him, you can work with both. If you do go that route it is your responsibility to ensure both of them know exactly what’s going on and are kept up to date with treatments etc…
I’m not a vet, and aside from the products I’ve personally given my dog Red, the others I have listed are based on research and the experiences of other senior dog parents.
Some on the list are the herbs or single ingredient, others are “finished” products that contain them.
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.
Where dosages are listed I would consult a vet to determine whether it is a suitable product for your dog, and the dose is appropriate.
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, it is possible you will see results quickly.
Natural treatment options
CBD oil for dogs with dementia
I want to start off this list with cbd oil because the number of people who swear by it is staggering. It has helped with everything from the anxiety associated with dementia, to seizures, pain relief and a host of other issues. I know it can all be a bit confusing with people wondering if they’re giving their dogs marijuana and if they can get high. Here is what Dogs Naturally Magazine has to say – “CBD (cannabidiol) is a compound found in cannabis and hemp. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can also be found in cannabis. It’s this compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive properties. Most CBD oils are just that … the beneficial CBD without the THC. And they typically come from hemp, not marijuana. In short, your dog won’t get “high” from CBD oil … he’ll get the relaxation without the intoxication.”
It’s important to know that not all CBD oil is created equal, and there are massive differences in quality. One brand that so many senior dog parents I know use and love is called NuLeaf. I did a podcast with a company rep, which is a bit lengthy but worth having a listen to. I know I learned a lot from it!
When I was looking into CBD oil I was told to start my dog off with just one drop and see how it goes. I took a quick poll of some of my FB group members to see how much they give their dogs, and generally speaking most gave between 1-4 drops once or twice a day. Of course it depends on the weight of the dog, quality of the product and strength.
Senilife is another popular dog dementia treatment option worth looking into. Here is the description of the product from the company website – “Senilife is a supplement containing a unique blend of antioxidants — phosphatidylserine, pyridoxine, ginko biloba extract, resveratrol and d-alpha-tocopherol — which work together to help reduce brain-aging behaviors in as little as 7 days.”
It’s usually when our dog is affected by a condition do we start looking for help, but the makers of Senilife recommend starting your dog on this supplement once he reaches senior status. Their graph of when to start shows the following:
Dog weighing 0-21lbs – 8 years old
Dog weighing 22-49 lbs – 7 years old
Dog weighing 50+ lbs – 6 years old
I know in the best of times it can be challenging giving your dog pills, so if he won’t take the capsule you can just open it up and sprinkle onto his food.
Melatonin for dogs with dementia
Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland at the base of the brain, is often recommended for treating sundowners syndrome in dogs. Sundowning, also referred to as “late day confusion” in human sufferers, refers to symptoms worsening in the late afternoon and afternoon. This disruption in the sleep/wake cycle is why many dogs with dementia will be sleeping most of the day, yet wander and unable to settle at night. A melatonin supplement can help restore that imbalance.
There are claims it works within just a few minutes of taking it and can last for about 8 hours, but of course whether that’s the case with your dog can depend on how advanced his dementia is, and whether or not it is one of those supplements that will work for your pup.
There are many different brands of melatonin, yes you can use human grade you find in health food shops, each with different mgs and even other added ingredients. Speak to your vet about what he recommends and the best dose to start off with. I know some vets feel human supplements can be safer than those made specifically for pets, whether that is true or not I can’t say. Please make sure the product does not contain Xylitol as it can be deadly.
Some of the brands recommended by senior dog parents (please check mgs with your vet)
Bioacoustically designed classical music
One of the best days of my life was the day I discovered a cd called Through a Dog’s Ear. 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. If you’re interested in reading about the study and its results –
BIOACOUSTIC RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT (BARD) – CANINE RESEARCH SUMMARY
Before I diagnosed Red with dementia she would wander for hours, and nothing I did would settle her. I don’t recall how I found it, maybe it was simply a search on YouTube for dog calming music, but who cares. What’s important is that I found it and it was amazing. I started off playing the 13 minute sampler, and when I saw how well it worked I splurged and bought the cd.
No matter how anxious and how many hours she would pace, once I turned on Through a Dog’s Ear she would be resting, and many times even sleeping in less than one minute. On the rare occasion it would take two.
I can never say enough good things about it, but what I can say it saved my sanity on the days when I didn’t think I could cope another minute.
Vibrating mattress pad for babies
A member of my FB group recently posted about the issues she was having getting her dog to rest. She discovered he fell asleep next to the dryer when it was on, and realised the vibrations comforted him, so she bought a vibrating mattress pad for babies and it works!! What a brilliant and creative idea. This is the one she bought, and I hope it works as well for your dog as it does for hers.
Ginkgo is an herbal remedy made from the leaf of the ginkgo tree, Ginkgo biloba and is used to treat dementia in humans. To learn more about its use in dogs, this article called “Ginkgo” has some helpful information. To read about very encouraging results of a clinical trial, this abstract “Reduction of behavioural disturbances in elderly dogs supplemented with a standardised Ginkgo leaf extract” is definitely worth reading.
Adaptil Plug In
This is how the company describes how this product works. “Mother dogs communicate with their puppies using natural “comforting messages” released from the mammary zone. These “comforting messages“ are scientifically called Dog Appeasing Pheromones. They are odourless and are only perceived by dogs. These “comforting messages” provide a strong signal of comfort and security to the puppies but also have the same effect on dogs of all ages.
It is available as a plug in, collar or spray, it is definitely worth a try. My neighbour has a 10 year old dog who has become very anxious lately, to the point he was howling when they were out, something he had never done before. I recommended the Adaptil plug in and she told me she noticed a massive difference with just 2 days. Even better news, 3 weeks later it’s still helping!! He is so much calmer, and the neighbours are happier too!!
Turmeric golden paste
There’s more and more talk about the wonderous benefits of turmeric both for ourselves and our dogs, helping with a variety of conditions. The most beneficial way to administer turmeric is in a paste, and there have been incredible success stories when it comes to treating the symptoms of dementia. As I’ve already mentioned, there are no guarantees but with your vet’s approval it is definitely worth trying.
This recipe I am including is from the Turmeric User Group on FB, and it is reprinted with permission. I highly recommend you join this group to learn more about the many ways turmeric can help both you and your dog.
Recipe and directions
“For adults and older children, start with 1/4 tsp twice daily in, or at least with, food.Most dogs can start with the same amount. Small dogs and cats should start with no more than 1/8 tsp. For everyone, after 4-5 days you can increase the amount and/or the frequency. Wait 4-5 days in between each increase. If you experience gas, bloating, loose stools or other digestive upsets, reduce the amount and/or frequency.There is no specific maximum, but we recommend no more than about 3 teaspoons per day. Turmeric is metabolized fairly quickly even when consumed with pepper, so it’s better to have small amounts often.Some dogs and a few horses may develop a ‘cat pee’ odor after starting turmeric or golden paste. If this happens, you can add a tablespoon of Ceylon cinnamon to a batch of golden paste. This will eliminate, or at least reduce, the odor.If you are using any prescription medication, it would be a good idea to consult your doctor before adding any biologically active foods like turmeric to your diet. You can check our file on interactions as well, but don’t assume that something is not a problem just because you don’t find it there. We can’t cover everything. As mentioned above, we will help with medication interactions if we can. But your doctor should be the final judge of whether golden paste is appropriate for you.
TO PREPARE GOLDEN PASTE:
1/2 cup (65-70g, or about 2.6 oz dry weight) turmeric powder
1-2 cups (250-500ml) water (use half the total amount to begin with and have the other half ready if needed)
1/3 cup (70ml) unrefined coconut, virgin olive or linseed oil (you can use salmon oil for dogs, if you prefer, but please see the note below)
3 tsp (about 7g) freshly ground black pepper
Please note: a few turmeric vendors have begun supplying it as “raw” turmeric powder. Turmeric is normally cooked in the process of making it into powder. The vendors supplying it raw have skipped this step. Because of that, if you’re using one of those product, the turmeric/water mixture needs to be cooked for at least 30 minutes, not the 7-10 minutes mentioned below. You may need to add more water as the longer simmering period will result in more evaporation.If you’re not sure whether your turmeric is raw, that fact will be mentioned in the vendor’s advertising and on the packaging. If you don’t see any mention of “Raw” on the packaging or on the vendor’s website, then it is not raw, but processed in the traditional way. There is no preference for one or the other as long as you make sure that any raw turmeric is fully cooked before consuming it.
Combine the turmeric and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep the mixture at a simmer, and cook for 7-10 minutes. Stir frequently to keep from sticking, and add more water as needed to keep it to a paste consistency. The exact thickness isn’t important–you can adjust that to your preference.Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool until the pan is just warm to the touch. Add the oil and pepper and stir thoroughly until they are completely mixed in. Store in a clean jar (you can sterilize it if you like) in the coldest part of the refrigerator. It should keep for about two weeks. If you see any sign of mold, or notice an ‘off’ flavor, discard and make a new batch.If you know you won’t use all of it within two weeks, you can freeze half for later us. NOTE: all fish oils become rancid very quickly after being opened. We recommend either freezing the golden paste if you make it with salmon or another fish oil, or adding the oil when you feed the paste. The paste will keep only a few days in the fridge if you make it with fish oil.”
For more information (as if you don’t have enough already!!), this article “Turmeric Used on Animals/Humans” was written by Dr Doug English, the veterinarian who started the Turmeric User Group I mentioned above.
Omega 3s are critical for cognitive health, and Krill Oil and Flaxseed Oil are both excellent sources. A quick note about Krill – because it is such an excellent source, krill fishing has increased while habitats have been disappearing)
A veterinarian will typically prescribe a supplement that contains SAMe if a dog is suffering from some kind of liver issues. It can be used in the short term to heal a liver problem, or long term for dogs with chronic liver issues. My dog took a supplement called Samylin which contained SAMe for quite some time because of her liver problems.
According to an article “What Can SAM-e Do for Dogs?” on the petmd website, it has been used to augment the effects of antidepressents in people who suffer from depression. As a result it is now being recommended by vets for dementia in dogs. I recommend you read the article, lots of great information there.
This abstract written in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has some great information as well, just scroll through to find the section “Neurologic Disorders.”
Lavender essential oil
Lavender is known for its calming properties, and is often used to help dogs suffering with anxiety, a common symptom of dementia. Not all essential oil is created equal so do your research to find a quality brand and reputable company. I bought a bottle at my local health food store to see if it would help Red. I diffused it using this easy and cheap method I found in this article “DIY Scented Votive Candles With Essential Oils.”
An herb that grows in the wetlands of Asia, Gotu Kola improves the flow of oxygen to the brain, helping memory and improving mental awareness. The article “Gotu Kola May Help Boost Memory & Mood + More Benefits” will give you a lot of helpful information about this herb, and this extract is worth a read as well.
Manufactured in the UK to calm anxious dogs, cats and horses, it helps reduce unwanted behaviours such as the anxiety associated with dementia. Red took one in the morning and one in the evening, and it was 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.
Here is a quote from Dr. Karen Becker’s article “Dementia a Very Serious Problem For Our Beloved Pets – And How to Prevent It” – “Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support.”
That’s fantastic but…please be aware it is very high in saturated fats and can cause diarrhea, pancreatitis and gastrointestinal problems. I gave a tiny amount to Red, much less than the recommended amount, 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.
Can B vitamins help with dementia symptoms? I wasn’t able to come up with anything concrete, specifically as it relates to dementia. My vet recommended B complex for Red, but I never saw much difference. I did come across this interesting video by Dr Karen Becker where she talks about the importance of B vitamins for our pets. It’s definitely worth taking a couple of minutes to watch it!
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. My vet recommends Valerian with scullcap as he feels it works better with skullcap added.
“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)
If you want to buy a human grade brand, what I always do is take a picture of the label that includes the strength and ingredient list, then speak to my vet before I buy. I want to make sure he approves it and is able to calculate the correct dose.
This is a quote of the use of choline to treat the symptoms of dementia in a dog – “Although research studies suggest it is only moderately effective, clinical experience suggests that when used in older pets, it may actually prevent clinical signs of cognitive disorder. Choline may help some pets with urinary incontinence, especially if the incontinence is part of the cognitive disorder syndrome.”
For more information on what choline is, its uses including for dementia relief, you will find this article “Choline” very informative.
An Ayurvedic herb “Bacopa monniera (also known as brahmi which, in Sanskrit, means Creator) is a small creeping herb commonly growing in marshy areas throughout India up to 2,000 feet above sea level. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is considered astringent, bitter, cooling, and is well-known as a brain tonic that improves the intellect. It has also been used for the treatment of respiratory diseases such as asthma as well as other diseases such as epilepsy, seizure disorders, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction.” This excerpt was taken from the article “Ayurveda For Companion Animals.”
Alpha Lipoic Acid
A naturally occurring antioxidant, it attacks free radicals that damage cells providing protection to all cells and organs, inluding the brain. Can this supplement improve cognitive decline? Read more in this article “Could This Be a Fountain of Your For Your Aging Pet?”
Supplementing your dog’s diet with Vitamin C may help manage a variety of illnesses associated with free radical damage, with dementia being one of them. However it may not be right for every dog, read more in this article “Vitamin C and Calcium Oxalate Stones.”
Animal Essentials Heart Health
One of the members of my Facebook group, Senior Dog Care Club, recommended a product called Heart Health which she has found very helpful in managing dementia symptoms. Perhaps because it contains Ginkgo Biloba.
Herbsmith Senior Dog Wisdom
The members of my group are so great, lots of recommendations and this is another one I was just told about. The woman told me Herbsmith Senior Dog Wisdom worked wonders for her 16 year old dog, so you may want to do some research into it.
A perennial herb from the mint family, the leaves are used to make remedies for many issues, with many people believing lemon balm has a calming affect so is used for anxiety, restlessness and Alzheimer’s. There are so many benefits for dogs, this article “Ways to Use Lemon Balm on Dogs” is a must read.
Rescue Remedy (Bach Flower Remedies)
A system of 38 different flower remedies, Rescue Remedy is the one most commonly used for helping anxious pets. I know many senior dog parents who have found great success with this product, and others who haven’t. Again it’s that whole “trial and error thing.” If you’re interested in learning more about them, click here.
Studies have shown acupuncture and acupressure have 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. I didn’t notice a difference at the time, but when I stopped I noticed a decline in her overall wellness. Acupuncture definitely was very beneficial for her.
Leave a light on
Several members of my FB group have seen a big improvement in their dog’s ability to settle by leaving a light on overnight.
Remember Me?: Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
While not a “treatment” per se, I’ve lost count of the number of positive and glowing reviews I have heard of this book. Written by Eileen Anderson it has helped countless senior dog parents feel so much less alone, and gave them hope and a better understanding of what they were all facing. As someone who lived with a dog with dementia for 2 1/2 years, I know we can all use as much help, advice and support we can get. To read a preview and to order please click here.
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 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)
Purina Bright Mind
To read the results of a clinical trial about the benefits of a diet for dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction, this article “Efficacy of a Therapeutic Diet on Dogs With Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome” will be of interest.
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
How to treat dementia in a dog naturally – conclusion
If you share your life with a dog with dementia and you haven’t yet started him on a treatment, I do hope you find something very soon. While nothing can cure this disease, there are drugs and supplements that may slow down its progression, or at least help manage the symptoms. The more advanced it is, the harder it is to help.