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Brain Foods for Your Dog for All Life Stages

Kathryn Copeland

Whether you have a young puppy just beginning his journey or a senior dog that is starting to slow down, it’s essential to find food that does more than just fill his tummy.

Sometimes we can only focus on the proper nutrients to give our dog a strong body and healthy coat, which of course, is super important! But we sometimes forget about ensuring that our dog has a diet that will benefit the health of his brain.divider-dog

A Decrease in Brain Function

Before we begin, we’re going to address the decrease in your senior dog’s brain functions, particularly with memory issues. A real concern is dementia, otherwise known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD).

Dogs have a blood-brain barrier that surrounds their brains, allowing the right nutrients from the bloodstream to enter the brain’s cells. As a dog ages, this barrier thins and becomes penetrable, which can allow harmful particles access to the brain, contributing to the decline in brain health.

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Image Credit: Judita Kreizaite, Shutterstock

Oxidation

Oxidative stress occurs when a dog’s body undergoes normal metabolic processes, which then produces free radicals. The free radicals and oxidation can then damage the proteins, cells, and DNA.

So, what exactly is wrong with oxidation, and why does it have such a harmful effect on the body? Well, the way that metals rust or an apple starts to turn brown after it’s been cut is an effect that occurs due to oxidation. It also happens to the brain as it ages.

Certain supplements and ingredients are known to improve a dog’s memory as well as the ability to learn or relearn. Antioxidants provide the best nutrients that help decrease the free radicals and oxidants in the brain tissues (hence, antioxidants), which will help slow the onset of CCD.

The following are foods and supplements that are all great for your dog’s brain health because they are full of antioxidants and are safe for your dog to eat. We’ve broken the list down into age categories since puppies and senior dogs have brains that are at different stages and will require different nutrition.

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Puppies

puppy eating blueberries
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

Proper nutrition for puppies and young dogs is vital since it will support their growing bodies, and of course, their brain health. It can also set them up for protection against conditions as they grow older.

  • Vitamin C: Aids in healing wounds, joint pain, any inflammation of the gums, and provides energy. Vitamin C can be found in a number of fresh fruit and vegetables such as apples, carrots, melons, and peaches.
  • Vitamin E: Helps blood vessels to stay healthy and boosts the immune system. It can be found in leafy green vegetables, salmon, avocados, and plant oils such as hemp, olive, and safflower oils.
  • Selenium: Helps reduce any asthma symptoms, supports cognitive functions, thyroid health, and reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. You can find selenium in whole grains, dairy products, poultry, fish, and meat.
  • Beta Carotene: Aids in optimizing any vaccines the puppy has received and helps in increasing the antibodies in the blood. The obvious source is carrots, but beta carotene is also found in broccoli, sweet potato, liver, spinach, and eggs.

Finding your puppy a diet that contains these supplements is clearly an important part of ensuring your pet’s health as he grows up. Most high-quality puppy food should have the required amount of these nutrients, but if you’re considering adding any extra as a supplement, be sure to speak to your vet first. It’s possible to give your dog too much, and overdose is a possibility.

Adult Dogs

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Image Credit: Jaja Fekiacova, Shutterstock

In order to support dogs in the prime of their life, they do need antioxidants on a daily basis. It will ensure their body and brain health is kept at an optimum level.

  • Polyphenols: These are micronutrients that help prevent the development of different diseases and conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. Polyphenols can be found in a number of nuts, herbs, and vegetables but are exceptionally high in certain fruits such as berries, pears, and apples.
  • Vitamins C and E: These vitamins work on the adult dog the same way they work on a puppy. They will provide support for joint health, inflammation, energy, and the immune system.

Adult dogs are generally healthy, both in body and in brain function, but providing them with the right antioxidants and nutrients will ensure you’ll maintain their health well into their senior years.

Senior Dogs

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Credit: Maggie McManus, Shutterstock

This is the age group that will truly benefit from antioxidants. They need an extra boost for their immune systems as well as to help maintain brain health, and these antioxidants should help.

  • Beta Carotene: Since this helps to increase the antibodies found in the blood, it’s an important ingredient to include in a senior dog’s diet. Beta carotene is a carotenoid that causes the orange, yellow, and red pigments found in fruit and vegetables. It is eventually converted into vitamin A in the body.
  • Vitamins C and E: As your dog’s organs and bodily functions start to decline with age, he’ll need vitamin C to help his energy levels and protect his joints. Vitamin E will help to strengthen his immune system.
  • Polyphenols: Polyphenols can protect against serious conditions and disorders, such as cancer and diabetes. This can benefit the older dog in a big way.

All of these supplements and nutrients are very important for your dog’s physical and brain health. Antioxidants should be used in addition to other vitamins and minerals as part of a healthy diet that will all work together to keep your dog at peak health.

Food Sources

dog food_New-Africa, Shutterstock
Image Credit: New-Africa, Shutterstock

Antioxidants occur naturally in a variety of plants, but of course, there are a number of fruit and vegetables that aren’t good for dogs. So, you need to find food full of antioxidants that are also compatible with a dog’s diet.

Consult with your veterinarian before you start adding new food to your dog’s daily meals. Additionally, when adding new food to your dog’s diet, be sure to do so very slowly.

Here is a short list of nutrient-dense foods that are jam-packed with antioxidants and are also safe for your pup to enjoy:
  • Yellow squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Mangos
  • Tomatoes

Again, speak to your vet before changing your dog’s meals and adding any new food.

Oils for Brain Health

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Credit: Monfocus, Pixabay

Antioxidants are clearly one of the best sources of food that can contribute to your dog’s brain health. But there are oils that can also help.

So, how do you keep your dog out of your flower gardens?
  • Fish Oil: Fish and fish oil are a great source of DHA, which is particularly good for a puppy’s developing brain. It also helps with heart disease, fighting inflammation, and combatingarthritis pain.
  • Coconut Oil: We all know the many benefits of coconut oil, but you might not know that it can improve how the brain functions in senior dogs. It’s also very good for your dog’s digestive system as well as their skin and coat.

Speak to your vet before adding oil to your dog’s diet. You need to be sure to give him the right amount as you certainly don’t want your dog to experience weight issues.

Other Ways to Exercise Your Dog’s Brain

Other than feeding your dog or adding supplements that are rich in antioxidants, there are other methods you can use to improve your dog’s brain health.

So, how do you keep your dog out of your flower gardens?
  • Physical Exercise: Even if your dog has slowed down, you should still make a point of exercising him every day. Don’t push him too far if he has issues with arthritis or any other physical problems. Just take him for gentle walks and try throwing a ball around.
  • Mental Exercise:Playing with your dog is still just as important now as when he was a puppy. Offer him a puzzle game as well as playing with him—hide and seek, fetch, anything that will engage him physically and mentally.

Just be sure to keep to a routine as this can make your dog feel more confident and comfortable.divider-cat

Conclusion

Proper nutrition combined with physical and mental exercises should help your dog keep his cognitive functions healthier for longer. Antioxidants are clearly essential for brain health, and the average dog food doesn’t usually have enough for your dog’s daily dose. Speak to your vet about adding new foods and supplements to his diet.

We all really want to spend as much time as possible with our dogs, and we certainly want them to have sharp minds for their entire lives. We hope these suggestions will help you both enjoy your time together from puppy to the golden years.

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Featured image credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

Kathryn Copeland

Kathryn was a librarian in a previous lifetime and is currently a writer about all things pets. When she was a child, she hoped to work in zoos or with wildlife in some way, thanks to her all-consuming love for animals. Unfortunately, she's not strong in the sciences, so she fills her days with researching and writing about all kinds of animals and spends time playing with her adorable but terribly naughty tabby cat, Bella. Kathryn is hoping to add to her family in the near future – maybe another cat and a dog.