Of the primasry fasctors that help control aging and memory, balanced nutrition and modest amounts of exercise are the most important for ourselves and the pets with whom we share our lives.
Functional foods are those that provide optimal nutrition and body function and improve the memory and cogniftive activity of aging. These include vitamins E and C, and resveratrol (acting as antioxidants) along with a mixture of fruits and vegetables to reduce free radical damage. Also important are alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnitine as they are cofactors of the mitochondria of all cells. Mitochondria are responsible within cells for providing for their respiration and energy production.
Exercise in modest amounts should be given along with tasks for the pet to learn and perform.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for dogs especially as they age because they help improve brain health and function and slow the loss of cognitive function associated with aging.
The requirement for essential nutrients increases not only during periods of rapid growth or reproduction but also in geriatrics, because immune function and bio-availability of nutrients generally wanes with aging.
Top 10 Great Foods for Brain Health and Memory
- Leafy greens (folate, vitamin B 9) - kale, spinach, collard and mustard greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (folate, carotenoids) - broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussel sprouts
- Beans/ legumes (choline)
- Whole grains (gluten-free = quinoa, millet, rice, soy, corn, flax, sorghum, TEFF, tapioca)
- Berries/cherries (anthocyanins, antioxidants, vitamins C and E)
- Omega 3 fatty acids (anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory)
- Yellow Squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, beets (folate, vitamin A, iron)
- Nuts (omega fatty acids, vitamins E and B 6, folate, magnesium) CAUTION macadamia, and walnuts are unsafe for pets
- Seeds (zinc, choline, vitamin E)
- Spices (anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory)
Other Functional Superfoods
- Eggs - high in quality protein and choline for brain and memory
- Kiwis - antioxidant-rich, vitamins A, C and E, potassium, high in fiber
- Quinoa - high in protein and fiber, iron, zinc, vitamin. E, selenium
- Salmon - high omega-3 and iron, low calorie and low saturated fat
- Sweet Potatoes - high in vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium
- Mediterranean type diet - fish, nuts (for dogs: not macadamia, walnut or hickory nuts; brazil nuts and cashews are high in fat; pistachios, pecans, almonds can be moldy (aflatoxins); some dogs = peanut reactive); whole gluten-free grains; olive oil, fresh produce
- Avoid Trans Fats & Saturated Fats - less dairy, red meat, fried foods
- Heart-Healthy diet - also good for the brain
- Plenty of Omega-3 Fatty Acids – causes 26% less brain lesions
- Smaller meals throughout the day – helps digestion
- Eat Fruits, Vegetables, and Berries - of various colors
- Green Tea - enhances memory and alertness; anti-inflammatory; put on body sores, in foods
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Clinical Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction
- Confusion/disorientation in familiar surroundings
- Increased sleeping/insomnia
- Loss of interest in people and events
- Forgetfulness of housetraining habits
- Failure to recognize familiar people and animals
- Wandering aimlessly/pacing
- Loss of appetite/forgetting to eat
- Staring into space
- Decreased activity level
- Lack of response to name/commands
- Failure to pay attention
Nutrients of Genera Benefit for Cognitive Dysfunction
- Milk thistle and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine)
- Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)
- DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids
- Avoid glutens
- Avoid carbohydrates with high glycemic index
Silibinin (milk thistle extract) prevents impairment of both short-term and recognition memory
- prevention for cancer as well
- works as antioxidant, protects brain from oxidative damage
SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) improves neuron membrane fluidity
- increases serotonin and dopamine metabolites
- reduces effects of depression in people
- may help human Alzheimer’s patients
Phospholipid choline is critical for cell membrane structure and function
- increases production of acetylcholine
- helps reverse signs of cognitive and other neurological disorders of aging pets
Medium -Chain Triglycerides, like coconut oil, break down and absorb rapidly, unlike fats; quick source of non-carbohydrate energy
- readily cross blood-brain barrier, supplying 20% of brain energy requirement
- important for ketone production
- help body use omega-3 fatty acids more efficiently
- helps age-related cognitive decline by providing alternative source of brain energy
- give berries their rich pigment; antioxidants; also benefit cognitive health of senior dogs
- most potent is aronia, the chokeberry. Greater antioxidant than all other berries; anti-cancer; anti-bacterial, anti-viral and even anti-diabetic; and anti-inflammatory
- protect brain function in geriatrics and those with gluten intolerance by avoiding wheat, barley, rye, oats unless labeled gluten-free, kamut, spelt, farro, and couscous
- linked with impairment of brain function, including learning disabilities, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and memory problems
- gluten sensitivity may manifest exclusively as a neurological disease
Avoid Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI)
- impaired glucose metabolism caused by sugary foods can promote brain starvation, leading to memory problems, like canine cognitive dysfunction
- foods with high GI can also lead to hunger-related behavioral problems
- simple carbohydrates digest and absorb quickly (hence rapid rise and fall in blood sugar concentrations), so pets feel hungry again quickly
I’ve always believed in the adage ‘you are what you eat’.
This is not a new concept. Way back around 600 BC Hippocrates famously said: “Let medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine”.
Prudence, my Miniature Bull terrier, Mr Binks my English Toy Terrier, and Gremlin my cat, all eat a raw diet.
They’re benefitting from my study with the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies where I learnt about the new science of Nutrigenomics.
I learnt that key nutrients have an influence at a cellular level to boost the immune system, prevent disease, prevent obesity, and even delay aging.
Nutrigenomics reveals how functional foods nourish deep at a cellular level to influence our genetic make up through gene expression.
Nutrients interrelate with our epigenome, which is a clever structural layer that surrounds our DNA.
Luckily ready prepared convenience foods have never appealed to me. I’m conscious of not consuming too many processed foods, and don’t own a microwave.
I want to balance the inevitable negative health effects triggered by modern environmental stressors like air pollution, over medication, intensive farming, pesticides, insecticides and the like that are all ubiquitous to modern living.
It’s been easy for me to transfer my eating values to my pets. It all began 16 years ago when Molly my first Miniature Bull terrier arrived.
Her breeder advised me not to feed the standard dry ‘cremated’ pellets so often recommended by vets. Instead to feed her raw green tripe mixed with some vegetables, and some fruits.
Raw green tripe (not to be confused with the white, bleached tripe prepared for human consumption) is a rich source of nutrients for dogs – it’s an elixir!
The stomach of a ruminating (grazing) animal including cows, and sheep, green tripe is packed with key nutrients, proteins, fats, pre and probiotics and is low in fat.
This is because the unique stomachs of these ruminants have four chambers to naturally process grasses with a slew of digestive enzymes, gastric juices and amino acids.
Over the years Molly championed an awareness of raw green tripe as a superfood for dogs.
It may not smell like a bed of roses, but I’ve got used to the aroma! It’s a small inconvenience to bare, in return for one meat ingredient that boasts so many health benefits as a functional food.
I like to combine some muscle meat like lamb, or venison. Another staple functional food that’s always in our fridge are lamb’s hearts.
Rich in amino acids, especially Taurine, Gremlin eats one or two hearts a day. Without Taurine a cat’s immune system shuts down. A cat cannot survive without Taurine.
Cats are known as obligate carnivores, which means they are biologically and physiologically designed to eat meat.
The interrelationship between diet and health is inextricable. By feeding as nature intended, we can impact so positively on the health and well-being of our pets.
I feed strategically and add a variety of fresh very finely chopped leafy greens like kale, spinach or watercress for a mineral and vitamin boost.
I’m fascinated by recent research that highlights the brain boosting capacity of Coconut oil, which we all take in moderation, and I use probiotics.
Whilst dogs do produce Vitamin C, I never underestimate the potential of berries like a blackberry or a blueberry as anti-oxidants that absorb unwanted C02 and free radicals from our system, boosting our immune system.
I’ll add some small fish like sardines or sprats for an Omega boost as well as a raw egg beaten up and served as a low calorie, Omega rich snack.
Even if everyone made tiny steps towards a raw diet, beginning with home cooked foods, it’s a way of helping to manage your dogs’ health, naturally.
“Let food be thy medicine” Hippocrates.