Is There a Connection Between Diet and Dementia in Dogs?

Also called canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), dementia in dogs is a common disorder among seniors. Here’s how to recognize the signs in your own dog, and how diet may help support her brain as she ages.

If your dog is getting old, you may have seen changes in her behavior. Perhaps she’s gradually losing her house training, is more lethargic than usual, or sometimes seems lost and confused. She may have canine dementia, more accurately termed canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD). This article takes a comprehensive look at CCD and how diet can play a part in helping to support your aging friend’s brain.


We don’t really know whether dementia in humans is the same as dementia in dogs. In people, the term is used to describe a group of symptoms that can interfere with memory, thinking, and social skills. It isn’t just one disease, and the causes can vary. What we do know is that CCD is a common disorder affecting 50% of dogs over 11 years of age. It can cause the following signs and behavior changes:

  • Wandering around aimlessly
  • Appearing confused in familiar surroundings
  • Not responding to their name
  • Failing to recognize familiar people
  • Seeming lethargic or apathetic
  • Experiencing changed sleep patterns
  • Soiling in the house
  • Getting lost in familiar spaces
  • Staring

Note: Large breed dogs have shorter lifespans and can be considered seniors by the time they are seven or eight years old. Smaller breeds live longer and can be deemed old at ten or 11.


According to holistic veterinarian, Dr. Teri Sue Wright, the food choices you make for your dog affect not only her entire body, but also her mind. Old dogs are especially vulnerable to the physical and mental effects of a poor diet.

When presented with a dog showing signs of dementia, Dr. Wright first does comprehensive bloodwork to rule out other disorders with similar symptoms. She next performs manual muscle testing, or applied kinesiology, which is used to look for structural, chemical, or mental ailments. She can then address these inequities with changes to the dog’s diet.

Note: Feeding whole foods is an optimal way to support total health in your dog. Look for high quality, nutritionally balanced products made with real named meats, and free of harmful additives and other non-essential ingredients.


Supplementing certain nutrients, particularly vitamin D (which tends to be low in animals with degenerative diseases) may also be helpful. According to Medical News Today, research suggests that vitamin D supplementation may lower the incidence of dementia in humans by aiding in the reduction of amyloid beta aggregates or plaques in the brain (a hallmark of Alzheimer’s). The studies yielded mixed results on whether or not vitamin D actually improves cognition, so more research is needed, but adding this vitamin to your dog’s diet may help keep dementia at bay.

Note: Good sources of vitamin D include oily fish such as cooked salmon, herrings and sardines, as well as egg yolks, and mushrooms. These foods can be added to your dog’s regular diet.

It’s never too soon — or too late — to start looking after your dog’s brain health. Feeding a young dog a nutritious, brain-supportive diet may help stave off the possibility of CCD as she ages; but even a dog already showing signs of dementia can benefit from these foods and supplements. Above all, be sure to add a generous dose of love and patience to the mix!


Linda Caradine

Linda Caradine is a Portland, Oregon-based writer and the Executive Director of Other Mothers Animal Rescue, founded in 2005 to give pregnant dogs and cats a second chance at a good life. Linda\’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, and she is currently working on a book about starting and running her rescue organization.

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