There is no magic cure for age-related dog dementia, but a number of treatments appear to help slow the process somewhat, and to varying degrees. The following canine cognitive dysfunction treatments have been shown in scientific studies to help. (References are at the bottom of this page.)
Please check with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist if you suspect your dog has canine cognitive dysfunction. Even the over-the-counter supplements below can have side effects and interact with other prescription or over-the-counter drugs your dog takes. Some antioxidants have toxic levels.
Anipryl (U.S. brand name for selegiline) has been shown to slow the progression of canine cognitive dysfunction. It is a drug that is used to treat Parkinson’s in humans. It is available now for dogs in tablets and chewables. If your vet prescribes it, try to shop around. Its price really varies. The doses for dogs that you can buy on cards are quite expensive. But it can also be purchased in generic tablets quite cheaply.
Some prescription drugs commonly used in Europe for canine cognitive dysfunction are nicergoline, propentofylline, and adrafanil. Of these, adrafanil has shown the most promise in studies. (See references below.)
Specially Formulated Foods
There are many dog foods that claim to be anti-aging, but these two are the only ones so far in the U.S. that have been clinically tested and shown promising results. Links to the studies are at the bottom under References. These foods have been found to be especially effective if coupled with enrichment for the dog.
Enrichment has been shown to help a bit as well. I have a page of specially selected enrichment toys that are doable by many dogs with dementia. Enrichment can also consist of positive reinforcement based training, nose work, and anything that helps keep your dog using her mind.
The products Senilife and Aktivait contain phosphatidylserine, which is part of a cell membrane that has been used to treat humans with Alzheimer’s disease. Senilife is sold in the US and Aktivait in the UK.
Neutricks contains apoaequorin, a substance derived from jellyfish. Studies indicated that dogs taking it performed better at learning and attention tasks.
Other supplements have even less direct evidence, but include coconut oil and Omega-3 fatty acids. These are both included in the special diets linked above, but in both of the diets it is not known which of the ingredients, or which combination, had the beneficial effect. Please note that gingko biloba, a popular supplement previously thought to support brain health, has not been tested in dogs, and recent human studies have shown it not to be effective in lessening the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other prescription drugs and supplements can sometimes help with individual symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction, such as anxiety and sleeplessness. You can talk to your veterinarian about options for your dog.
Please pass the word about canine cognitive dysfunction. Many people only find out about the disease when their dog has a very advanced case. But most interventions are more effective if they are started earlier.
Hill’s Prescription Diet b/d Canine Healthy Aging & Alertness: Dietary enrichment counteracts age-associated cognitive dysfunction in canines
Hill’s Prescription Diet b/d Canine Healthy Aging & Alertness: Brain aging in the canine: a diet enriched in antioxidants reduces cognitive dysfunction
Purina One SmartBlend Vibrant Maturity 7+ Formula: Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs
Gingko biloba (shown NOT to be effective in humans): Effects of Ginkgo biloba in dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis