As your playful puppy puts more years behind him, things start to slow down. He may not run as fast or bark at random strangers — and he may also experience dog dementia.
Some research has suggested that an enriched diet can help fight off cognitive decline in aging pet dogs. A new study tested that theory, casting doubt on whether a specialized diet is ultimately necessary for aging dogs.
For one year, researchers fed 119 pet dogs, all over age 6, one of two diets — either a control or an enricheddiet. The enriched diet included nutrients like antioxidants, omega-fatty acids, tryptophan, and Phosphatidylserine.
After a series of tests, the scientists determined that the enriched diet did not make a significant difference when it comes to the six factors they evaluated:
Previous training experience, which the researchers assessed based on reports from owners, also did not make a difference in dogs’ aging brains. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
Durga Chapagain, a researcher at Messerli Research Institute in Vienna, Austria, led the study. Chapagain explains that previous lab experiments suggested that diet can alter learning and memory in older laboratory dogs.
But while lab dogs are generally kept in a homogenous group with a standardized diet and housing type, there is much more variation in the lives of pet dogs. Chapagain’s team wanted to determine how diet influences dogs outside of the lab.
“Those studies have claimed that these diets are very effective,” Chapagain tells Inverse. “But we advocate that in order to claim whether or not these diets have any effect on dogs’ cognition and behavior, we need to test these diets in general dog population either pet dogs, working dogs, sports dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, etcetera.”
The new findings suggest that past work does not apply to all dogs — or render specific dog food brands effective for helping the brains of older dogs.
“We should be cautious to generalize the findings of laboratory dogs to all dog population and advertise that certain food brands are effective for pet dogs per se,” Chapagain says.