For many of us, our dogs enter our lives as exuberant little balls of puppy energy, fueled by curiosity and filled with a zest for life. Then, as our dogs age, there are physical, metabolic, and functional changes that occur in their bodies, including their brains. This affects cognition – thinking, knowing, and remembering – and in turn causes behavioral changes. 
We often only see the physical, outer displays of aging in our dogs. But their organs, including their brains, also go through various transformations. Brain aging is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction and reductions in glucose metabolism.
Compromised mitochondrial function reduces energy availability and contributes to increased production of oxygen free radicals and oxidative stress. This, overall, can have negative effects on your dog’s cognitive functions.
In this post, we'll take a closer look at cognitive decline in senior dogs. We'll also explain how medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and MCT oil for dogs can help prevent and manage the problem.
What Causes Cognitive Decline in Dogs?
As your dog ages, energy metabolism, the process of making energy from nutrients, is altered.
In particular, the brain is unable to metabolize glucose as effectively as when your dog was younger. This leads to neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline.
This might be something to consider earlier in your dog’s life than you might think. In dogs, overall brain metabolism and regional metabolic reductions as severe as 25% have been detected by 6 years of age. 
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is “too early” to be mindful of your dog’s cognitive health.
What Are the Signs of Cognitive Decline in Dogs?
Cognitive decline, or canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. There are a few telltale signs that your dog may be afflicted by CCD and recognizing them means you can take the proper actions.
Soiling in the house and a general loss of house training is often noted. Of course, toileting indoors can be a sign of a wide range of issues. But it is high on the CCD checklist because as dogs lose memory, they can forget what they have learned in the past. This includes housebreaking.
Sleeping throughout the day, insomnia at night, odd pacing or barking behaviors, and generally irregular sleep patterns are also common signs of CCD.
Your dog may also display disorientation in various forms. They may forget their usual route on a walk, wander aimlessly from room to room or down halls in your home, or appear especially anxious or confused in entirely familiar and known places. Again, as their ability to recognize spaces, places, and people declines, these behaviors will become more common.
A final sign includes noticeable behavioral changes. These can manifest as becoming anxious and withdrawn or even outright aggressive. As memories fade, your dog may not remember you or other family members, and that fear or confusion can spark behaviors you haven’t seen from them in the past.
How Can Medium-Chain Triglycerides Help Dogs with Cognitive Decline?
When discussing brain health, we must concern ourselves with glucose metabolism, as it is crucial for generating the energy required for proper brain function. 
Studies have shown that much-needed glucose can be replaced as an energy source for the brain by enhancing the production of ketones through supplementation of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) derived from MCTs.  Supplementation can be easily be given by giving a high-quality virgin coconut oil for dogs or MCT oil for dogs.
Senior dogs who receive MCTs as a supplement can significantly increase blood ketone levels and improve age-related decline in cognitive function. The studies showed that long-term supplementation with MCTs helps in two ways:
- Cognition-improving effects
- Increases circulating levels of ketones in the blood
When fatty acids are metabolized in the liver, ketone bodies such as B-hydroxybutyrate are formed. These ketone bodies can cross the blood-brain barrier and mitochondrial membrane, which will produce adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP. This is a molecule that carries energy within cells. And this is the energy the brain needs to function properly.
In a study where 9 epileptic dogs were fed a traditional ketogenic diet, results showed significantly higher serum concentration of B-hydroxybutyrate, compared to the control group. 
It’s also important to consider that while glucose metabolism of the brain decreases with age, ketone metabolism of the brain appears to be unaffected. Neurons can oxidize ketone bodies – a form of energy production – at a rate of 7 to 9 times the rate for glucose. Ketones are so powerful that they can provide up to 70% of the brain's energy during prolonged periods when food is not consumed.
It was found that MCTs provide an alternative source of brain energy in old, healthy dogs and the MCT-containing diet had no adverse effects on CBC and blood chemistry. Therefore, we recommend to supplement MCTs for dogs prior to issues arising, so that when glucose metabolism decreases with age, your dog will have an additional energy source to draw from to maintain proper cognitive functions and health.
MCTs in Coconut Oil
It can be difficult to find high quality sources of MCTs to include in your dog’s diet as few exist. Fortunately, around 63% of the fatty acids in virgin coconut oil are MCTs. Thus, supplementing your dog’s diet with a high-quality virgin coconut oil for dogs or MCT oil for dogs will be an effective way to raise blood ketone levels to bolster brain health as we described in this post.
Selecting the right MCT oil for dogs can be a difficult task. We believe that quality starts with the coconuts and knowing more about the company you are purchasing from is vital to obtaining the best product possible.
Choose coconut oil for dogs made from organic, non-GMO and non-hybrid coconuts with a high Lauric Acid content. The extraction method matters too and determines the final product’s moisture content (lower is better). MCT oil for dogs should come from a high-quality virgin coconut oil. There are numerous studies that show many benefits of MCT oil for dogs brain health, MCT oil for dog seizures, and like virgin coconut oil, it’s also an excellent source of MCTs for pets.
CocoTherapy Virgin Coconut Oil is sourced from our USDA-certified organic family farm in the Philippines, and carefully manufactured in our own facility. We combine generations-old methods with state-of-the-art processes to farm coconuts and produce products free from chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Read more about the CocoTherapy difference and leave us a comment below with any questions you might have.
Ready to add a high-quality, virgin coconut oil to your dog’s diet to supplement brain health and help protect against cognitive decline? Click here for our USDA certified coconut oil for dogs, cats, and birds.
 Cummings BJ, Head E, Ruehl W, et al. The canine as an animal model of human aging and dementia. Neurobiol Aging 1996;17:259–268.
 London ED, Ohata M, Takei H, et al. Regional cerebral metabolic rate for glucose in Beagle dogs of different ages. Neurobiol Aging 1983;4:121–126.
 Mergenthaler P, Lindauer U, Dienel GA, Meisel A. Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function. Trends Neuroscience 2013;36(10):587-597.
 Nugent S, Courchesne-Loyer A, St-Pierre V, et al. Ketones and brain development: implications for correcting deteriorating brain glucose metabolism during aging. Oilseeds Fats Crops Lipids 2016;23:D110.
 Patterson EE, Munana KR, Kirk CA, et al. Results of a ketogenic food trial for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy (abstr). J Vet Intern Med 2005; 19:421.