Canine cognitive dysfunction and vitamin D

Sometimes referred to as “doggy dementia”, canine cognitive dysfunction affects many senior dogs. A deficiency in vitamin D3 could be the cause.

Is your older dog behaving oddly? Does he seem confused or lost in familiar surroundings? Has he become withdrawn or uninterested in walks or play? While there are other reasons for these behaviors, they can also point to canine cognitive dysfunction, a mental condition that affects many dogs as they age. Let’s look at the symptoms and possible causes, and how vitamin D3 and other natural therapies can help alleviate the condition.

Canine cognitive dysfunction involves a deterioration of how your dog thinks, learns and remembers. It includes various stages of confusion and disorientation, and causes behavioral changes that can disrupt the lives of everyone in the household. Studies have shown that some older dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction have brain lesions very similar to those seen in human Alzheimer’s patients.

Signs of canine cognitive dysfunction

Your dog may have canine cognitive dysfunction if he displays a number of the following behaviors:

  • Does not respond to his name or familiar commands
  • Is withdrawn and unwilling to play, go for walks or even go outside
  • Becomes lost in familiar places in the home or backyard
  • Becomes trapped behind familiar furniture or in room corners
  • Has trouble finding and using doors and negotiating stairways
  • Does not recognize or is startled by family members, toys, etc.
  • Frequently soils in the house, regardless of the frequency he is taken outside
  • Sleeps more during the day, and less during the night
  • Stares at walls or into space, and is startled by interior lighting, the television, etc.
  • Frequently trembles or shakes, either while standing or lying down
  • Paces or wanders aimlessly through the house
  • Has difficulty learning new tasks, commands or routes
  • Seeks less and less attention and praise
  • Is hesitant to take treats, drink fresh water, or eat fresh food

Could canine cognitive dysfunction be caused by a vitamin D3 deficiency?

Studies in humans have found a significant link between dementia and vitamin D, and have confirmed that older adults who don’t get enough vitamin D double their risk of acquiring dementia disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. The research has shown that people with low levels of vitamin D3 are 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and have a 53% increased risk for dementia.

A study done in British Columbia, Canada, demonstrated that vitamin D is a champion for cognitive health. Non-verbal (visual) memory benefited from higher doses of vitamin D supplementation, particularly among those who were insufficient at baseline. The study showed that higher vitamin D3 levels were particularly important for higher-level cognitive functioning, specifically non-verbal (visual) memory.

Studies by VDI Laboratory show that 75% of dogs eating commercial dog food actually have a deficiency in vitamin D, which can lead to cognitive dysfunction, among other problems. Additionally, dogs with IBD or kidney failure are almost certainly D3 deficient. That’s because D3 is absorbed in the gut, and intestinal problems prevent adequate absorption. And D3 is converted in both the liver and kidneys. Other factors that play a role in vitamin D uptake in dogs include breed, age and spaying/neutering. Certain breeds, such as the golden retriever, are more prone to vitamin D deficiency. In dogs over the age of five, vitamin D3 absorption starts to drop by about 3% to 5% a year. Female spayed dogs are 10% lower in D3 than intact females, while male neutered dogs are 30% lower than intact males. It has also been found that the risk of getting cancer quadruples in dogs with low stores of vitamin D. Yet there’s a genuine epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in our pets.

Getting more sunshine is not a solution. Dogs can’t use sunshine to create vitamin D because they do not have the same enzymes in their skin that people do. This means their vitamin D has to come from diet. VDI Laboratory started testing vitamin D3 levels in animals several years ago; if you wish, it’s easy to get your own dog’s D3 level tested (visit Correcting any deficiency would help to prevent a myriad of diseases, including canine cognitive dysfunction.

Dosing with D3

Don’t wait until your dog gets canine cognitive dysfunction before you start supplementing him with vitamin D3. It’s far better to begin giving him D3 on a daily basis from a young age. Certain supplements have very adequate doses of vitamin D3 at 400 IU a day, but talk to an holistic or integrative veterinarian before choosing a product for your own dog.

I have treated many older dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction using vitamin D3 supplementation, with excellent results. It takes some time (about six weeks) for oral supplementation to reach acceptable levels, so for large dogs I usually start with 5,000 IU a day for two months and then lower this dose by half.  A dog over 20 pounds would get 2,000 IU to 3,000 IU a day for a month to six weeks, and would then be given to a maintenance dose. Compounding pharmacies commonly make a safe injectable form of vitamin D3 which works to raise levels immediately. One injection of 50,000 IU for a large dog, or 25,000 IU for a medium dog, would be fine to start with, and you could follow this up with oral D3 on a daily basis. These levels may seem high, but for a dog who has tested low for D3, they’re not very high at all. Often, I have to increase the levels of D3 in order to get my patients into the normal realm.

Starting the process

Whatever your dog’s age, ask your veterinarian to contact VDI Laboratories and order the vitamin D testing kit. A tiny amount of blood is placed on special absorbent paper and sent in for analysis.

If your dog is deficient (which is very likely), ask about a compounding pharmacy injection of D3 to get his levels up quickly and immediately. Follow this up with an oral dose. Melatonin can be added in if you do not see results one week after the shot. Remember that oral supplementation with vitamin D3 takes six weeks to start working; and even then, your dog’s D3 level may still be non-optimal and you may have to increase the dose again. It’s a good idea to have his D3 levels re-checked to make sure he is getting an adequate dose. Again, Baryta carbonica can also be used if needed.

Additional therapies for canine cognitive dysfunction

Master hormone: melatonin

Melatonin is helpful for older dogs suffering from sleepless nights and/or who are barking at odd hours. In essence, melatonin is the reset button for circadian rhythms; it affects the internal clock system that influences everything from cellular health and hormone signaling to mental acuity. Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, immune modulator and master rejuvenation hormone, and has been proven to actively promote cellular health. Depending on the size of your dog, 1mg to 5mg before bed is totally safe.

Homeopathy can help

Baryta carbonica is a homeopathic remedy indicated in cases of mental weakness, loss of memory, senile dementia and confusion. The 6x potency can be given orally without food up to three times a day for a month; improvement should be watched for and noted. I have found this remedy to be helpful in some cases, but I also like to check D3 levels and include other modalities in the treatment of canine cognitive dysfunction.

Stem cell therapy for canine cognitive dysfunction – a case report

Toby was an extremely intelligent therapy dog. At the age of 13, however, he began waking his people up five times a night to go out and roam, dig or sit down. He would stand around looking lost and did not even notice his people were near. He scratched furiously at the carpet, as though it were dirt, had a dazed look and was confused and unaware of his environment. This very smart and very well-trained dog could not do any of his old tricks. He also had fits of extreme anxiety.

After ten days on a specific stem cell targeting product that I use in my consulting practice, Toby’s owners noticed a dramatic change. His eyes became bright and he reverted to his playful puppy-like self. He started performing all his old tricks again. I expected this therapy to produce a relatively permanent change, and am satisfied that it did. We also tested Toby’s D3 levels, and he is on a lifelong supplement.

Canine cognitive dysfunction occurs commonly in aging dogs, and vitamin D3 deficiency has to be a serious contender for the reason why. Whether your dog is still young and healthy, or is a senior who has already been diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction, looking into D3 supplementation is an excellent idea.