Developing a canine hunting partner is a culmination of genetics, training and nutrition. As dogs age, their performance edge may fall off as they slow down. Though they may not have as many bird finds or stellar retrieves as when they were younger, they still are your hunting buddy.
Senior dog status is based on many things. Age, declining health, reduced activity, reduced performance and possibly the loss of sight, hearing or smell are factored in. Though some of these changes may not be obvious, they impact performance in the field and overall health. While we cannot stop an animal from aging, we can help reduce or delay some of the effects of aging.
Healthy Brain Aging
The cognitive abilities of dogs change as they grow older. Those who have spent day after day in the field teaching and refining a young dog's marking ability, steadiness or sit to flush realize it takes a lot of time and effort, as well as continuous reinforcement. To watch these learned behaviors fade away or become lost is heart-wrenching.
In studies of Beagles, researchers have found that cognitive performance decline can be reduced by maintaining a physically and mentally stimulating lifestyle. Simple activities like walking at heel to reinforce obedience and going to new parks or fields to experience new sights and smells help to keep a dog active. There is truth to the "use it or lose it" concept when it comes to brain aging.
Aiding Brain Function
Nutrition and metabolism also influence brain aging. Importantly, a dog's diet can play a role in slowing the effects of brain aging. In adult dogs, brain metabolism, and thus brain function, takes its energy from a few sources but preferentially from blood glucose derived from both diet and stores of glycogen.
As aging occurs, there is a shift in how the brain generates energy for nerve function. The brain becomes less efficient at utilizing glucose. However, small fat nutrients called ketones can be used by the brain as an alternate energy source, helping to optimize the energy available for brain function. A highly effective way to get ketones for brain function is through dietary medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Easily digested, absorbed and metabolized, MCTs help to reduce the rate of memory decline. Studies have shown that dogs fed diets enriched with MCTs continue to learn efficiently at an older age and have better attention performance and executive function. Essentially, they are better equipped to react to encounters, challenges and distractions. Dogs in the field are constantly making cognitive decisions. Their ability to make decisions and stay focused is paramount.
Purina nutrition scientists have found that dietary MCTs can increase blood ketone bodies in senior dogs and thus deliver key nutrients to optimize brain energy supply. Their studies have shown that old dogs fed an MCT-enriched diet had significant cognitive improvements compared to those fed a food without MCTs. While you may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, if an old dog can at least remember old tricks, that's good enough for our beloved hunting buddy.