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At the Purina Better With Pets Summit in New York, host John Hockenberry conducted a fascinating interview with Janet Jackson (“the real Janet Jackson,” as he called her) that revealed the latest advancements in canine cognitive health. Janet is a leading member of Purina’s Research and Development group, a global team of 400 scientists, nutritionists, and veterinarians who are engineering innovations for pet care.
“We’ve been working in cognition and brain health for the past 13 years,” she said. But Janet’s belief that pets actually think originated when she was three years old, with her dog, Lassie. “She was older, and she taught me.” Janet took those assumptions into her life’s work. When asked for evidence that pets have cognition, she said, “there is research out there [that suggests] they have the same ‘cuddle hormones’ as humans.”
The conversation moved to the challenges that dogs and cats face when they age. “28 percent of the dogs between the ages of 10 and 12 have one sign of cognitive decline,” said Janet. “After age 15, over 68 percent have one or more signs.” Cats follow a similar pattern. “And that’s just what happens and there’s nothing we can do about it?” asked John.
“That’s what we used to think,” said Janet. Recent research has shown that as pets age, they suffer from a decline in glucose metabolism. Brains need glucose to function. Her team, along with scientist Gary Pan, also at Purina, has worked with neuroscientists to objectively measure cognitive health. “We look at memory retention, coping ability, trainability.” And the exciting news is that innovative nutritional interventions can help with the mind.
Janet and her team started looking into medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which provide an additional source of energy for the brain and are sourced from enhanced botanical oils such as coconut. She showed a video that illustrated the before and after of an aging dog treated with MCTs.
“This is Doubay,” she said, a 12-year-old dog in Switzerland who was evaluated by veterinarian behaviorists. “She paces all day, and has problems with obstacles like going through a gate.” The audience watches as Doubay pauses at the bottom of a staircase. “She’s forgotten” how to climb the steps, “and has to be urged by owners.” Moreover, the dog shows signs of incomprehension when given simple commands that she once had mastered.
The follow-up video took place four weeks after Doubay had been eating food that contained MCTs and we see completely different behaviors. “She’s friendly, her tail is wagging. She’s not wandering and pacing,” said Janet. “She can go right up the stairs—it’s amazing.” After doing exhaustive research and studies about the effect of MCTs, “it was very rewarding to us…that it made a visible difference.”
The resulting product for dogs, Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind, will be available in January 2015. Another product is in the works for cats, and the Purina team is also “looking at a brain protection blend you could feed pets earlier—nutrition to address metabolic changes,” said Janet. Purina’s Research and Development team is working to deliver a brighter shared future for pets and their owners.