Vitamin E & Neurological Support for Horses and Dogs
Over the past year, I’ve noticed a bit of a cognitive change in my 13 year old Australian Shepherd, Kemosabe. He has lost a bit of his mental acuity, seems uncomfortable in a room when the lights are out, and has a tendency to wander off, and get “lost” on our walks together on the farm. He occasionally runs into furniture.
I took him to the vet for his yearly check-up, and my vet pronounced him healthy and in great shape. I told the vet about the cognitive change and he looked at Kemosabe’s chart and replied, “He will be 14 years old in January. What you are seeing is a normal part of the aging process.”
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have calculated dog age to human age with a new formula. According to this formula, Kemosabe (based on weight and age) is 82 years old in human years.1
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is a degenerative disease that affects most animals and many humans. In humans, we refer to this as dementia or senility. While research on horses is not as advanced as it is in dogs, we can extrapolate from the canine model that a diet rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids can be beneficial both as a preventative and to slow the progression of the disease.
Cognitive health in horses
Changes in a senior horse’s behavior can reflect cognitive health and be a clue to cognitive degeneration. Horses that have trouble keeping track of their normal routine, the friendly horse who becomes suspicious and afraid, a horse that begins to wander aimlessly, gets lost in familiar surroundings or spooks more unexpectedly. You may notice the horse is more anxious and confused.
Cognitive health in dogs
Changes in a senior dog’s behavior may present as deficits in memory, learning, spatial awareness, perception, social interactions and sleeping patterns. These dogs may also have elevated anxiety and be more fearful and worried about stimuli and situations including loud noises, walking on certain surfaces, interacting with other dogs and people.
Vitamin E for the Brain
Vitamin E is an important fat-soluble antioxidant. It’s involved in a wide range of biological processes, from immune function, control of inflammation and cognitive performance to regulation of gene expression and signal transduction. There is mounting evidence that the main cellular roles of vitamin E are antioxidant defense and membrane stability.
The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress can be a major contributor to neurodegeneration.
A large percentage of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) from omega 3’s is found in the brain. Because vitamin E can protect membranes from oxidation, it also protects omega-3 fatty acids from peroxidation. Oxidative stress contributes to neurodegeneration, so supplementing with vitamin E provides a degree of protection.
Vitamin E protection is important especially when we feed omega fatty acids because it helps protect the omega fatty acids from the oxidative degradation of lipids.
Recommended amounts of vitamin E for horses with neurological challenges
- If your horse is suffering from a neurologic disease such as EPM, Wobbler Syndrome, West Nile Virus, or EHV-1 recommended dosages of vitamin E range from 5,000 IU’s to 10,000 IUs per day.
- Horses affected by Lyme Disease also benefit from therapeutic doses of vitamin E.
- Horses experiencing an age-related cognitive decline can benefit from a vitamin E dose of 3,000 IUs per day to 5,000 IU’s per day.
Recommended amounts of vitamin E for dogs with cognitive health issues
- For dogs with cognitive health issues, 100 IUs of vitamin E per day for small dogs, 400 IU’s per day for medium dogs, and 800 IUs per day for large dogs (100 pounds or larger).
Nutritional support for the canine brain
Medium Chain Triglyceride oil (aka MCT oil) or coconut oil has been shown to improve energy metabolism and mitochondrial function in the aging brain of dogs.2
The recommended percentage of MCT in the canine diet ranges from 5 to 6.5%.
Omega 3 fatty acids are important as well. Remember, a large percentage of DHA is in the brain. For an older dog with cognitive decline, cold water ocean fish or algae sources of omega 3’s are the best choice in my opinion. Plant-sourced omega 3’s are not as efficiently converted by humans or dogs. That doesn’t mean plant sourced omega 3’s have no benefits, they do. But if you are supporting an older dog with cognitive issues, go with an omega 3 source that the body can use effectively.
Nutritional support for the equine brain
We don’t know a lot about what can support horses with cognitive decline other than the support of vitamin E and the omega 3 fatty acids.
Unlike dogs and people, horses can convert plant sourced omega 3 fatty acids very well.
There have been no studies on MCT oil for horses with neurological issues.
Based on what we do know, if your horse is showing cognitive health changes, make sure to supplement with plenty of vitamin E, and the omega 3 fatty acids. Gold Star Camelina Oil is a great place to start.
Kemosabe’s results with vitamin E and fish oil
I started Kemosabe on 400 IUs of Biostar’s Sunn-E K9 and 1.5 teaspoons daily of Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet. In less than a week I noticed an improvement. He became more engaged, even ferreted out his favorite toy which he hadn’t played with in months. His spatial cognition continues to improve, and he just seems more like his old self.
The kind of vitamin E matters
Vitamin E can be extracted from plants (designated on a label as D-Alpha Tocopherol), or made in a laboratory from petroleum extracts (designated on a label as DL-Alpha Tocopherol). Studies are very conclusive that the plant sourced vitamin E is more bioavailable than the laboratory created vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a family of 4 Tocopherols and 4 Tocotrienols. They are known as Alpha-, Beta-, Gamma-, and Delta-Tocopherol, and Alpha-, Beta-, Gamma-, and Delta-Tocotrienol.
Most supplements that use plant sources of vitamin E are using soy and palm. The extraction process of alpha tocopherol from soy and palm oils involves the use of a solvent called Hexane.
(Learn more about sourcing Vitamin E in our article:
Vitamin E Supplements for Horses & Dogs)
It’s important to remember that nature does not isolate alpha-tocopherol from the other tocopherols — for a reason. When supplement companies extract only alpha-tocopherol, they leave behind the rest of the tocopherol family, which also provide important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
BioStar is the first equine and canine supplement company to provide Vitamin E from non-GMO sunflower oil, grown and expeller-pressed in Spain. This sunflower oil is full spectrum, containing all four members of the tocopherol family.
Full spectrum vitamin E is important for health. It’s the whole family, rather than one part, that confers the most health benefits to horses and dogs and humans.
1 – https://www.pumpkin.care/blog/dog-age-chart/
2 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19301124/