The new frontier

Using nutrition to improve learning and to prevent dementia

I'm old enough to remember John Kennedy declaring: "The new frontier is here whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space; unsolved problems of peace and war; unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice; unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. It would be easier to shrink from that new frontier, to look to the safe mediocrity of the past. But I believe that the times require imagination and courage and perseverance. I'm asking each of you to be pioneers towards that new frontier."

But I digress. In his presentation at Petfood Forum 2005, Dr. Greg Aldrich explored the new frontier of nutrition. He surveyed recent published work on dog and cat nutrition and found that most research focused on nine areas:

Gastrointestinal health;

Reproduction/growth and development;

Nutrient requirements;



Urinary tract health;

Skin and coat health;

Aging and joint health; and

Miscellaneous areas of therapeutic nutrition.

Aldrich thinks that, from his survey of the literature, the most notable research published was on the topics of behavior and obesity management. What I want to share with you is what he found out about nutrition and behavior.

Dietary choice.

Nutrient concentration affects dietary choice. Peachey (2002) found that cats selected diets with an animal-based fat over diets with vegetable-based fat.

Olfactory acuity.

Altom (2000) demonstrated that olfactory acuity in English Pointers was affected by the origin of the fat. Olfactory acuity scores were higher when dogs were fed beef tallow. This, coupled with elevated nutrient density and animal-based proteins, led to better performance in the field (Davenport et al., 2001).

DHA and training.

Several companies are actively promoting the benefits of fatty acids on mental acuity in young puppies. Unfortunately, Aldrich did not find published data in this area. Nonetheless, the gist of petfood company promotions indicates that puppy training was more effective when puppies were fed docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at a "substantial" level. This fits with research that has been conducted in humans and rats.


It has been reported that, when feeding a cocktail of antioxidants, mitochrondrial co-factors, and fruits and vegetables, impairment in memory in old dogs could be slowed (Milgram et al., 2002; Araujo et al., 2004). These effects were observed only in the old dog (Milgram et al., 2005).


In a study reported by Hennessy et al. (2002), behavior and reactivity decreased (pre- vs. post-assessment) in shelter dogs fed a nutrient-dense diet with animal-derived proteins. In a separate study, shelter dogs had lower circulating stress hormones (ACTH and cortisol) when fed a higher plane of nutrition coupled with a program of human interaction (Hennessy et al., 2002).


In a study with dogs that had previous aggressive and dominance issues, dogs fed low (17%) and medium (25%) protein diets had lower territorial aggression (Dodman et al., 1996). However, dominance aggression and hyperactivity were not affected by the protein level. Dominance aggression was highest in dogs fed a high protein (30%) diet without supplementation of tryptophan at 1.45 g/kg diet (DeNapoli et al., 2000). A low protein (18%) diet supplemented with tryptophan had lower territorial aggression scores.


Research on nutrition and behavior is just one area that will shape the future of the petfood industry. The new frontier is here whether we seek it or not. Who will be the pioneers of this new frontier?

For references, contact Dorothy Randecker at [email protected].

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