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You already think your puppy is a brainiac. After all, without even telling her, she knows when you’ve had a bad day at the office. She intuitively understands when you could use a good cuddle. And she can even get your barista to keep the coffee shop open for a few more minutes with just one look.
But did you know you can help make her even smarter by making sure her diet includes DHA? Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plays a critical role in the brains of all mammals, including people and dogs. And because your puppy’s brain is still developing, DHA is particularly essential, says Dr. Duffy Jones of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta.
“It’s essential in proper neurologic development,” explains Jones. “DHA is a major component of the cell membrane and affects fluidity of the cell membrane. It helps the neurons interconnect better and causes the ability of the brain to function better.”
Your Dog’s Brain Development
Until your puppy was weaned, he received this fatty acid from his mother. In fact, pregnant dogs provide DHA to their puppies, so Exceptional Canine’s resident veterinarian expert, Dr. Tracy Dewhirst of Knoxville, Tenn., recommends giving puppy food with DHA to pregnant dogs during the last two weeks of pregnancy and until the puppies are eating on their own.
But your puppy’s brain continues to develop after she’s weaned. Puppies acquire 70 percent of their adult brain mass by the time they’re 6 weeks old, and 90 percent by 12 weeks of age. That means there’s a lot you can do to help your puppy’s nutrition between the time your puppy leaves her mom and the time she is fully developed.
How much does it matter? “Studies have shown that dogs supplemented at a crucial time in brain development showed increased trainability than those that did not get supplemented,” explains Jones.
Where You’ll Find DHA
It’s difficult to provide the right mix of essential fatty acids, so look for this omega-3 fatty acid — most likely derived from fish, fish meal and fish oil — on the label of commercial puppy food. And you shouldn’t give your puppy additional supplements if he’s eating this diet.
Other Benefits of DHA for Dogs
If you feed your puppy DHA, she’ll likely socialize and train better; you may even find she’s easier to housetrain! With the right grooming and dental care, this fatty acid contributes to a shiny coat and healthy teeth and gums. And DHA also helps build a healthy nervous system and strong vision, playing a critical role in retinal development, says Jones.