Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age

J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Sep 1;241(5):583-94. doi: 10.2460/javma.241.5.583.


Objective: To assess effects of foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-rich fish oil on cognitive, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal function and other measures of development in healthy puppies.

Design: Evaluation study.

Animals: 48 Beagle puppies.

Procedures: Puppies were assigned to 3 groups after weaning (n = 16/group) and received 1 of 3 foods (low-DHA, moderate-DHA, or high-DHA food) as their sole source of nutrition until 1 year of age. Visual discrimination learning and memory tasks, psychomotor performance tasks, and physiologic tests including blood and serum analysis, electroretinography, and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry were performed at various time points. Anti-rabies virus antibody titers were evaluated 1, 2, 4, and 8 weeks after vaccination at 16 weeks of age.

Results: Foods had similar proximate analysis results but varied in concentration of DHA from fish oil; the high-DHA food also contained higher concentrations of vitamin E, taurine, choline, and l-carnitine than did other foods. The high-DHA group had significantly better results for reversal task learning, visual contrast discrimination, and early psychomotor performance in side-to-side navigation through an obstacle-containing maze than did the moderate-DHA and low-DHA groups. The high-DHA group had significantly higher anti-rabies antibody titers 1 and 2 weeks after vaccination than did other groups. Peak b-wave amplitudes during scotopic electroretinography were positively correlated with serum DHA concentrations at all evaluated time points.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Dietary fortification with fish oils rich in DHA and possibly other nutrients implicated in neurocognitive development following weaning improved cognitive, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in growing dogs.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / veterinary
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Dogs / growth & development
  • Dogs / immunology
  • Dogs / physiology*
  • Electroretinography / veterinary
  • Female
  • Fish Oils / administration & dosage*
  • Food, Fortified*
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology
  • Rabies Vaccines / immunology
  • Retina / drug effects
  • Retina / physiology
  • Weaning


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Fish Oils
  • Rabies Vaccines
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids