The Bright Mind Effect

The Bright Mind Effect

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The Bright Mind Effect

About episode

Dr. Janet Jackson and Dr. Gary Pan are leaders in research and development at Nestle Purina Petcare. With a team of over 400 scientists, they formulated Bright Mind™ Adult and Bright Mind™ 7+ to support brain health in dogs. Dr. Bill Milgram, a leader in canine cognitive aging, helped Purina confirm the positive impact of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) on dog cognition. They’ll discuss their research and the essential nutrients that help support brain health as a dog ages.



Dr. Janet Jackson

Vice President of Nutrition Research at Nestle Purina Petcare developing nutritional innovations to enhance the overall health of pets.


Dr. Gary Pan

Principal Research Scientist at Nestle Purina Petcare developing scientific knowledge to promote healthy aging in dogs and cats.


Dr. Bill Milgram

Co-founder of CanCog Technologies.

View transcript

Brian Hare: “DogSmarts” is brought to you by Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind—a breakthrough in pet nutrition created to nourish a dog’s mind. Is your dog’s food feeding your dog’s brain? Discover more at

Canines and humans are not just connected by companionship. In fact, we are evolutionarily linked and tied together by something far more complex—our brains.

Join me as we take a peek into the inner workings of the canine brain through the lens of human cognition. With a mix of stories and interviews from leading psychologists, anthropologists, veterinarians, and dog owners, we’re going to tackle questions of memory, word learning, nutrition, and even love.

I’m Brian Hare, Founder of Dognition, and Professor at Duke University in Cognitive Neuroscience.

Welcome to “Dog Smarts”.

BH: Dr. Gary Pan and Dr. Janet Jackson are leaders in the research and development at Nestle Purina Petcare. Dr. Jackson is the Vice President of Nutrition Research, while Dr. Pan is a Principal Research Scientist. Their team has been working hard to try to see what the relation is between nutrition and whether it can positively impact cognition. I had to sit down with them to talk to about their research showing that nutrition can have a positive impact on dog cognition.

BH: Dr. Pan maybe you can tell me a little bit about the story of what you discovered with all your focus on how nutrition can positively impact cognition. You know, how did you arrive at this link? I mean, I don't think most people think about nutrition as important to affecting their dog as they age. So, I mean, why is it that you looked at this in a different way than most people?

Gary Pan: We know that aging influences cognition, right? We look at what happens with aging, what happens to the dog’s brain. So one of the striking features is the reduced ability to utilize glucose. If that happens you can imagine enhanced glucose in the blood does not help because they can't utilize it well. That's why we think we need to find the alternate energy for the dog to enhance the functions. That's how we connected the dog’s brain changes with metabolism and the nutrients we can find to enhance the energy supply.

BH: I’ve heard that MCTs come from coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Tell us how MCTs can help support a dog's cognitive health.

GP: The MCT is actually easily absorbed and the metabolizing of MCTs is not affected by dietary carbohydrate or dietary protein. When we eat the regular fat, carbohydrate and protein that will inhibit fat metabolism, make the fat not available for the brain. But if we eat the MCT can be metabolized into energy for the brain, even when we eat the carbohydrate and the protein. That's why we use this unique fat for this particular benefit for dogs.

BH: Your team realized that this unique fat – MCTs - could be used as an additional energy source for a dog’s brain, so that’s what y’all discovered that sparked these nutritional breakthroughs, so who discovered that? Were y’all the first to discover that?

GP: Yeah! We are the first to discover this and confirm the benefit for the dogs! Yeah.

BH: Dr Jackson explains.

Janet Jackson: Pets and people and mammals as they age there's a decline in the ability to take glucose up in the brain cells and so with this knowledge we started looking at what are alternative sources of energy to provide energy for the brain. So as we had identified that MCTs are easily metabolized and absorbed and those metabolites can be used as an alternative source or additional source of energy for the brain.

BH: Alright, so I get it, so the reason you chose 7 was because there was some evidence in the scientific literature that around that time there’s this slowing in the glucose metabolism and that's why you decided to have this food Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ target that moment in a dog's life. Then you have all these observations from people who are feeding this food that seem to further support what you had carefully studied. So I mean what an exciting thing to potentially have such a positive impact and support body and mind.

JJ: What really made us feel great is the observational and the visible difference that pet owners are seeing in their pets. They see that they come and greet them at the door again. They're not sleeping as much they want to go for walks again, it's really made a difference in that connectedness with their pet and the pets want to be involved. They're an integral part of the family once again.

BH: So you first introduce Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ for dogs seven and older. Then more recently you’ve developed Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult. Can you tell us more about that?

JJ: We've formulated the Bright Mind Adult to be very proactive in supporting brain health as the pet ages and so we have identified those nutrients that can help support structure and function of the brain and those metabolic changes that may occur as the pet ages. So, just like in people we want to provide the same nutrition for our pets and we've shown that these key nutrients have to be optimized at a higher level to support a healthy brain function as the pet ages.

BH: We’ll be back with more DogSmarts... I’m Brian Hare.

“DogSmarts” is brought to you by Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind—the result of years of research into the positive impact nutrition can have on a dog’s cognitive health. For dogs seven and older, there’s Bright Mind Adult 7­Plus, with enhanced botanical oils shown to promote alertness and mental sharpness in dogs seven and older, with visible results within 30 days, helping them think more like they did when they were younger. For adult dogs, there’s Bright Mind Adult, featuring a proprietary blend of brain­supporting nutrients. When fed daily, the blend of nutrients in Bright Mind Adult helps support a dog’s cognitive health throughout adulthood—to help him reach his full potential. Available exclusively at Pet Specialty Retailers such as Petsmart, Petco and Pet Supplies Plus. Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult and Adult 7­Plus. Is your dog’s food feeding your dog’s brain? Discover more at

Welcome back to DogSmarts. I’m Brian Hare.

BH: Dr. Bill Milgram is the president and CEO of CanCog Technology – a research and development organization based in Toronto. He has evidence that Medium Chain Triglycerides help a dog’s cognitive abilities function better.

BH: Welcome to DogSmarts, Bill. The reason that it’s so exciting to be able to talk to you is I can ask you the question - you have done an objective study, a scientific study, peer reviewed, to confirm that MCTs actually can benefit dogs and their ability to remember their attention, and trainability. So what did you do? What was the study and how did you go after this question?

Bill Milgram: We have a colony here in Canada of old dogs that because they’re old they show some degree of loss of general cognitive ability. So what we did in this study is that we basically took a large number of these dogs and we divided them into groups, where each of the groups were fed different diets. And in this specific study, we had one group that was fed a normal diet, and another group that was fed a diet that had been developed so that it contained these Medium Chain Triglycerides. It has to be formulated in such a way that it can pass through the digestive system and it can do so in a way which is palatable for the dog. But when we then tested the animals over the period of six months, on all of the tests, we found better performance in the animals in the MCT group. And on most of them, the level of performance reached the relatively high statistical criterion that we used which would enable us to say that in fact the groups were different.

BH: So, basically what you did was that you had a group of dogs that were very similar in how they were performing on a variety of cognitive tasks, looking at memory and attention. You divided them into 2 groups. One of them got your special diet that included MCTs and the other did not and then you compared them again, and it ends up that the guys that you gave this special diet to outperformed the other group that didn’t receive the MCTs on the same tasks that they had already shown that before your experiment were equivalent. So, what do you think is happening as a dog’s brain ages?


BM: The same sorts of things that happen to us. I think that the ability to process information from the environment gets slower. It gets harder to do it without errors. I think their ability to use their brain to learn new things to store memories becomes slower and more difficult. All of these things slow down and become impaired.

At Nestle Purina Petcare, Dr. Jackson and Dr. Pan’s teams have been studying healthy aging research for several decades. Dr. Jackson explains.

JJ: We've been studying healthy aging for about thirty years. We've really put a lot of effort and resources and time and to trying to understand how we can promote the health of the pet and the cognitive health of the pet.

BH: So Janet and Gary you guys are not the only people at Purina. Purina, it sounds like has been investing for a long time in trying to better understand healthy aging in pets, so how big is your team there at Purina and what is it that y'all focus on or emphasize?

JJ: In Nestle Purina Research and Development we have over 400 scientists, nutritionists, veterinarians working on innovations to help enhance the lives of pets, and help promote healthy and longer lives for our pets.

BH: Given you have all this experience thinking about healthy aging in pets both body and mind what do you think owners should look for as their pets age?

JJ: Pet owners should look for changes in pets and how they behave. As pets age, they may be sleeping more, they may have changes in the way they interact with the family; they may not want to go for walks that they once loved, and so these are just some of the changes that we typically associate with physical aging. But what we've identified is that actually it's changes in brain health. And through our nutrition we can help support brain health and help those pets and their owners stay connected and really help enhance their well­being and health and wellness throughout their lifetime.

BH: Thank you guys so much it's been fascinating hearing about how nutrition can positively impact the brain health of dogs. I think a lot of people, when you think about nutrition - you’re thinking about the body of your dog, as they age it may become painful for them to move, for instance. But, you don't always immediately think of cognitive health, so it's so cool that you guys have arrived here and realized that nutrition is a way that we can help our best friends as they age. So thanks so much.

We all love our dogs, we want their personalities to stay with us as long as possible. And there’s something we can do about it. We can pay attention to their nutrition, you can obviously exercise, but then you can play cognitive games as well. So, for all the dog lovers out there, there’s something we can do to keep that wonderful individual healthy for longer.

Many thanks to Dr. Bill Milgram, president and CEO of CanCog Technology; Dr. Janet Jackson, Vice President of Nutrition Research, and Dr. Gary Pan, a Principal Research Scientist at Nestle Purina Petcare.

‘Dog Smarts’ is produced by Panoply Custom Studios and is sponsored by Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind—a breakthrough in pet nutrition created to nourish a dog’s mind. Discover more at

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