Early Development


Puppies’ brains grow rapidly in their first months of life, so it’s important that nutrition supports that development to enable lifelong learning.

Learning, which depends on good brain function, is key to helping a puppy become a beloved family member.

When owners get a new puppy, they typically visit their veterinarian often during the next few months to help them give their puppy the best start in life. Nutrition is usually a part of those early health conversations, but it’s also important to discuss nutrition throughout all life stages of pets.  


Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and brain development

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is a key part of gray and white matter in the brain, both of which are critical for memory and learning. DHA is concentrated in neural membranes and is vital for nerve signal transmission. It’s also a component of the myelin sheath, which is essential for nerve signal conduction. The developing brain needs adequate levels of DHA to reach its full potential; insufficient levels are associated with poor neural and visual development. Fatty acids from fish oil provide an excellent source of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids.



Purina's research


The retina of the eye is a window into the central nervous system, and thus can be an indicator of brain health. Measures of retinal function, such as an electroretinogram (ERG), provide non-invasive indicators of retinal and brain development. In a study, female dogs were fed a DHA-supplemented diet while pregnant dogs and their litters were continued on the diet until the puppies were weaned; puppies supplemented with higher DHA levels through development showed better retinal function on their ERGs compared to those fed lower-DHA diets. This indicates that dietary DHA enhances retinal and brain development.1


Purina’s research has also shown that dietary supplementation with DHA improved puppies’ memory, trainability, and problem solving ability.2

Puppies fed a diet supplemented with DHA from 3-16 weeks of age completed a maze test over 25% faster than littermates fed a control diet.2

Key things to remember

  • The developing brain needs adequate levels of DHA to reach its full potential; insufficient levels are associated with poor neural and visual development.
  • Retinal abnormalities could be an indicator of problems in the brain.
  • Feeding a diet supplemented with DHA enhances brain development.
  • Fatty acids from fish oil - as part of a complete and balanced diet - optimize brain development, resulting in improved learning ability.

Find out more

1. Heinemann, K. M., Waldron, M. K., Bigley, K. E., Lees, G. E., & Bauer, J. E. (2005). Long-chain (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids are more efficient than α-linoleic acid in improving electroretinogram responses of puppies exposed during gestation, lactation and weaning. Journal of Nutrition, 135, 1960–1966

2. Reynolds, A. J., Waldron, M., Wilsson, E., Leavitt, Y., Dunlap, A., Bailey, K. (2006). Effect of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on mental stability, problem-solving ability, and learned pattern retention in young, growing dogs. Proceedings Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum, p. 74