Excerpt of article by Veterinarian Chloe Ross.
Food doesn’t just affect your dog’s health; you can improve behaviour too with the right diet.
Along with adequate socialization, exercise and training we have learnt what dietary factors may support good brain health and behaviour.
When we discuss behaviour in dogs, there are a few specific aspects that we focus on:
- Ability to cope with stressful events and situations
- Ability to learn skills and commands
- Ability to control aggressive tendencies
Research into the effects of diet on brain health and behaviour is at early stages but we already have a lot of information. Here are some of the elements that make up the ideal diet to support your dog’s brain health.
Proteins are key building blocks of body tissues. The body uses them as fuel when other sources are lacking. Some proteins are even important ingredients in chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.
Specific neurotransmitters are important in cognition, reward, memory, and in moderating anxiety.
Serotonin and noradrenaline are two of these important neurotransmitters.
Low serotonin levels are linked to:
- mood swings
- increased pain sensitivity
- obsessive-compulsive behaviors
Hyperactivity, territorial and dominance aggression may be lower in dogs on high protein diets with tryptophan supplementation. The body uses tryptophan to make serotonin.
Noradrenalin is lower in animals after periods of prolonged stress. The body produces noradrenalin, a neurotransmitter and stress hormone. It acts on the fear response part of the brain.
It’s recommended your dog eats a diet rich in high-quality proteins, especially during times of stress. This will help support your dog’s brain health and behavior.
Fat is a very broad term and can be a very confusing aspect of nutrition.
- Some fats are essential for health
- Other fats are very detrimental to health
- Some are necessary in moderation but harmful in excess
- Some come directly from the fats your dog eats
- Others form in the body when it receives excess calories from carbohydrates
Diets high in bad fats (like refined oils) lead to increased sensitivity to stressors.
They also lead to decreased memory.
Good fats, like Omega-3s, may help.
High levels of Omega-3s may help recovery psychiatric injury after following a brain injury. Low levels may lead to increased stress, anxiety, and aggression in dogs.
Dogs appear more aggressive with low dietary intake of cholesterol. This might reduce serotonin production. Serotonin is a mood-stabilizing hormone.
To help your dog maintain peak brain health, a diet rich in Omega-3s with enough cholesterol is key. Consider adding eggs, and Omega-3s rich food supplements to your dog’s diet.
Aside from helping to feed your dog’s gut bacteria, fiber is essential for several reasons.
It helps the body …
- Get rid of waste
- Boost gastrointestinal tract health
- Maintain a feeling of fullness (satiety) after meals
Studies have found:
A high fiber diet (HFD) decreased activity and improved calmness levels in kenneled dogs. This could be due to satiety.
Providing your best friend with adequate fiber can lower hunger-related stress resulting in a calmer, less anxious dog.
Consider increasing the high fiber vegetables in your dog’s diet to promote brain health. Or adding a supplement like psyllium husk. (Make sure your dog gets plenty of water if you use psyllium husk to avoid constipation.)
Carbohydrates are present in grains and vegetables. They are the brain’s preferred source of energy. Complex carbohydrates can be an excellent slow-release source of energy for our dogs.
However, numerous studies have found that eating refined sugars and carbohydrates is harmful to the brain. It impairs memory and worsens mood disorders. This is just one reason to avoid commercial pet diets high in refined carbohydrates.
Probiotics provide a source of beneficial gut bacteria that support gut health.
Researchers are finding links between probiotic supplementation and brain health, including behavioral benefits. Making sure your dog has a healthy gut microbiome is important for many reasons. Behavioral effect: the gut microbiome is different in aggressive vs non-aggressive dogs.
Probiotic supplementation (specifically Lactobacillus and Bacteroides) in dogs can:
- reduce anxious behaviors
- decrease heart rate
- lower salivary cortisol
Evidence shows that healthy gut bacteria can help normal neural development.
A good gut can also help with brain biochemistry and behavior. The gut microbiome produces tryptophan, which the body uses to make serotonin.
Bacterial populations that are elevated in dogs with inflammatory bowel disease are also high in more aggressive dogs.
Broad-spectrum probiotics can help dogs with Alzheimer’s-like disease.
There’s overwhelming evidence that a diverse microbiome and probiotic supplementation are beneficial in:
- Reducing stress
- Improving memory
- Decreasing aggression
- Slowing age-related cognitive decline in dogs
Help improve the health of your dog’s gut bacteria by feeding a whole balanced diet. Give plenty of fiber and supplementary probiotics.
Vitamins And Antioxidants
A nutrient-rich diet for dogs enables best body and brain performance.
Certain vitamins such as thiamine are essential for maintaining healthy brain cells. Antioxidants in many vegetables and whole foods can help prevent brain cell damage caused by normal metabolism.
Dogs naturally develop ALD and cognitive dysfunction as they age. Researchers have chosen dogs to test many antioxidants and vitamins. So far we know that:
- An antioxidant rich diet improves and maintains cognition and reduces ALD in dogs.
- Curcumin (a compound in turmeric) in aged dogs helps prevent ALD.
- Green tea extract may decrease age related cognitive decline. (Caution is recommended; no more than 200mg per 2 lbs body weight per day. Give after food to avoid gastrointestinal or liver problems).
- Resveratrol, an antioxidant in grapes and nuts, helps prevent problems associated with chronic stress.
Caution: grapes are toxic to dogs. Feed berries like cranberries, blueberries or mulberries for a dog-friendly source of resveratrol. If giving nuts, avoid walnuts and macadamias for dogs.
When you feed a home prepared diet, make sure it contains plenty of sources of antioxidants. Consider including a wide variety of colorful vegetables in your dog’s diet and adding fresh turmeric root or a turmeric supplement.
Vegetables can be puréed for digestibility.
Your Dog’s Diet Makes A Difference
To summarize, research strongly suggests that diet impacts dogs’ brain health, cognitive abilities, and behavior.
While I’m not suggesting that dietary changes alone are a replacement for enrichment, socialization, exercise, and training … there are many take-home messages that just might help your furry friend be the best good dog she can be:
- Feed good quality proteins.
- Add Omega-3 to your dog’s diet.
- Provide adequate dietary fiber. This can be in the form of vegetables or supplements like psyllium husk.
- Feed whole, complex carbohydrates, and avoid refined ones.
- Give probiotics.
- Ensure adequate vitamin and mineral balance of home-made diets.
- Provide plenty of antioxidants in the form of vegetables and a turmeric supplement.
Excerpt of article by Veterinarian Chloe Ross.