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Dog nutrition and its impact on dog behaviour

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Have you ever considered, that your dog's diet can impact behaviour?

A few studies have shown that dog nutrition and gut health may be contributing factors to implicate certain behaviours such as anxiety or aggression.

Firstly, we need to understand that chemical processes in a dog's body impact dog behaviour. Therefore, dog behaviour is affected by Neurotransmitters (chemical messengers using an electric charge, they act rapidly with effects of a short duration) and hormones (chemical messengers that act slower with effects of a longer duration).

Changes in the availability of neurotransmitter's and hormone's precursors may influence dog behaviour.


For example, the amino acid (protein) tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that makes dogs feel satisfied, happy and optimistic).

Diet composition, nutrient accessibility and nutrient interactions affect these precursors in the brain.


Dog behaviour, stress levels and stress resistance are effected by them which is why it is so important to consider dog nutrition as a vital part of dog behaviour modifications.

Does protein affect dog behaviour?


An adult dog, typically needs about 4.5gr protein per 100 calories. Studies have shown that certain amino acids found in dog food (tryptophan and tyrosine) can alter dog behaviour such as territorial and owner directed aggression. However, there is still not enough research about which amino acids are responsible for such behavioural change. A generally low protein diet for example, decreased territorial aggression.

However it increased owner directed aggression with hyperactivity often unchanged.


Diet is never a substitute for training, but it can certainly contribute to existing behavioural issues or medical conditions.


Poor quality or excess protein could potentially cause kidney damage and is further stored as fat. A healthy weight is crucial for a dog's daily comfort and longevity.


A diet rich in nutrients & antioxidants


Nowadays, we know that nutrition plays a vital role for the health and wellbeing of humans.


In the year 2000, a study has shown that schoolchildren who have diets abundant in vitamins and minerals, display less anti-social behaviour.

Even young adult prisoners, who received supplements of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids showed decreased anti-social behaviour, including violence.


There are many studies that show how gut health and the intestinal microbiome influence mental conditions in humans. A dysfunction of the microbiome-brain-gut axis can cause depression, anxiety and even neurodevelopment disorders such as autism.


It is no surprise, that in dogs, an imbalance in the intestinal microbiome can enhance behaviours such as anxiety or even aggression.


An experiment by Milgram and coworkers, has even proved, that old Beagle dogs who received a diet rich in antioxidants, nutrients and minerals showed less of an age-related decline of cognitive function.


This experiment, demonstrates that diet clearly influences canine behaviour.



Is your dog showing signs of discomfort?


In my daily trainings, I see many dogs who suffer from soft stools/diarrhoea, fluctuations and excess grass eating. Dogs should be able to easily defecate and the feces should be well formed (not rock hard) and ideally of a medium brown colour.

Dogs who eat an excess amount of grass may have an increased stomach acidity or an imbalance of the microbiome and it could even make them feel nauseous .

Small signs such as excessive paw licking or struggling to lie down may be related to a dog's diet too.


I see amazing transformations in all our training dogs who's diet we changed. Some of the problematic behaviour improved quicker (as the dogs felt better in themselves) and their coats became shiner and their eyes clearer.


If you are worried about your dogs nutrition or if you would like to simply find out, which food could be more beneficial for your dog, I would be delighted to help. Please just contact me either via email flurina@canine-sense.co.uk or phone 07759186981.


My take on dog food & what we feed our own dogs


In my experience, all dogs are different. For example, some dogs can't stand kibble, others prefer it over cooked meat or raw food.

Just like us humans, each dog has its own preference and since we will never know how a dog truly feels, I think it is important to go with your own instinct to what you think is best for your dog based on their wellbeing and behaviour. Seeking a veterinarian's advice can be useful.


HOWEVER, please make sure that you always check the whole list of ingredients! Often dog food companies referred by vets, add cheap ingredients such as cereals or animal derivatives... these are ingredients you definitely want to avoid as they are highly processed.


The more natural the food the better. However, natural does not mean raw food.

Most dogs get on well with raw food, but not all.

This is true especially for hypoallergenic dogs, non working dogs or very young puppies. Dogs with sensitive tummies may tolerate cooked meat and vegetables much better.

When changing your dog's food, do it gradually and closely observe any physical or behavioural changes.


We feed our adult Rottweiler Breeze a complete raw food diet. She absolutely thrives on it. We alternate the proteins between tripe, duck, venison, beef and lamb. We avoid chicken as it can be irritating.


Our puppy Rottweiler Ember has been originally on raw food, however she was suddenly unwell and she is now fed a high quality kibble until her tummy is more settled and then we will introduce her to raw tripe again. Tripe is nutrient dense and perfect for sensitive tummies.


Sources:

Authors G. Bosch,B. Beerda, W. H. Hendriks,A. F. B. van der Poel and M. W. A. Verstegen

Impact of nutrition on canine behaviour: current status and possible mechanisms


Authors E. Kubinyi, S. Bel Rhali, S. Sándor, A. Szabó and T. Felföldi

Gut Microbiome Composition is Associated with Age and Memory Performance in Pet Dogs


Authors Y. E Borre, R. D Moloney, G. Clarke, T. G Dinan and J. F Cryan

The impact of microbiota on brain and behavior: mechanisms & therapeutic potential




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