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Canine diet and behaviour

 

We have many enquiries from dog owners who are concerned about possible links between nutrition and hyperactivity. There has been much debate on this subject in recent years, and as a part of our commitment to educating pet owners in how to provide the best possible nutrition, we have devised this fact sheet to help to answer some of the questions we are commonly asked, and to dispel the myths that are widely circulated regarding this subject.

 

The question our nutritionists are most frequently asked is ‘Do Arden Grange manufacture a low protein diet, as a high protein diet causes hyperactivity?’

 

First and foremost, true hyperactivity (or hyperkinesis as it is also known) is a relatively rare condition in dogs. Dogs suffering from this condition will usually exhibit periods of frenetic behaviour which only ceases when they are too exhausted to continue. It can be difficult to differentiate between an affected dog and one who is simply unruly. Hyperactivity in dogs has numerous potential motivators (including genetic temperament predispositions), but a link between high levels of protein in a dog’s diet and true hyperactivity has yet to be proven.

 

There are several possible reasons behind the fallacies surrounding protein and hyperactivity: -

  • You Are What You Eat! - Some owners notice changes in their dog’s behaviour when diet is changed. Human beings that eat poor diets are likely to be lethargic, and much the same can be applied to our canine friends. A dog previously fed a poor quality diet may become more energetic when a super premium pet food such as Arden Grange is consumed. This is because Arden Grange diets contain extremely high quality and digestible ingredients in order to provide optimal nutrition. Active dogs are far more likely to maintain a healthy weight than their couch potato counterparts and this vitality and exuberance should not be confused with hyperactivity. Inactive dogs are at risk from obesity and its associated health risks, including diabetes mellitus, degenerative joint disease and circulatory problems. Wouldn’t you rather share walks with a happy, healthy dog with a zest for life than time in the vet’s consulting room?

  • Dietary Intolerance – Dietary intolerance should not be confused with a food allergy. A true food allergy is an immune mediated response to a protein source, and usually manifests in skin and / or digestive disorders. Whilst true food allergies are rare, intolerance to certain ingredients in a pet food may contribute to a dog exhibiting ‘hyperactive behaviour’. Food intolerance denotes an abnormal response to a food, which can result from an inability to digest an ingredient, or from pharmacological, metabolic or toxic reactions. Certain antioxidants / preservatives have been proven to contribute to learning difficulties and hyperactivity in humans. All Arden Grange pet foods are free from artificial colourings and flavourings, and only safe, natural preservatives (vitamin E and rosemary) are used.

  • Protein as an Energy Source - It is possible that protein has been blamed for hyperactivity since if consumed in excess, it can be used as an energy source. This only occurs however if an animal is in zero energy balance (i.e. it is consuming less energy than it is expending). If an animal consumes more energy than is expended, then the excess protein is metabolised to fat for energy storage in the body. In neither of these cases would the use of protein as an energy source cause excess energy / signs of apparent hyperactivity, since the protein is only utilised when the primary and secondary energy sources (carbohydrates and fat respectively) are depleted. In addition, all cats and dogs have the ability to metabolise excess protein which results in the production of urea and its excretion in the urine, and there is no conclusive evidence that protein intake contributes to the development of kidney dysfunction in healthy animals. Most of the studies from which evidence has previously been used were of rats and mice – which have a different digestion to that of the dog.

  • Dietary Protein & Links to Aggression – Some inconclusive scientific studies have shown tenuous links between high ammonia concentrations in the blood and aggression. Ammonia is a nitrogen-containing waste product of protein metabolism, but in normal animals, the urogenital system will ensure that any waste is safely excreted from the body. Furthermore, animals fed a very high quality, digestible, concentrated protein source (as in Arden Grange diets) that is easily and efficiently metabolised are less likely to encounter problems than animals fed low quality, restricted rations. Conversely, some amino acid concentrations (e.g. Tryptophan) may even be helpful in managing dogs (alongside behavioural therapy) with dominance / territorial aggression. Arden Grange diets are all supplemented with Tryptophan.

Diet does have an important part to play in canine behaviour. A hungry dog may engage in ‘antisocial behaviours’ such as coprophagia (eating faeces), scavenging and exhibiting competitive behaviour towards other animals than may be present at feeding times.

 

The mechanical effects of timing and frequency of feeding, and the effects of full and empty stomachs on mood and activity levels affect dogs, just as they do us. Blood glucose levels and seratonin uptake may have a strong influence on mood and behaviour. In some cases, frustration with social or environmental circumstances are mistaken for hyperactivity.

Arden Grange do not manufacture a low protein diet, because there are no biochemical or nutritional factors to support this . Protein is an essential nutrient that serves numerous functions in the body. Dietary proteins are broken down to form amino acids which support the body’s structural and functional demands (including muscle growth, tissue repair and immune function).

 

Many dog owners will make a pet food choice basing their judgement on the protein percentage on the packaging. Certainly, a fully grown dog has a lower nutritional requirement for protein than a growing puppy, and our formulations take this into account. What is important is not a percentage figure, but the actual amount of protein in grams per day that a dog consumes. You will find that in many cases, an alternative brand showing a lower protein percentage, will yield a higher actual protein intake since the feeding guide often will recommend a higher daily food allowance. This is especially true in diets that have a high proportion of carbohydrates (usually wheat or rice will be the primary ingredient). Arden Grange diets have been manufactured to provide the very best possible nutrition for our canine and feline friends, and we have not succumbed to marketing ploys that make our products appear to follow the current nutritional trends.

 

Arden Grange diets are produced in accordance with the European Pet Food Industry (Fediaf) Code of Practice for the Manufacture of Safe Pet Food. A dog’s protein requirements varies according to life stage, clinical health and activity level and every one of our products has been carefully developed to take each of these factors into account.

CHECKLIST: -

  • Make sure you feed your dog the correct daily allowance for his or her weight, ensuring energy intake does not exceed that required.

  • Feed a diet that is suitable for the age and activity level of your dog.

  • Ensure that quality ingredients are fed, and that these are easily digestible and efficiently metabolised.

  • Avoid ingredients that often provoke food allergies (wheat gluten, soya, dairy products and beef).

  • Avoid artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives.

  • Ensure that your dog leads an interesting, stimulating life to avoid behavioural problems associated with frustration.

  • If you are experiencing behavioural difficulties with your dog, please consult your veterinary surgeon to rule out any possible clinical cause for the problem. A qualified pet behaviourist will also be able to give you constructive help in resolving any problems.