Is it really possible to change your dog or cat's behaviour through diet?
Friday 8th January 2021
Many factors play a role in animal behaviour and, let’s be frank, no diet or feeding regime can undo a lack of training or change your pet’s natural or acquired behavioural traits!
However, food choice does have a role to play in your pet’s mental health. You can still take a holistic approach and select products that support both body and mind.
Happy gut happy brain
It is acknowledged that a properly functioning digestive system can have positive effect on overall wellbeing, and conversely poor mental health can have a negative effect on digestion. But what is the science behind this? This infographic shows the important biological relationship between the gut and the brain.
So, what makes a good brain food for your pet?
All of the Arden Grange dry products are highly digestible, but there are a number of other attributes that make them popular with canine behaviourists:
Naturally preserved with no artificial colourings or flavourings
Some chemical colourants and preservatives have been reported to contribute to learning difficulties and hyperactivity in children, and it is believed that sensitive dogs may suffer from a similar response, although evidence is still largely anecdotal.
No added sugar
Our diets contain only low levels of naturally occurring simple sugars and a balanced ratio of fats to complex carbohydrates. This helps to promote stable blood sugar, a steady release of energy and good serotonin levels. All of these things being strongly linked to appetite!
Hypoallergenic (made without wheat/gluten, dairy, soya & beef)
Food allergies usually result in skin and/or digestive problems, but they can contribute to behavioural problems if the dog or cat is in discomfort and feeling irritable as a result. In people, “brain fog” is a well-documented symptom of environmental allergies. More recent research has shown that food allergies can also induce alteration in brain inflammatory status and cognitive impairments*1. The same may apply to other mammals including dogs and cats.
Krill is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. DHA is a structural component of the brain, whilst EPA provides it with protection via its anti-inflammatory properties.
Methylsulfonylmethane is one of the few antioxidants which can readily transfer across the blood-brain barrier. Certain compounds can accumulate in nerve cells causing severe oxidative damage and resultant neurological disturbances. Here MSM may benefit the stressed animal due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cell-rejuvenating properties*2.
Nucleotides are the “food” required for the production of genetic material. They are naturally produced in the body, but some cells (including the brain cells) cannot make enough to cover requirements. More nucleotides are needed to help overcome the negative effects of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and increase immunity*3.
Bioflavonoid plant extracts (plant pigments with powerful antioxidant properties)
Stressed or highly active animals (like working dogs) produce more free radicals (unstable atoms that can cause damage to the cells, including those of the brain). Antioxidants are an important protective measure since they can neutralise free radicals *4.
A better diet may not reap the desired results in terms of problematic behaviour, but it can certainly benefit the brain and other organs and systems of the body.
It is extremely important to report sudden or unexplained changes in your dog or cat’s behaviour to your vet as pain, neurological problems and some hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism can manifest in aggression and other atypical behaviours.
Once medical causes have been ruled out, it is recommended you seek the assistance of a behaviourist. Your vet should be able to recommend a qualified behaviourist in your local area.
Excerpts from fact sheet ‘Canine diet and behaviour’ By Ness Bird - Nutrition Adviser and RVN CertCFVHNut ©
References: 1. Zhou et al., 2019, 2. Faerber et al, 2004, 3. De Godoy et al, 2016, 4. Harvard Health, 2020.