When it comes to eating, we are quite lucky – we can eat when we want, what we want and as much as we want. On the other hand, when it comes to diet and nutrition, dogs are not so lucky. In fact, feeding dogs is similar to feeding babies, in that neither has much say in what they eat, when they eat and how much they eat. Basically, our canine babies depend on us to make the right decision and our decisions can affect our dog’s mood and well-being. Unfortunately, making the right decision can be rather overwhelming.
Raw, organic, holistic, complete, BARF, tinned, kibble, pouched…the list of food types seems endless. Not to mention that all manufacturers claim to take the high ground when it comes to their product. At first, you may assume that reading the label and the ingredients list can be helpful. Sadly, researches show that dog parents find analyzing the ingredients list not only misleading but also confusing. What is more, recent research showed that 70% of the surveyed dog parents were not aware of what their dog’s food contains.
To make things a bit simpler, it should be noted that the key to good health is a well-balanced diet. Generally speaking, the easiest way to provide a well-balanced diet is to use premium food, containing high-quality nutrients, from a reputable manufacturer. It should also be noted that the dog’s diet should be appropriate for its age, size and energy level.
Lately, in the circles of human medicine and neuroscience, a so-called, mind-gut connection, has been established. This mind-gut connection phenomena explains how your gut microbiome controls your behavior. And since your gut microbiome depends mostly on what you eat, it can easily be assumed that your nutrition influences how you feel and behave. Simply put, our guts are home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes. These microbes communicate with our brains through the gut-brain axis or to be more precise through the vagus nerve. Therefore, the old saying “you are what you eat” is more than true.
Diet can moderate a dog’s mood and well-being
But what about dogs? Is there a mind-gut connection among our canine friends? Does their microbiome influence their feelings and behavior? Unfortunately, the neuroscience field is not so extensively researched among canines and the acquired data are either scarce or inconclusive. However, the most recently acquired data are promising and can potentially answer these long-debated questions. More and more evidence show that certain foods and ingredients are efficient in modulating your dog’s mood. It is postulated that proper nutrition could address problems such as picky eating, loose stools, gassy tummies, excessive barking, bloat in dogs, restless sleep, reactivity, hyperactivity, biting, compulsive disorders and biting. In a nutshell, the gut ecosystem is believed to influence your dog’s:
- Pain tolerance
- Cognitive performance
- Mental health.
Here is a list of mood and wellbeing-altering foods and ingredients.
High protein diets are directly linked with restlessness, aggression, anxiety, depression and light sleep. They also tend to exacerbate previously existing mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder. This is because a dog’s mood depends greatly on its serotonin production level. Serotonin is a hormone that promotes happiness in both humans and canines. The serotonin production depends on the amino acid tryptophan. High protein foods contain many different amino acids and when the tryptophan finds itself among other amino acids it has to compete with them. Sadly, once in the competition, its expression is diminished. Consequently, low levels of tryptophan, lead to low levels of serotonin and ultimately behavioral issues.
All in all, if a dog food manufacturer claims its formula contains high-quality proteins, it does not necessarily mean it contains enough tryptophan. The best way to ensure your dog is getting enough tryptophan is to feed him poultry and eggs which are particularly high in this essential amino acid.
Soy plants (oestrogen)
Because of its affordable price and availability many dog food manufacturers use soy plants as their primary protein source. However, soy is a plant-based protein and therefore lacks some of the important amino acids necessary for serotonin production. What is more, soy is particularly rich in estrogens (female sex hormones). The hormonal imbalance that occurs when the serotonin is low and the estrogen is high results in behavioral issues like aggression and hyperactivity.
Artificial additives, preservatives and colorants
Additives, preservatives and colorants, especially if artificial can affect your dog’s mood greatly. Fortunately, the dog’s food appearance makes it obvious whether it contains artificial colors. Unfortunately, when it comes to preservatives and additives the appearance does not reveal much. The most common behavioral issues linked with additives, preservatives and colorants are aggression and hyperactivity.
Dogs often suffer from age-related behavioral changes – patterned pacing, excessive licking and grumpiness. Since these changes are associated with cognitive decline using so-called brain foods is quite beneficial. The most powerful brain food are antioxidants. In a nutshell, oxidative damage promotes brain aging in older dogs. Feeding senior dogs antioxidant rich foods results in greater agility, increased acuity and decreased grumpiness.
Simply put, the dog’s digestive tract is not designed and built for digesting and processing sugar. Sugary foods tend to give dogs energy spikes, thus causing behavioral issues – hyperactivity. The hyperactivity degree depends on two factors:
- The dog’s size
- The amount of eaten sugar.
Based on those factors, the dog’s mood can range from slight restlessness to ultra hyper behavior.
Although quite tasty, foods rich in carbs, such as burgers and French fries, can make your dog act like crazy. The behavioral changes observed after excessive carbs intake can be classified in two phases:
- Phase 1 – a brief and short-lasting period of heightened energy
- Phase 2 – crash period that manifests with lethargy and extreme irritability.
Stress, separation anxiety, aggressiveness and fearfulness are common behavioral issues in dogs. Fortunately, your dog’s mood and well-being can be addressed with so-called calming foods. Calming dog foods are foods that contain special ingredients known to promote a sense of calmness. Those ingredients include:
- Hydrolyzed casein
Many dog food manufacturers offer calming dog food formulas. However, it should be noted that purchasing those formulas requires prescription. Additionally, all calming formulas are quite expensive.
On the bright side, there are several easily available and affordable foods with calming properties. Those are:
- Sweet potato
- Oily fish
- Hemp seed oil
- Whole oats
- Pumpkin seeds.
Natural pain-relieving foods and spices
When dealing with pain, since dogs cannot talk, they tend to behave irrationally and show unexpected mood swings. Luckily, you can use some foods and spices to naturally alleviate your dog’s pain.
Comfrey – containing allantoin (compound that stimulates cell regeneration), this spice can be used to alleviate pain associated with many medical conditions, from arthritis to cancer.
Boswellia – as a tree bark extracted resin, it contains phytochemicals with anti-inflammatory properties. It is particularly effective in treating arthritis associated pain.
Licorice – the root of this pea family member has fast-acting and potent anti-inflammatory properties. Its primary component – glycyrrhizin is chemically similar to corticosteroids but it does not have negative impact on the immune system.
Devil’s claw – containing harpagoside, this African plant decreases pain and reduces inflammation.
Ginger – prevents the immune system from triggering inflammatory responses. It is particularly effective for relieving gassiness, nausea and arthritis-associated pain.
Yucca – this desert plant’s root contains steroidal saponins capable of relieving joint pain.
Alfalfa – this crop is one of the best natural treatments for arthritis.
Horsetail – containing bioactive silicone (necessary for bone, cartilage and skin formation), this plant has the ability to heal bone injuries and other connective tissue injuries.
Turmeric – this little orange root from the ginger family has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pain-relieving properties.
Cayenne – originating from chili peppers, cayenne contains capsaicin that acts like a potent pain reliever. The capsaicin blocks pain and improves the circulation within joints and connective tissues.
Digestive issues are quite common among dogs. Although usually short-lived and self-limiting, digestive issues can be painful or at least discomforting. When dogs experience pain and discomfort their mood changes drastically. Mixing pumpkin puree with your dog’s normal food has several health benefits. Pumpkin is good for solving digestive issues such as:
- Upset stomach associated with dietary changes.
Pumpkin cures both diarrhea and constipation because of its diverse fiber content. In a nutshell, pumpkin contains soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber absorbs the excess water in the bowels thus reducing and relieving the diarrhea. On the other hand, the insoluble fiber draws water in the bowels thus making the stool softer, bulkier and easier to pass through.
Dogs love the pumpkin’s slightly sweet taste. You can choose either fresh or canned pumpkin. Just make sure the option of your choice does not contain additives such as salt, sugar or spices.
It is not only what…but how often…
Feeding your dog once a day also affects its behavior. Simply put, offering food only once a day leaves your dog with an empty stomach for a significant period of time. 12-hours of not eating is enough to trigger a so-called hunger tension. If you dog is experiencing hunger tension he is more likely to beg for food or jump at the table. Feeding your adult dog twice a day is the best way to prevent hunger tension.
Last but not least…
It is worth mentioning that certain people foods are bad for dogs for reasons that go beyond mood alterations. Some people foods are unhealthy and can cause problems ranging from simple and transient to life-threatening and potentially fatal digestive issues.
If you are facing behavioral issues in your pooch, we recommend you take the problem to the next level and seek advice from a professional trainer, behaviorist or canine nutritionist. Although the above stated suggestions can be helpful and used as a resourceful guidelines, sometimes the problem is more complex than it seems.
* PIN ME – Dog’s mood and well-being *