Ever been in the supermarket and heard the cries of a fraught and furious child screaming his lungs out? Round the aisle and there they are … the frantic parent and the red-faced tantrum-thrower stomping his feet.
Have you ever peeked in the shopping cart to see what’s in there? I confess I have. And it’s usually full of the three Cs – Coke, chips and chocolate. Once you see this, have you then thought to yourself … “Well, that explains it. Look what the child is eating?”
Now think about what you’re feeding your dog. Could his food be causing behavior problems?
The Connection Between Gut Health And Behavior
There have been plenty of studies done on how the food we feed our kids affects their behavior. Sugars and refined carbs create over-aroused, cranky children.
The solution? Remove processed foods and replace them with natural alternatives.
Yet when it comes to dogs … the food we feed them and its role in the gut may be one of the most overlooked topics related to behavior.
The University of California Los Angeles did a recent study. They found gut microbes link to areas of the brain that affect mood and behavior. This could potentially include responses to fear.
Research has also looked at inflammation as an immune response to:
- High-sugar diets
- High quantities of trans fats
- Other unhealthy foods
These can also cause mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
Why does this happen?
These high-sugar, processed foods lead to the release of bacterial toxins called lipopolysaccharides. Lipopolysaccharides normally hang out safely in your dog’s gut but … when they enter the blood (thanks to those high-fat, processed meals), they become toxic.
What does this have to do with your dog’s behavior problems?
These lipopolysaccharides destroy the brain cells that make the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. (You know … the so-called happiness hormones?) And research shows a lack of these hormones can have a significant impact on your dog’s behavior. So, improving your dog’s gut health can ensure the production of neurotransmitters.
It also turns out that our enteric nervous system (ENS) links to the emotional aspects of the central nervous system (CNS). (ENS is located in the gut and CNS is in the brain and spine). Put simply, every time we eat, the ENS sends messages to our brain that affect our emotional state. And it’s true for your dog too.
How To Choose The Right Foods
We know certain types of foods help us remain calm, and the same applies to our dogs. Ever heard that saying “you are what you eat?” Well, your dog is what he eats too. Though it’s likely you’ve never thought about it before, and certainly not in the context of behavior.
We know processed and grain-based foods (along with food additives) cause leaky gut in our dogs. This is when the spaces between cells lining the gut expand and the contents of the gut leak into your dog’s blood. This includes the lipopolysaccharides I mentioned earlier, as well as …
- Undigested food particles
We also know a child who receives too many food additives can become hyperactive and out of control.
And yes … we know dog behavior problems stem from not receiving a natural diet free from chemicals and preservatives. These problems can include:
- Separation anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Supporting your dog by taking a holistic approach to his health and well-being will help him overcome these problems.
11 Ways To Support Your Dog’s Gut And Improve Behavior
There are many things we can do to help the gut work efficiently … and lessen any negative impact it might have on dog behavior problems.
For starters, consider the amount of chemicals you’re putting into your dog’s body. Are these necessary? Where are they coming from? His food? His environment? Or are they part of the regular vaccines or deworming protocols your vet recommends?
Wherever they come from, chances are they’re overloading his system.
Below are a few suggestions that will help support your dog’s gut:
#1 Consider Titer Testing Instead Of Over-Vaccinating
When your dog gets vaccinated, it compromises the immune system and upsets the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut. This can disrupt his overall health.
Please note, I’m not saying don’t vaccinate. I’m saying you should get a titer test to check for immunity before adding toxic chemicals to your dog’s system.
#2 Use Natural Remedies For Deworming
Dewormers are toxic chemicals. Yes, they kill worms but they also kill the good bacteria in the gut. So your dog’s immunity will be compromised.
#3 Use A Holistic Vet
A holistic vet will take a ‘whole body’ approach to health issues. They take a more natural approach to medicine, which might include alternative treatments such as …
- Herbal remedies
This means they will be unlikely to pump your dog full of harmful drugs and chemicals … unless it’s absolutely necessary. They often advocate raw feeding as well.
#4 Provide Filtered Water Instead Of Chlorinated
If you want to avoid toxicity in the gut, give your dog fresh, filtered or spring water. It will not have the added dangers of chlorine or fluoride in tap water.
#5 Use Natural Remedies For Fleas And Ticks
Like dewormers, flea and tick products contain harmful chemicals that destroy gut bacteria. Avoid them with natural pest prevention.
#6 Add Probiotics And Prebiotics To Your Dog’s Diet
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that colonize in your dog’s gut. They help restore and maintain a healthy microbiome. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that feed the probiotics to make them more effective.
You can easily add prebiotics to your dog’s diet with fermented veggies or kefir. Green tripe also contains prebiotics as well as digestive enzymes and probiotics. Anything you can do to support the gut and its good bacteria will support the immune system.
The first is Lactobacillus casei. This species lives in the mucous membrane of your dog’s intestines and it’s an important part of the gut-brain axis. This guy can actually help balance your dog’s mood and emotions. The second is Bifidobacterium longum. It’s also involved in the gut-brain axis and studies show it can reduce the signs of stress in dogs.
#7 Feed A Species-Appropriate Diet
Keep it free from grains, preservatives, sugars and processed foods. Many dogs become less hyperactive and anxious with this one simple step.
#8 Supplement With Bone Broth
Bone broth supports the immune system. It also has collagen, which helps heal the gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation.
#9 Help Heal The Gut With Supplements
#10 Ease Stress
Chronic stress affects the gut. It disrupts nutrients absorption and makes the gut lining more permeable (which can cause leaky gut).
Luckily there are many ways to help your dog relax. This might include …
- Calming music
- Pheromones such as Adaptil
- Calming herbs such as skullcap or valerian
- Thundershirt or wrap
- Desensitization techniques
#11 Regular Exercise
Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. You want to aim for at least 20 – 30 minutes a day.
Improve Your Dog’s Gut To Improve Problem Behavior
When it comes to dog behavior problems, you need to address the reason, not the reaction.
If you have a dog with behavioral issues then addressing gut health is important. Following the suggestions above is only one step on the path to success … but it’s a big (and important) one.
We must take a holistic approach to this issue … one that tackles:
- Behavior modification
It’s important to consider all these factors as they influence the dog’s wellbeing … mind, body and soul.