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Ten Ways in Which Canine Diet May Affect Behaviour
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Ten Ways in Which Canine Diet May Affect Behaviour

Dogs
Health & Safety
  1. Different dogs digest, metabolism and utilise different diets to different degrees of efficiency and sometimes a product with alternative ingredients and/or a different nutrient balance (the way in which the protein, fat and carbs are balanced) can make a difference for the better in the case of a very excitable or reactive dog since different feeds affect the blood sugar, serotonin levels and rate at which energy is released. With most owners feeding only once or twice a day, diets which incorporate a carefully balanced combination of nutrients, are the best choice for dogs with behavioural problems. Because stable blood sugar levels are promoted rather than glucose peaks and troughs, energy surges may be minimised. This has a positive effect on the dog's serotonin level (also known as “the happy hormone”) which may help improve concentration and response to training.
  2. A hungry dog may engage in ‘antisocial behaviours’ such as coprophagia (eating faeces), scavenging and exhibiting competitive behaviour towards other animals who may be present at feeding times. Dogs who are not eating enough, those who are not satisfied by their diet, those who are fed an unbalanced diet that is lacking in certain nutrients, or those who are not gleaning the optimal benefit from their nutrients due to medical problems such as malabsorption may result in a condition called “pica” – a voracious desire to eat non-food items such as plants and soil.
  3. Young dogs, stressed dogs and those with a rapid metabolism especially, may simply use excess energy as fuel which may be mistaken for hyperactivity. This is why it’s important to make sure you feed your dog the correct daily allowance for his or her weight, ensuring energy intake does not exceed that required.
  4. Some owners notice changes in their dog’s behaviour when diet is changed for the better. Human beings that eat poor diets are likely to be lethargic, and much the same can be applied to our pets.
  5. Certain chemical colourants and preservatives have been proven to contribute to learning difficulties and hyperactivity in humans. Just like very sensitive children reacting badly to certain additives, dogs can suffer from a similar response (although this is largely based on anecdotal rather than scientific evidence).
  6. 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 serotonin uptake may have a strong influence on mood and behaviour.
  7. In very rare cases food allergies can manifest in atypical symptoms such as bizarre behaviour. Food allergies can cause tension in the body which may lead to irritability and mean that the dog is less response to his owner’s commands. Intolerance (which is different to a dietary allergy in so far as the immune system is not directly involved) to certain ingredients in a pet food may contribute to a dog exhibiting unusual behaviour.
  8. If a dog is inappetent, and not eating sufficient calories, or is eating at irregular times, this can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, serotonin levels and the subsequent release of energy. Some dogs may learn that refusing food can be an effective means of attention seeking behaviour.
  9. Certain nutrients have a very beneficial effect on the nervous system. The brain chemical receptors that receive serotonin are built principally from the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Fish body oil is an excellent source of EPA and DHA and with long-term supplementation (3-4 months), anxiety and depression can be significantly improved in humans. Their benefits are now becoming recognised in the nutritional management of behavioural problems in canines.
  10. Malnutrition or malabsorptive intestinal diseases may result in magnesium deficiency. This can result in behavioural changes since magnesium is important in the production (and elimination) of a primary neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is involved with learning and memory, and sharpens the concentration. It also relies on choline for its manufacture, and whilst a dog can synthesise this in his liver, those suffering from insufficient pancreatic function may require supplementation.

It is strongly advised that if you are experiencing behavioural problems with your dog, then you seek the advice of your veterinary surgeon in the first instance. This is especially important if your dog’s behaviour has changed suddenly and for no apparent reason, since both pain and neurological conditions can manifest in aggression and other unusual behaviours. Once medical reasons have been ruled out, it is recommended that you seek the assistance of a professional, qualified canine behaviourist.

Nutrition can certainly have an effect upon behaviour. However canine behavioural problems usually arise as a result of many contributing factors, and therefore a change of diet should not be perceived as a “quick fix”. Patience, perseverance and professional help will all be necessary when resolving behavioural problems.

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