Dog Food and Mental Health – The Gut-Brain Connection

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In pet stores dog food comes in many different forms. This can tend to get confusing when trying to decide on the best type of dog food to give your pet. Raw feeding is becoming more and more popular in stores and on the internet. Even vegetarian and vegan feeding for dogs has its followers. Regardless of feeding style, dog guardians should observe their pet for changes in behaviour or digestion. Many behavioural changes can link back to diet and digestion.

Dog Food and the Gut

Compared to human anatomy dogs have larger stomachs and short digestive tracts. Dogs’ mouths are also missing glands that start the digestion process of starches. Early evolution perfected their anatomy for digesting large amounts of high-quality protein in a short period of time. More recent studies show that some dog breeds have developed the ability to produce some of the enzymes for starch breakdown. Breeds that continued to evolve in agricultural areas show higher amounts of these enzymes. This means that some breeds developed a tolerance to starches to increase the odds of their survival alongside humans. Many humans believe that dogs can eat exactly like we do, but what nutrients do they need to get from their diet?

Nutrients Required for Mental health

Dog smiling beside bowl of dog food

  • Healthy fats are key: Especially omega-3 fatty acids high in EPA and DHA.
  • B vitamins and folate
  • All 10 essential amino acids: These are proteins that the body cannot synthesize from the diet
  • Minerals, and trace minerals in sufficient amounts

The Gut and Mental Health

People are starting to understand the link between the gut and brain. It is obvious to anyone who suffers from anxiety. When stressed or anxious many people also report nausea or lack of appetite, or the typical “butterflies in the stomach” feeling. This is due to the fact that the gut really does act like a second brain, referred to as the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system regulates gastrointestinal function. 95% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine in the body is found in the gut. These are the neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation and reward-motivated behaviours. Scientists believe that this second brain was developed to make digestion more efficient and automatous. This also leaves the brain at the mercy of the gut and what goes into the gut.

The Problems with Conventional Dog Food and Mental Health

If you’ve been following our blog posts you probably know about the pitfalls of conventional dog foods. I won’t go into very much detail, but the truth is that conventional dog food leaches nutrients from the body and brings very little in the way of usable nutrients to the table. Much of the nutrient profile of kibbles is denatured at the high temperature necessary to form kibble and make it shelf stable. This leads to nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. These deficiencies will start to affect mood and behaviour in dogs just like they are shown to affect humans. Depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, even autism can be linked to the gut and nutrition.

Tips for Dog Food to Improve Mental Health

  • Avoiding processed foods that cause nutritional deficiencies: Instead opt for whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats, enzymes and pro and prebiotics. Whole foods are complete foods!
  • Probiotics: Whether supplementing with probiotics or using probiotic-rich foods these good bacteria enhance nutrient absorption and are known to positively affect mood.
  • Reducing starches and sugars in the diet: Starches and sugars feed bad bacteria which can alter mood. They are mostly unnecessary in your dog’s diet and can cause blood sugar fluctuations which can lead to depression.
  • Healthy fats: Essential for brain development and for feeding the brain. Our Skin & Coat Formula contains a great blend of healthy fats for your dog.
  • Ensure a proper balance of all essential amino acids: Proteins are essential for the body to make the neurotransmitters that make us and our dogs happy!

There are many different causes for a dog to be suffering from depression or mood imbalances. Diet and nutrition won’t solve all our problems but positive changes in diet and lifestyle can be very beneficial for mental health. By providing the body with the nutrients necessary to build appropriate amounts of neurotransmitters and support brain function we can help to reduce the likelihood of mood imbalances.   

Lindsey Eadie, CNP
Lindsey Eadie, CNP
Lindsey is a Holistic Nutritionist who graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Vancouver, BC on the Dean’s Honors list where she learned the true healing abilities of whole foods, herbs, and supplemental nutrients. After graduation she worked as a Natural Health Advisor for an integrative pharmacy where she used her nutrition and orthomolecular knowledge to promote the wellbeing of all her clients, including the furry four-legged ones. Her passion for natural health has directly benefited her allergy-riddled female Pyrenes/Bernese Mountain dog named Astro and her anxious Golden Retriever/Bernese Mountain Dog Bella.

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