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Anxious dogs and/or aggressive dogs and their behaviours are a common issue. According to the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 70% of behavioural problems in dogs can usually be attributed to anxiety or stress. But, did you ever think that could be to do with your pup’s gut health?
In 2017, The University of California conducted a study that found gut microbes link to areas of the brain that are in charge of our mood and behaviour. Well, if sugars and refined carbohydrates are making us cranky and over-stimulated, the role of the gut may arguably be one of the most overlooked topics right now. When it comes to looking at improving behaviour and elevating mood in animals and humans alike, perhaps it’s time to boost our understanding of what goes on in the fascinating ecosystem of the gastrointestinal tract…
So, they may have funny names (Bacillus coagulans for example!), but probiotics have actually been touted as a link to decreasing stress response behaviours in dogs. Could a happy tummy really mean a happy Fido?
The gut microbiome is the totality of microorganisms and bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract. It exists in humans, dogs, and other animals - even insects! The health of the microorganisms living in the gut directly links to the body’s health. They support the immune system, regulate the metabolism, break down food, and are thought now to also influence emotion/mood.
Gut bacteria can make chemicals that the brain recognises as messages transmitted via the nerves. If there’s too much “bad” bacteria down there, these messages won’t be received as calmly or positively by the brain and can instigate lower mood and poorer brain functioning.
In a study on mice, when they were fed probiotic bacteria, chemicals were transmitted to the brain and were then seen to affect the area in the organ that regulates emotion. The “good” bacteria literally sent signals to decrease anxiety and stress in the mice’s bodies! In addition, a study has concluded it’s quite probable that the gut microbiome and its state can lead to anxious and aggressive behaviour in dogs.
Probiotics help establish a healthy, desirable balance of friendly bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which prevents the gut from becoming inflamed and sending a grumpy message to the emotional control centres of the brain.
Probiotics also help the gut absorb more nutrients from food too, which will not only improve your dog’s physical health but can also help your pooch regulate their mood – particularly with B Vitamins.
There’s nothing conclusive to say with clarity that good gut health reduces anxious or aggressive dog behaviour. If your pooch is displaying any behaviour that isn’t desirable and you’re struggling to calm them, always talk to your vet and/or enrol them in behavioural classes (always with a reputable, ethical trainer) to support them appropriately. However, with the gut microbiome being an ever-changing ecosystem (so easily affected by dietary changes, change of environment, medications, and stress) evidence is slowly but surely growing to indicate that gut bacteria, when in good stead, can help calm a dog down, diminish inflammatory responses and generally improve health.
"The whole digestive system of all living species is governed by the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS has been studied more throughly in recent years and is now referred to as “the second brain” or “the brain of the gut”. It communicates profoundly with our brain (CNS) via nerve signals. This interaction between the ENS and CNS is why anxiety, chronic stress and big emotional shifts can cause functional bowel problems in both humans and animals, such as IBS, IBD, gastric ulcers and symptoms of chronic diarrhoea and vomiting. Since the ENS and CNS are intricately linked, this brain-gut axis is why therapies that help your dog’s gut may also help their mental health.”
There’s still much evidence to be gathered, but studies are looking promising. It’s clear that a healthy gut contributes immeasurably to the overall health of any animal and this most likely does lend itself to psychological wellbeing too. A healthy pet really does begin with a healthy gut!