Are Your Dog’s Behavior Problems Linked To Their Gut Health?
December 04, 2020 | 3 min read
Updated December 04, 2020
By Sarah Milton
Published: November 4, 2020
Updated: September 6, 2022
Summary: "My dog is anxious - could probiotics for dogs help?" Good question, pet parent! Did you know that the gut microbiome is thought to be linked to the mental wellbeing of your dog!? In this blog, learn how probiotics for dogs could help perk up the behavior of your dog...
Stressed dogs and/or aggressive dogs and their behaviors are a common issue. According to the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 70% of behavioral problems in dogs can usually be attributed to anxiousness 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 behavior. 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 boosting behavior 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 support healthy stress response behaviors in dogs. Could a happy tummy really mean a happy Fido?
Firstly, what is the gut microbiome?
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.
So, what happens when the gut microbiome is unhealthy?
Gut bacteria can make chemicals that the brain recognizes 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 could 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 anxiousness 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 behavior in dogs.
What do probiotics do to the gut microbiome?
Probiotics can help establish a healthy, desirable balance of friendly bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, which can help support a healthy gut.
Probiotics also help the gut absorb more nutrients from food too, which will not only boost your dog’s physical health but can also help your pooch regulate their mood – particularly with B Vitamins.
"My dog is stressed... Should I give them probiotics?"
There’s nothing conclusive to say with clarity that good gut health reduces anxious or aggressive dog behavior. If your pooch is displaying any behavior that isn’t desirable and you’re struggling to calm them, always talk to your vet and/or enroll in behavioral 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, support a normal inflammatory response and generally promote health.
PetLab Co.'s In-House Pet Consultant Nicole's Inside Knowledge!
""The whole digestive system of all living species is governed by the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS has been studied more thoroughly 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 anxiousness, chronic stress, and big emotional shifts can cause functional bowel problems in both humans and animals. Since the ENS and CNS are intricately linked, this brain-gut axis is why solutions that help your dog’s gut may also help their mental health.”
Our Final Thoughts On The Gut Health & Mood Relationship…
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!
"Our Gut Microbes Strongly Influence Our Emotional Behaviors" IFLScience https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/gut-microbes-strongly-influence-emotional-behaviors/
Author Bravo, Javier A. and Chew, Marianne V. and Escaravage, Emily and Savignac, Hélène M. and Dinan, Timothy G. and Bienenstock, John and Cryan, John F. "Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve" Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, Sep 20. 2011 https://www.pnas.org/content/108/38/16050
Comes from a family of animal lovers and got to grow up with a menagerie of pets! I believe owning a pet is a privilege and I love researching and creating informative, fun content for fellow pet owners to help their furry friends have the happiest and healthiest lives. When I’m not writing blogs, you can find me sharing a walk with my pet dachshund or at a yoga class!