The Microbiome and Behavior
Your dog’s behavior has many components including genetics, environment, reinforcement schedules, negative consequences, stress levels, plus medical and emotional issues. However, one of the biggest contributors (if not the biggest) is the health of your dog’s microbiome.
The microbiome, also called the ‘second brain’, is all of the bacteria, viral organisms, and fungi that live in every dog and human’s body. Everybody’s microbiome is a like a unique fingerprint, and different for all living creatures. The more good bacteria in the microbiome (also called ‘the gut’), the healthier an animal will be.
The microbiome communicates directly with the brain through hormones and nerves, a process that is also called ‘the gut-brain axis’. It’s where 80-90% of many important neurotransmitters live, like serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Those neurotransmitters regulate emotions and mood like anxiety and depression, and stress, plus they effect decision making, motor function, sleep patterns, and regulation of certain hormones. One of the best ways to change behavior is to improve the microbiome, which in turn increases these neurotransmitters. The more good bacteria a dog has in his gut, the more neurotransmitters she’ll have.
Unfortunately, dry dog food diets don’t facilitate a good microbiome, because dog kibble is sterile and mostly carbohydrates. The ingredients are cooked 4 times on average, and with each extrusion process, vital nutrients are lost. When that happens, dog food manufacturers have to add back in synthetic vitamins and minerals to meet FDA standards. The extrusion process also diminishes good gut bugs, which directly effects the health of a dog’s microbiome. Dry dog food is ultra-processed, and often it is all a dog eats for his entire life… Without fresh whole foods, the microbiome becomes unhealthy, and behavior is directly effected. It can also cause something called dysbiosis, or “Leaky Gut Syndrome”.
For my dog behavior clients, the first thing I do is talk about improving the microbiome. The good news is that you don’t need to stop feeding dry dog food, and I can help you find a diet appropriate for your lifestyle, budget, and personal preference. Whether it’s dry kibble, prepared commercial diets, raw, or a combination, I discuss diet and nutrition as an integral part of every behavior plan. We also discuss potentially adding certain supplements that can increase good bacteria and decrease inflammation in the gut, and ways in which we can help decrease stress. I see the most behavior change when a dog’s microbiome improves and stress decreases, which helps behavior modification tremendously. I love watching dogs get healthier and behave better through nutrition! It is my passion.
I offer a nutrition consult with all of my consults and packages, but if you’d like to meet with me to just discuss improving your dog’s diet, or want to make small tweaks, I can help. I also can recommend certain supplements (I have a long list of favorites) to help improve your dog’s immune system to help fight disease and environmental toxins. Here is more about my experience with the gut-brain axis.