It seems crazy to think that what we feed our dogs can change their emotions and behaviour, right? But every aspect of their diet has the power to tweak all sorts of bodily functions, from how quickly they get hungry to how optimistic they are!
What you feed your dog on the daily has a direct impact on their emotions.
Our top three tips for diet will help your dog to become smarter, have a more positive outlook on life, and be more relaxed!
Being overweight affects more than just their waistline
If your dog is carrying a few extra pounds, you may be tempted to just laugh it off. They love their food; so what if they’re a bit on the curvy side? Well, those few extra pounds can actually damage them a lot more than you may think, and even reduce their life expectancy by a few years1.
The main thing to be concerned about, if your dog is on the heavy side, is their joints. A heavier dog naturally places more pressure through their joints, meaning that they degrade much faster than in healthy-weight dogs. Their joints are also more prone to inflammation. These factors lead to them being much more likely to develop arthritis1, which is an incredibly painful condition.
But the issues go deeper than just their physical bodies. If a dog is carrying extra weight, they actually adopt a more negative view of the world. If they lose weight and become healthy again, they can become more optimistic and hopeful2,3.
So, the secret to a happy dog can actually be in their waistline. If your dog is a little on the chubby side, help them out by reducing their portion sizes, give them fewer treats, and help them to exercise more. If your dog is really on the heavy side, hydrotherapy is a fantastic way to help them shift the pounds without putting as much strain on their joints.
If you’re not sure if your dog is a healthy weight or not, you can test for yourselves by checking out this blog: “Is Your Dog Fat? Looking Beyond the Scales”
The blue-Smartie effect extends to carbohydrates
We’ve all heard about how blue Smarties used to send kids hyper. Well, the same can be said of our dogs if we feed them the wrong sort of carbohydrates.
To get our heads around this one, we first need to know about something called the glycemic index. This is a measure of how a food affects your blood sugar – a low score means the food takes longer to digest, whereas a high score means it is digested really easily and quickly.
Ideally, you want your dog’s foods to take a while to digest, as this will give a steady release of energy throughout the day. If the food is digested quickly, you will likely see a surge in blood sugar, which will give you a wild, hyper doggo for a short time – until they crash and become a grumpy, overtired toddler.
So, how do you know if the food you’re giving your dog has a high or a low glycemic index?
One of the ways is to check the carbs involved. Generally, carbs such as white potato and white rice (often just called ‘rice’ on the label) have a higher glycemic index, so will probably give your dog a bit of a hyper burst straight after dinner. For this reason, we advise staying away from large amounts of these ingredients (although small quantities are okay!).
The better carbs to look for are the ones such as sweet potato, brown rice, and oats, as these take longer to digest. Your dog will then have a steady rise in energy, with a slow return to normal after – meaning you won’t get any of those nasty sugar crashes later in the day!
Some fats can make your dog smarter
A particular type of fat, called omega-3 fatty acid, can do wonders for your dog’s health.
It’s especially helpful for your dog when they’re a young puppy, as this fat can help with brain development4. A puppy’s brain does the vast majority of its growing and developing from birth to about 16 weeks of age, but just how well it does this relies on a lot of factors. One of the key ones is its diet! For example, if your puppy receives more omega-3 fatty acids when they’re being weaned by the breeder, they will do better on cognitive tests (sort of like puppy IQ tests!) when they come home with you5.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also be incredibly helpful for your dog as they get into their golden years. Just like us, dogs can experience dementia-like symptoms, in a disease known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), as they age. This affects a quarter of our dogs by age 12, and up to 68% of dogs by the age of 15 or 166.
CCD can make your dog seem forgetful or confused, and can be quite distressing for both the dog and their owner. However, feeding our dogs more omega-3 fatty acids can help delay the effects of the disease7,8, giving them longer to enjoy their lives – and giving us longer to enjoy our time with them.
These are just three examples of how your dog’s diet can affect their behaviour, but there are so many more ways in which this can happen.
If you’re ever in doubt, contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help point you in the right direction!
Written by: Alyssa Ralph, Holistic Pet Services.
1 Johnson, K.A., Lee, A.H., and Swanson, K.S. (2020) Nutrition and nutraceuticals in the changing management of osteoarthritis for dogs and cats. Timely Topics in Nutrition. 256(12): 1335-1342. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.256.12.1335
2 Verbeek, E., Ferguson, D., and Lee, C. (2014) Are hungry sheep more pessimistic? The effects of food restriction on cognitive bias and the involvement of ghrelin in its regulation. Physiology & Behaviour. 123: 67-75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.09.017
3 Pogany, A., Torda, O., Marinelli, L., Lenkei, R., Juno, V., and Pongracz, P. (2018) The behaviour of overweight dogs shows similarity with personality traits of overweight humans. Royal Society Open Science. 5: 172398. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.172398
4 Bauer, J. (2016) The essential nature of dietary omega-3 fatty acids in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 249(11): 1267-1272. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.249.11.1267
5 Zicker, S.C., Jewell, D.E., Yamka, R.M., and Milgram, N.W. (2012) Evaluation of cognitive learning, memory, psychomotor, immunologic, and retinal functions in healthy puppies fed foods fortified with docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil from 8 to 52 weeks of age. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 241(5): 583-594. https://doi.org/ 10.2460/javma.241.5.583.
6 Nielson, J.C., Hart, B.L., Cliff, K.D., and Ruehl, W.W. (2001) Prevalence of behavioural changes associated with age-related cognitive impairment in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 218(11): 1787-1791. https://doi.org/ 10.2460/javma.2001.218.1787.
7 Gupta, R.C., Doss, R.B., Srivastava, A., Lall, R., and Sinha, A. (2019) Nutraceuticals for cognitive dysfunction. In: Nutraceuticals in Veterinary Medicine. (eds: R.C. Gupta, A. Srivastava, and R. Lall). Switzerland: Springer Nature. https://doi.org/ 10.1007/978-3-030-04624-8_26
8 Vikartovska, Z., Farbakova, J., Smolek, T., Hanes, J., Zilka, N., Hornakove, L., Humenik, F., Maloveska, M., Hudakova, N., and Cizkova, D. (2021) Novel diagnostic tools for identifying cognitive impairment in dogs: Behaviour, biomarkers, and pathology. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 7: 551895. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.551895