We all know that looking after our gut can positively impact our own health – but what about our dogs? Exciting new discoveries are now revealing how a healthy gut can affect not only our dogs’ physical condition, but also their mental wellbeing.
So, what do we know so far? Until recently, the connection between a dog’s gut and their brain was somewhat unexplored territory… but scientists are now learning that this link is stronger than we previously thought.
The many benefits of a healthy gut
There are lots of reasons why gut health is important for our canine pals. Of course, a healthy gut is important for good digestion, and just like us, dogs need their digestive system to be ticking along smoothly to get the energy and nutrients they need from their food. As well as this, though, there are lots of other ways in which a healthy gut can support a healthy body… and some of these are quite unexpected!
To understand all the functions of the gut, we need to look at the– the trillions of micro-organisms that live within the gut. Recently, scientists have become particularly interested in these tiny residents, as it seems that they have a whole range of effects on the body.
They are important for the immune system, and they also affect vital organs including the skin, kidneys and heart – the list goes on! This means that keeping your dog’s gut healthy is essential in order to support the rest of their body.
One area that we are learning ever more about is the way the gut and its microbiome affects the brain.
The link between the gut and the brain
Amazingly enough, the gut and the brain are able to communicate in many different ways. There is a network of nerves that connect them, and the gut bacteria also produce special signalling molecules that affect the brain. This means that when a dog’s gut is healthy and functioning normally, it’s likely to have a positive effect on their brain – and in turn, this will affect their behaviour.
The idea that gut health can affect behaviour is really exciting, but it’s not all that well-known. In a recent survey carried out by Purina Petcare of over 1,000 dog owners in the UK, 37% were not aware that the health of their dog’s tummy can affect behaviour.* It’s important we know about this though, as behavioural issues can have a profound impact on wellbeing for our dogs.
Behavioural issues and nutrition
When it comes to behavioural issues in dogs, one of the biggest causes of these problems is anxiety. Unfortunately, with the past 18 months causing lots of uncertainty and changes in routine for many of our pets, anxiety issues are more common than ever.
Anxiety can have a huge impact on a dog’s wellbeing, even causing physical symptoms such as digestive disturbances and raised heart rates. What’s more, anxiety behaviours can put a tremendous strain on the bond between pet and owner.
However, behavioural issues caused by anxiety can be notoriously difficult to identify and address. Treatment options such as pheromones, supplements, behavioural training and medications are all currently utilised; however, more recently, scientists have started looking into how good nutrition may be able to help anxious dogs as well.
In particular, a really exciting study conducted by Purina scientists found that giving a particular type of beneficial gut bacteria reduced signs of anxiety in dogs. As a result of discoveries like this, Purina is recommending that owners who want to support their dog’s mental wellbeing consider what they are feeding their pets.
It’s important to emphasise here that it’s always best to chat to your vet first before switching up your dog’s diet to try and tackle a particular issue. However, if you do have a nervous pup, making sure they have a good diet may be something worth mentioning to your veterinary surgeon.
How good nutrition could help support mental wellbeing
For owners choosing a diet to keep their dog happy and healthy, nutritional quality is really important, but it isn’t always the first thing that springs to mind. In the Purina survey, 59% of dog owners said that they selected their pet’s food based on taste, rather than the nutrition it contains.
Although a tasty food is definitely important when it comes to keeping pups happy, a diet that is also high in nutritional quality could have even more of a beneficial effect on a dog’s wellbeing, as it can keep their gut healthy and this could potentially benefit their behaviour in the long run. In summary, both nutrition and taste are important in contributing to the happiness of your dog.
What does this mean for dog owners?
This has been a whistle-stop tour as to why gut health is super important for our pets’ physical condition and mental wellbeing. But what does this mean we should do?
Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your dog’s gut health is to feed a good quality diet that will provide them with all the nutrition they need. And it goes without saying that good quality nutrition will have tons of other benefits, as it will work to keep them healthy inside and out.
Of course, a big question here is what a ‘good quality diet’ actually means! Good quality does not have to mean just the most expensive dog foods – so long as the diet contains the right balance of nutrients from good quality ingredients, and has been developed based on a thorough understanding of the pet’s needs, it will have positive effects for your dog.
*Opinion Matters carried out the survey of 1,005 UK dog owners on behalf of Purina Petcare during October 2021.