Can dog food affect behaviour?

It has been well established through research that food can indeed affect people’s health and well being in terms of physical aspects, such as diabetes or heart disease.  Although, the association between diet and mental health has been less documented; it is an emerging subject for more serious research.

As far back as medieval times, people believed that their diet had an impact on their mood.  Depression or low mood, for example, could be remedied by eating dates or elderflowers and for sleep issues, chicory or lettuce was recommended.

dog sitting, pet sittingAccording to Food and Behaviour Resarch (FAB), a charitable organization that is dedicated to advancing research into the correlations between food and human behaviour, diet is important for physical health but also for mental development and efficient functioning of the brain.  It therefore stands to reason that any animal needs appropriate foods to ensure the optimal functioning of the body and the brain in order to survive.

However, diet is infrequently considered to be a possible factor in the behaviour of dogs and currently there is not enough academic research to categorically state that diet affects behaviour. However, Holidays4Dogs suspects there may be something in this.  We all know when our children eat too many sugary sweets, or fizzy drinks it can impact on their behaviour.  Likewise, over consumption of food saturated in trans and omega 6 fatty acids (such as fast food); has been found to cause anxiety and depression in both human and animal research.

dog sitting, pet sittingAs we have said, however, scientific examination of the relationship between diet and behaviour is, surprisingly, still in its infancy – for humans, as well as animals.  The main focus of diet is the creation of optimum physical health and in dogs, specifically, their dietary requirements at particular stages in their life, as well as the levels of their physical exercise.

Nevertheless, it is accepted among many members of the dog community, such as breeders and trainers, based predominantly on their own observations, that diet can affect a dog’s behaviour and should be included in considerations on how best to deal with the particular problem.

An excess of protein, for example, has always been something that dog trainers have attributed to certain behaviours in dogs such as aggression, anxiety, reactivity and restlessness.

While the protein requirement for the average adult dog is around 18% – most ordinary maintenance dog foods on the market contain around 25% protein – much more suited to a full time working dog who is burning this off faster.

Unfortunately, as we have found, scientific research into the relationship between diet and behaviour is disappointing in quantity.  However, there can be no harm in considering, at least, the question of protein levels in your dog’s diet to make sure this is suitable for his age and exercise levels.  As well as this – read packaging labels, avoid additives and colourants and anything that uses wording such as ‘meat derivatives’.

Of course, changing your dog’s diet won’t necessarily cure any behaviour issues he might be having; but a suitable adjustment to the type of food he is eating – alongside training sessions – may well address the problem and produce more marked improvements than each isolated approach.