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They are what they eat: the impact nutrition can have on your dog’s behaviour and mood

We all know that good nutrition is important for our pup’s health, but have you ever thought about how what you feed them can affect their behaviour and mood?

Nutrition influences every metabolic process and cell in your dog’s body, and the brain and nervous system cannot function well without the right nourishment. Your canine companions' behaviour is directly influenced by the activity of the central nervous system, and if they are not receiving the right nutrition, their mood can be heavily affected.

If your dog starts to show behavioural problems, ask yourself the following questions to evaluate whether it could be caused by their diet. 


Is your dog getting enough food?


If your dog is not receiving the right amount of food and becomes hungry, they will likely engage in disruptive behaviours like scavenging and eating faeces. In addition, canines that are not satisfied with their diet due to a lack of important nutrients may develop a condition called ‘pica’, where the dog processes the desire to eat non-food items such as soil and plants.


‘Free feeding’ is something that is not generally recommended, unless specifically instructed by a vet. This is when you only feed your pet once a day, or you leave food out all day. You should be feeding your companion two to three times a day, depending on their breed.


The amount of food your pup needs will also be highly dependent on their breed and size. It’s important to remember, especially if you have multiple dogs of differing breeds, that it shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach. You need to ensure that you are catering for each individual dog’s needs to guarantee they are receiving the correct amount of food.


If you are unsure about how much and how often you should be feeding your pooch, speak to a specialist nutritionist or your vet. Often, owners find that an adjustment to a feeding routine, accompanied by good exercise, can improve their canine’s overall behaviour.


Are they getting a balanced diet?


A vast amount of health issues in dogs stem from a poorly balanced diet, which can ultimately cause behaviours that they wouldn’t exhibit otherwise. For example, if your pup is suffering from pain and discomfort due to being overweight, this may cause them to be stressed and irritable.


You can avoid many health issues by ensuring your dog eats a well-balanced, high-quality diet. Keep treats down to a minimum and ensure the dog food you are feeding them is of the highest quality, as this will prevent health problems that are often brought on by weight gain.


In addition, by feeding your dog a carefully balanced diet, you will be promoting stable blood sugar levels, which will minimise energy surges and have a positive on your dog’s serotonin levels, helping improve training responses and concentration.


Are the ingredients in your pet food right?


The ingredients of the food you give to your dog can also have an impact on their behaviour. For example, the fatty acid DHA can increase mental alertness in puppies.


If you’re feeding your pup food that is high in artificial additives, this can cause a range of hyperactive behaviours, lead them to lose focus quickly and in some cases, have higher levels of reactivity towards people, other dogs and their environment. Dog foods that are high in these artificial additives should be avoided. When replaced with a higher quality food, you may find your dog is calmer and more focused.


If your dog has become skittish or nervous this can be due to a lack of the calming amino acid, tryptophan. If this is the case, try introducing some fresh cooked ingredients into their diet.


Foods that hare high in vitamin B and magnesium are also recommended to help with mood. Leafy vegetables and fish are a great source of magnesium, and foods such as fresh meats are high in vitamin B.


Have you addressed your dog’s behavioural problems with a vet?


If your dog shows consistent behavioural problems, seek advice from your vet who will be able to advise you further. It is important to rule out any other contributing factors for their behavioural problems and to get down to the root cause of the issue.


Speaking to your vet can also help you determine the amount of food you should be feeding your dog, and they can advise on the best ingredients for them, taking into consideration their age, breed and any health problems they may have.


To keep your furry friend’s mind and body healthy, carefully look at what you are feeding them and ensure they are getting a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Remember, the first five ingredients listed on the nutritional label of dog food are the most important, as they are what the bulk of the food is made from. The label will also allow you to determine the amount and type of protein, grains, fats and preservatives there are. Use this information, along with your vet’s advice to decide which food is best for your dog’s behaviour and health.


Lauren Hudson is
Specialist Nutritionist at
Vale Pet Foods.

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