According to a conducted study, 70 percent of the dogs analysed suffer from symptoms or have a tendency to suffer from anxiety, a considerably high number. What can be done, from feeding these pets, to reduce their anxiety levels?
Causes of anxiety in dogs
A dog can suffer from anxiety for several reasons, including:
- The separation of the owners from them (even for a working day of eight hours)
- The phobia of loud noises, such as vacuum cleaners, electrical storms or fireworks. If the dog has a trauma that relates to a sound, they will also become more anxious when they hear that noise or similar
- Social anxiety, which manifests itself when there are more people than the dog is used to, and they can react either shyly or violently.
In the case of pets, especially dogs, they are animals that learn through experience, so you can work on providing experiences with which you learn to deal with those elements that trigger anxiety. Even if a dog has experienced a traumatic situation, the anxiety they feel when listening to, seeing or perceiving a certain element or object can be reversed, even if they need a little more time and dedication.
Influence of food over anxiety
Can food have a positive or negative influence on anxiety levels? If a dog’s diet is adequate, it can significantly improve and decrease anxiety and stress levels.
Rather as a holistic treatment, which contemplates the animal in a comprehensive way and not only from a neurological or psychological point of view, feeding is also a factor that can trigger or reduce an animal’s anxiety and alertness.
The industry’s role in reducing pet anxiety
The best that can be done is focusing on creating and continuously improving food formulas adapted to the needs of these pets, which are, unfortunately, greater and greater.
It is also important that, if you already have an anti-stress or anti-anxiety food, you inform the owners and consumers that, although it is a fundamental factor, it is not enough. Food packaging can be used to raise awareness and also generate a more solid, respectable brand that is connected to its consumers.
Several studies have tied the effectiveness of some implementations in food. They will be listed below for evaluation, and, perhaps, potentially to produce a new anti-stress pet food formula.
- Increase L-tryptophan
This amino acid generates serotonin, a neurotransmitter especially involved in the control of behaviours such as aggressiveness and anxiety.
An increase in dietary levels of L-tryptophan will consequently lead to greater synthesis and utilisation of serotonin, resulting in more stable emotional states. This result has been tested in both dogs and cats.
L-Tryptophan can be found as an added supplement or in foods like lentils and chickpeas, and its availability depends on competition with other amino acids for blood transport.
What causes this amino acid? In simple words: a feeling of relaxation.
- Increase alpha-Casozepine
This supplement arises from the hydrolysis of casein, the main protein in milk. Its function is to enhance GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, which participates in: the inhibition of neuronal activity, the management of behaviour, cognition and the body’s response to stress, and the control of fear and anxiety when neuronal overexcitation occurs.
Its main effect is similar to that of an anxiolytic, but without the adverse effects, and it is generally used in conjunction with the amino acid L-tryptophan.
- Low protein content in the formula
This can be an alternative to make foods that help reduce anxiety. Serotonn is a neurotransmitter that has a relaxing effect. Reducing the consumption of protein impacts the production of serotonin, thus increasing that feeling of calm and/or relaxation.
This protein reduction also has a positive impact on the availability and absorption of L-tryptophan.
- High vitamin content
The deficiency of certain vitamins can lead to a psychological imbalance in dogs. You can take into account and evaluate increasing the dose of the following vitamins if you are evaluating producing or improving the formula of the anti-stress food.
- The lack of vitamin A leads to fatigue and physical and mental anxiety
- Vitamin E maintains cognitive abilities in condition and prevents anxiety
- Vitamins B1, B6 and B12 contribute to the mental balance of dogs
So far we have seen all supplements that can be incorporated into pet food to enhance its anti-stress function, but are there natural foods that have a ‘calming’ effect on dogs?
Foods with the greatest benefit include:
- Blueberries: providing many additional vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can help reduce the effects of stress
- Kale: swiss chard, spinach, and green leafy vegetables generally contain a high level of vitamins A, B6, C, and K, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, and iron
- Kale specifically is also a great source of fibre, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and carotenoids.
- Sweet potatoes: it is one of the healthiest foods in the world. It has antioxidants, vitamin E, A, B6 and C, calcium, iron, folic acid, potassium, copper, thiamine, and iron. Potassium especially helps to maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, which has a positive impact on reducing anxiety
- Beef: it is considered a natural antidepressant due to its content of vitamin B, folic acid and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), which are excellent for controlling anxiety. Vitamin B5, in particular, enables the production of anti-stress hormones in the adrenal gland, which controls the release of cortisol
- Turkey: it is a great source of L-tryptophan, the precursor amino acid of serotonin that we presented before
Dog food specially formulated to reduce stress levels will not cure an anxious animal. Still, it can help to significantly decrease behaviour and other inconveniences resulting from anxiety and stress. If, from our side we take care to inform the importance of combining a suitable food with a behaviour improvement program, pets, who wait for our food every day, will suffer less stress and will be happier.