Stress can often go unnoticed in dogs until it starts to manifest itself as ‘anxiety disorders’. Stress can lead to the development of a number of such disorders, whether it is stress related weight-loss, destructive behaviour, self-trauma (excessive licking or biting) or even aggression.
Stress related anxiety disorders have traditionally been treated with psychoactive drugs. Medication such as Clomicalm® is often used to treat separation anxiety, a disorder that can develop in response to stress. The problem with medications such as these, is their addictive potential, risk of side effects and of course, the ethics of giving a dog ‘mind-altering’ drugs.
So What are the Alternatives?
Recently, it is becoming more apparent that we can control a dog’s anxiety by something as simple as altering the diet. It’s thought that by altering what makes up their food we can increase the production of calming neurotransmitters. These are the chemical signals used by nerves to send messages around the body.
Some constituents of food that have shown to reduce the signs of stress include:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A low protein diet has also been shown to reduce aggression in dominant dogs.
Controlling Stress with the Diet
We recently took a look at Royal Canin Calm, a specialised diet rich in tryptophan, which has been shown to reduce stress and promote calm behaviour. Tryptophan is required by the body to produce serotonin – a calming neurotransmitter and melatonin – the chemical the body uses to help the body relax and induce sleep.
In a recent study, cortisol (a chemical that can be used to indicate stress in both dogs and other mammals – including us) was measured in dogs being fed a normal diet and Royal Canin Calm. Those being fed Royal Canin Calm had much lower levels of cortisol in their urine indicating they had experienced less stress.
So Do They Work?
The study mentioned above showed that the Calm diet did reduce stress – and there are numerous other studies that indicate tryptophan as an additive that can promote calm.
Unfortunately changing the diet isn’t a miracle cure and it can take a few days, or even weeks for the calming results to become apparent.
In severe cases of stress related disorders, such as separation anxiety, it may be more advantageous to use medication for a quick response. Dealing with severe stress problems quickly can reduce the development of the negative health problems associated with stress. Whether choosing to give medication or change the diet, to ultimately cure stress related disorders will likely require behavioural training. Fortunately, behavioural training is a lot easier when a dog is calm.
We’ve attached the PetSci stress calculator below – take the time to answer the questions honestly. A result of 40% or more may indicate that your dog would benefit from being fed a new diet rich in tryptophan – or one similarly designed to promote calm behaviour.
Adapted from: Effects of prescription diet on dealing with stressful situations and performance of anxiety-related behaviors in privately owned anxious dogs