Gut Brain Axis in the Dog
Research has shown how the gut and brain are connected and it is referred to as the gut brain axis. What happens in the gut has been shown to have a positive or negative effect on the brain of dogs and people. A healthy functioning gut microbiome has many beneficial effects not only in the gut but also in the brain. The complex community of bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut is called the microbiome. The beneficial bacteria in the gut are essential for optimal health because they aid digestion, support the immune system, produce 90% of the bodies serotonin, produce Vitamin K and B Vitamins, crowd out harmful bacteria, produce short chain fatty acids such as Butyrate and produce enzymes.
Having a poorly functioning gut microbiome may lead to intestinal disease, behavioural problems, allergies, obesity, liver disease and diabetes mellitus. Therefore, many Veterinary Surgeons and Doctors now advise a supplement that contains both probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are the good gut bacteria such as Enterococcus Faecium, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Prebiotics are the fibres such as Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) that provide nourishment to help maintain probiotic levels.
Another important natural supplement for the gut is bentonite clay which is a natural clay with a fine, soft texture. It forms a paste when mixed with water and hence can increase stool volume. It also contains minerals such as calcium magnesium and iron and can help to remove toxins from the body by sticking to their ions or other molecules. Bentonite clay has also been shown to improve gut integrity. Use our Holistic Doggie Fibre.
The link between the central nervous system and gut microbiome has been of significant interest in recent years. Reduced gut health has been linked to anxiety and mood function in dogs and cats. Probiotics help to restore normal a normal gut microbiome and therefore have a potential role in the prevention of anxiety and behavioural issues. Previous anxiolytic supplements have focused on introducing materials that are aimed at the monoamine neurotransmitters of the brain and not the health of the gut. Now researchers are concentrating on improving gut health alongside working with an animal behaviourist for dogs with many behavioural problems.
A clear link has been established between the health and amount of the beneficial bacteria of the gut and the effect this has on the brain and hence mood function.
The body maintains symbiotic relationships with prokaryotic organisms, some of which are known as probiotics. In the gastrointestinal tract, these organisms help metabolize food and maintain intestinal health. Probiotics compete with pathogenic bacteria for physical space and nutrients in the host tissue. Probiotics are thought to be able to block pathogenic bacteria from finding a spot on the host tissue to bind and grow.
Healthy gut function and the effects of the brain are being increasingly studied especially in relation to the production of Serotonin. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes mood and anxiety, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion, however, if the brain has too little serotonin, it may increase issues with all these conditions.
It is estimated that up to 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut and is primarily found in the enteric nervous system located in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). There is a clear link between the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system which includes the brain via the vagus nerve and studies are showing a clear link between a healthy gut improved mood function. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system that counteracts the stress response of the body known as the “fight or flight” response which is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve innervates the gut and travels up to the brain via the heart. Stimulating the vagus nerve has many beneficial effects on the brain because it calms down the parts of the brain linked to anxiety, learning, and mood.
Omega 3 fatty acids are important to your pet's health in ways you'd never expect. High levels of Omega 3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play an important role in the healthy functioning of the brain, heart, joints, skin, eyes, immune system and coat. DHA supplementation supports healthy brain function in dogs and a new study by Dr Ragen McGowan at the latest Purina research summit found that Omega 3 fatty acids may be the key to reducing anxiety in dogs. The study found that in addition to the other ways that Omega 3s can help your dog, it can also decrease anxiety. Out of 24 Labrador Retrievers studied, 21 of those or 87% showed a reduction in cortisol levels and lowered heart rate in situations designed to induce anxiety.
This natural alternative could mean a breakthrough in both behavioural training and a reduction in the dose and side effects caused by common medications.
Other natural supplements that can help in anxiety related behavioural problems include:
L-Tryptophan and L-Theanine are required for the production of serotonin which promotes a sense of calm.
Valerian root extract helps to soothe and ease anxiety.
Calcium and magnesium support the nervous system and muscle function.
B Vitamins are important to regulate mood functions. Try our Holistic Calm.
After many years of research, I changed my mind about pet food about 10 years ago. Now, I strongly recommend feeding a species specific raw food diet because ultra-processed dried and tinned pet food is lacking in many micronutrients and omega 3 fatty acids that are so important to optimal health. There are many great manufacturers producing brilliant raw food diets and today 20% of dogs in the UK are fed a raw food diet.
Dr Paul Boland BVSc MRCVS
JP Holistic Nutrition