It’s not new information that our gut instinct serves as a second brain. In 2010, food scientist Heribert Watzke was filmed by TEDGlobal speaking about neurons lining our guts that produce neurochemicals including serotonin and dopamine. This places our gut in a pretty powerful position as a significant part of our nervous system with a direct impact on our behavior. It’s part of the reason that cheese can be addictive.
Mood including anxiety can be directly linked to an unhealthy gut. It’s true for our dogs, too. Dr. Sara Bennett of Purdue reports that behavior problems driven by anxiety are a huge problem for dogs and owners. So there you have it. Keeping a mentally healthy dog means preparing a healthy gut.
Pre biotics are the foods needed for the friendly bacteria (pro biotics) that live in our dogs intestines and help digest food and balance all these mood altering chemicals to flourish. It turns out fermented food and certain food combinations create pre and pro biotic abundance. I wasn’t surprised to find out that sugar can throw the little helpers off kilter and a fever can kill them. But even if your veterinarian has taken a nutrition course from an instructor not provided by Purina using a text book other than the one provided by the company that makes Hill’s Science Diet, we still don’t know how to create a diet for dogs that covers this territory.
Since the National Institutes of Health has only just begun to identify the bacteria present in the human digestive tract, we don’t know who they are, how many there are and which ones are good. We can’t exactly rush to the health food store for ready made supplements. And even when we know which probiotics our dogs already have and which to add, we’ll need a source that can deliver live digestive aids. And we’ll want to protect ourselves from fraud and price gouging, too.
Since your veterinarian is not going to be familiar with the McMaster study linking anxiety to gut flora you may not be warmly received when you ask if she can perform a urine pH test for HPHPA, a byproduct of a clostridia bacteria, so that you can choose a supplement for your dog. The theory that some unfriendly bacteria, let’s say streptococcus, that is likely to cause illness, for example sore throat, also has been linked to mental dysfunction including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder sounds like malarkey.
So we are back to knowing a thing, that gut instinct is real, without knowing what to do about it. The answer is always the same; balance. Buy healthy foods, store them properly, consider quality supplements. Maybe consider talking to your veterinarian until she will consider that your nervous dog needs more yogurt. And if this makes you feel a little anxious, see if your local deli still has that pickle jar and buy one for yourself.