Your Dog Has a Brain in His Gut

No, seriously. And so do you. No kidding. I’m so interested this, a relatively new discovery about what’s called the Enteric Nervous System, that I wanted to write about it today. I’ll get back to emotions in dogs soon, but I’m in the Oh Wow phase of this information, and wanted to share it. (Granted, this is not new information to the researchers who have been studying what’s called the ENS for decades, but the information does seem to be leaking out slowly. No pun on ‘leaky gut syndrome’ intended…)

Here’s the deal, and here’s how it relates to our dogs and their behavior. It turns out that there is a vast network of neurons–that’s right–neurons–in your intestines. 100 million of them. Of course, your brain has 100 BILLION, but still, that’s impressive.  Neurons were supposed to be nerve cells that only existed in the Central Nervous System (CNS), the brain and the spinal cord. But it turns out that there is a network of neurons in the gut designed to integrate the outside world with the inside of a mammal. As you remember from Biology 101, every mammal is designed like a doughnut, with surfaces both external and internal that are in contact with the “outside” world. Your skin and respiratory passages interact with the external world on the outside of your body, and the inside tissues of your stomach and intestines interact with things from the external world on the inside of your body.

It appears that the ENS is actually the origin of coordinated nervous activity. It links directly to the emotional aspects of your CNS, and is believed to actually be the precursor of it. Thus, your gut and your emotions are indeed linked directly together, as a way of helping the body make decisions about its behavior. All this relates to our lives and the lives of our dogs in two ways. First, “comfort food” really is comforting. Your ENS communicates directly with the emotional centers in your brain, and certain types of food really do make people feel less stressed and more calm. Studies show that high fat, energy rich foods reduce stress in lab mice, and that people feel soothed by mac and cheese even if they don’t know what they are eating and it is placed into their stomach via stomach tube. Bottom line: What mammals eat directly effects their emotions. Thus, perhaps some of us are not so crazy to feed our problem dogs selectively?

Here’s the big question related to this that I have for blog readers, which relates to the large number of dogs I’ve worked with who had both gut and emotional problems. How many of you have seen dogs who have digestion problems who also have behavior problems related to emotional control (especially fear). Willie is the perfect example: He came as a young pup with projectile diarrhea, a pathological fear of other dogs and a dysfunctionally high level of  sound sensitivity. I can’t tell you how many dogs I’ve seen as clients who had both problems, and whose treatment ended up effecting both systems.

One of the treatments for Willie was to put him on probiotics, and the article that got me thinking about this topic (Psychology Today Dec 2011) relates research that has found that probiotics reduce anxiety in some types of lab mice.  They do specify however, that it might be specific types of lactobacillus that were effective, so we don’t know yet that generic probiotics are always useful. I can say that I suspect they helped Willie, not just with his gut but with his fears, but that’s just speculation.

What about you? Have you seen a link between dogs with emotional problems and dogs with intestinal challenges? Do you have a dog that fits that description? If so, what have you done? For Willie, I used probiotics and switched him to what are considered to be cooling foods in Chinese Medicine. Of course, one obvious problem for some dogs are food allergies, which also have to be considered (but did not seem to be the case with Willie.) I’d love to hear your feedback on all this. I’d write more myself, but I have to go eat some mac and cheese.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Cold but sunny, such a joy! No snow, which is unusual but not rare. In 2008 we had 16+ inches by now, in another year just a few. But no white winter for us so far, and going to be cold cold cold Friday night (high of 6). I wish we had snow to protect the plants, but that’s just the way it goes. In the interim, I’m loving the sun.

Good news with Willie boy: After a set back last weekend (limping pretty badly after he got up), I decided to drop all his exercises as an experiment to see how he’d do. He’s doing great! I think I’ve figured out which exercises cause him pain and will talk about it today with Courtney at UW Phys Therapy. Even with no limp, he doesn’t use his left leg normally, he hikes up his shoulder too high, but that mechanical issue doesn’t seem to cause him any pain as best I can tell. So this morning he got to play free with his old, beat up plastic disc. I don’t throw anything for him, may never again, but still, he was sooooo happy. Me too!


Tootsie is doing great on her recalls. I’d say 90%, which I think is great for a Cav after less than 3 months. After a number of mouth-open, shiny-eyed recalls this morning, I ran back into the house for the camera to take a picture of her with her ears flying as she runs to me. I got the ears flapping, but such a serious look on her face!.



  1. Kat says

    Not sure how this relates but when Finna came to live with us she was hugely stressed by her time at the Humane Society and by all the changes. Her coat was shedding in handfuls and it didn’t matter how much we brushed her she was still shedding in handfuls. She wasn’t eating consistently, one day eat another two not, eat, don’t, eat, skip three days, etc. but she would spend hours chewing on bully sticks and on marrow bones. I know the act of chewing is soothing to a dog so I figured making sure she had something to chew all the time might help. At the end of two weeks she still wasn’t eating consistently, I was joking that she was living on marrow bones, bully sticks and any cat food she could steal. I really didn’t consider this an ideal diet but I noticed that her coat had stopped coming out in handfuls and was looking shiny and soft as opposed to the greasy look it had when she first arrived. Now after almost six weeks she’s hardly shedding at all and eating a wide variety of foods, cooked, raw, kibble and training treats as well as at least one chew per day. As I type she’s on the floor at my feet working on a marrow bone.

    She’s come a long way, it’s now possible to get her attention when we’re out for a walk and she sees something she’s frightened by. She still behaves badly, barking and growling at them but she’ll give me her attention and sit at least briefly. My neighbors are wonderful and it’s a pretty dog savvy neighborhood so they’re willing to stand at a distance, talk to me and ignore her while I ask her to sit and shovel treats again and again and again. I notice that freeze dried organ meats and beef jerky for dogs are best at keeping her distracted. She’ll eat the pumpkin and cranberry cookie treats if they’ve been in contact with the beef jerky but not if they haven’t.

    I may have to experiment with probiotics and see if it makes a difference in her behavior and I’m going to be reading the comments with great interest. I’m always looking for more ideas to help our crazy scaredy dog.

  2. Suzan says

    Proper diet plays a huge role in canine behavioral issues. I’ve seen it in dogs I’ve owned or pet sat – their behavior was greatly improved when put on a proper diet. Without a doubt, a low-carb, moderate fat diet eliminates many health and behavioral issues in dogs. Artificial flavor, colors, rancid fats, and high carb, poor quality food, directly affects not only overall health but behavior, from anxiety to biting.

  3. says

    As a migraine sufferer, I’ve read about the mind-gut connection and it is fascinating. Eating too much of certain things, or forgetting to eat, acts as a trigger for me. One of the common migraine symptoms is nausea, which I’ve experienced, and often an irrational starvation-like hunger feeling. I don’t know what the connection is exactly, but it is there!

    My dog has eating issues (she is very picky, and stubborn about it, which we’re working on.) I notice a change in her behavior when she skips meals. She gets very active, but it’s a nervous energy – she looks the way I feel when I’ve had too much coffee. :) There’s definitely an edge to it, though. Once she decides to eat, she calms down. I’ve heard that different diets have a similar effect, and I did notice calmer behavior from Sienna when I switched her from kibble to raw. Her energy smoothed out is the best way I can describe it.

    Interesting subject for sure. I’d bet the connection is some kind of survival adaptation, to motivate wild animals to hunt/search for food.

  4. says

    I have always thought that the gut and emotions walk hand-in-hand through life. After all, the flight-or-fight response starts with emotion, usually fear, which triggers the dumping of excess weight, often in the form of diarrhea. Chase a troop of Mountain Gorillas up a hill and you end up slipping in sloppy poop. My collie will give me a sudden and very soft poop if stressed on the street by an aggressive Rip-You-Ears-Off dog. In fact, many dogs will have soft stools after a period of stress. We humans lose our appetites or vomit when emotionally distressed, too. And the way the emotional system of the brain and the gut is linked is through some sort of neurological system, so I am not knocked over by the finding that the gut is a repository of a neural network. But it is extremely interesting to find out that there are actual NEURONS present and to see them quantified. Igt answers many questions about canine IBD, anxiety, touchy gut syndrome and all those. Woo Hoo who knew?
    Sorry for the graphic descriptions, but we dog people are like that.

  5. says

    Graphic descriptions are par for the course for us nurses :).
    I have a dog who, we’ve decided, has Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior; how bad? She ended up biting off the last half of her tail.
    She came to my rescue when she and her “brother” Basset boy were left in their backyard by their immediate family upon moving (there was a lot of stress in the family situation – extremely so). Their extended family cared for them till the Bassset was adopted and Molly T. Beagle came to me for rescue.
    On arrival, she was picky about her butt and tail – nervous like but not harmful; what we did notice the day of her arrival was her focus on fetching tennis balls. Turns out her former dad, coming home, would play fetch in the back yard with both dogs (a fetching Beagle is funny; I really want to see the fetching Basset!). During the day in this home, they were crated for long hours. Here at Silverwalk, I use crates for feeding and time-out but not for long hours.
    After Molly T. had been here for a couple weeks, I sent her to our prison pups for parole program for training and hopefully for adoption. During her training, she had the attention of two trainer in whose cell she lived with a crate. They worked on distracting her from the tennis balls while increasing her attention to “cues.” She did very well but half way through exhibited bloody diarrhea. She was medicated but not vetted; did well for two more weeks but then the diarrhea returned. She was removed from the program and vetted w/a negative fecal.
    Back in rescue, her attention to her tennis balls was diminished but so was her one on one attention as I have 20 dogs on site; her anxiety (?) escalated to her tail and butt. Within a week of her return, I went out with all and threw the ball for Molly T. (T for tennis ball). When she returned it, I saw her bloody last half of her tail; she had chewed it raw.
    To the vet that day; overnighted; home with an E collar and antibiotics; when I saw her continued anxiety, I had some Acepromzine for a thunderphobic dog and gave her one. Went to work overnight (8 hour shift = 10 hrs gone); came home to half a tail!, no E. collar and blood all over. Called vet – bandaged tail, pulled her into my lap and held her tightly. She had to relax and did which is when I though “Thundershirt.” Off to vet – tail docked; came home two days later with a Buster Collar. When I picked her up, I planned to go to a friend’s local pet product store for the Thundershirt; my vet mentioned it, too (great minds); I told her about using the Ace (“good!”). Molly came home on antibiotics, deramaxx, another pain med and Xanax.
    After I got the Thundershirt on her, she was more calm in less than 3 minutes. I was amazed. She has had no more diarrhea; she is only now on Xanax which I am trying to wean but she still spins to get that lost tail but is improving. I am in contact with a friend whose brother adopted the Basset as I want to compare reactions of these two dogs.
    What I see with Molly T. is 1) she lost her home and the friend with whom she grew up from puppyhood (they are about 4-5 years old); the home had extreme stressors between mom and dad (divorced), 2) she came into a large hound pack but did well there as she had access to tennis balls, 3) was moved to an intensive training program within a confined, noisy environment; with lessened access to her balls, her loss of her brother and her innate (?) anxiety, she developed the diarrhea and 4) returned to hound pack w/o the vigorous structure of the prison program (though this was the only place she displayed the diarrhea).
    I am convinced her anxiety over her home situation plus her own personality played into the diarrhea as well as the OCB. Thank you for letting me share this story – she is improving very, very slowly; I have never encountered this before but did some research and am working with her as best I can.

  6. Beth with the Corgis says

    Very interesting. Not thinking about dogs so much, but people. Scientists have puzzled over why the US and Britain have such high obesity rates compared to France and Italy, despite the latter two countries rich diets. The thing is, we have such a high-octane lifestyle (do you know, for instance, that there are only 4 countries in the world that don’t guarantee maternity leave of some sort, and we are one of them— something like 160 countries DO including countries like China and even Egypt). It makes me wonder if the obesity “epidemic” in this country is related more to chronic stress and less to the easy availability of food?

    Anyway, it is fascinating and I think that we have to be careful in the connections we make. For instance, stress-related diarrhea may have as much to do with the body pulling energy away from the digestive system in the face of adrenaline, and putting it towards heart, lungs and muscles as it does to the neural network in the gut. It will be interesting to see more research about this.

  7. Amelia says

    I have a dog who displays high anxiety around strange dogs and people. It’s hard for me to tell how much of what he’s feeling is fear, nervousness, over-arousal, or what. But whenever something gets him worked up on a walk he almost always remembers that he needs to poop. Also, his stool tends to be looser and stinkier than that of my other dog. I know there are a lot of factors that can go into that, but both dogs eat the same food and have the same amounts of treats and chews. The main differences are that one dog is much more anxious, younger, and a former street dog. My more digestively sound dog grew up with humans and has a lot more confidence; it takes a lot to stress her out. I’ll definitely look into the probiotics, thanks for addressing this topic!

  8. Susan G. says

    When we adopted Oscar, he was underfed and probably malnourished. He had some skin sensitivities, and his coat was not great. He was so hungry that diet wasn’t an issue at first, but once he reached his more optimal weight he grew fussy about food. I think the foods were really building up acid in his stomach. He’d vomit sometimes but just bile as though his stomach were empty and acidic. We had him on more common dry food at the time and switched around to things he found more palatable. He “became” noticeably reactive about a year later. We then switched to a higher quality dry food. Fast forward to this summer, when he was diagnosed with mast cell cancer. A holistic vet began a treatment of all kinds of things to help his “gut,” probiotics included. It is seen as more of a cancer of the skin and of the immune system. His diet is now cooked meat and some fruits and vegetables. No grain, no sugar, no preservatives. He’s excited about that part! We incorporate TCM in other ways, but I was not aware of the food aspect. Thanks for that tip! It’s a very interesting and obviously personally intriguing question!

  9. Cassie says

    Dogs absolutely get “stress enteritis”. My clinic used to work a lot with German Shepherd rescue and we saw a ton of high-wired stress case dogs that would stay a night with us for surgery and vetting. We saw so much horrible diarrhea with them. It was easy to guess which dogs would paint the runs with poop and which ones would do just fine- the calm non-plussed easy going guys usually did fine, the stressy, more high strung dogs were always diarrhea factories.
    I see stress related GI upset in lots of breeds, but definitly more in the more high stress emotionally sensitive guys like shepherds and collies and less in more stoic breeds. I would blame it just on some sort of physical breed difference if it werent so clear a divide between the laid back dogs and the more touchy ones within the different breeds.

  10. says

    Yes! Sparky has definitely got gut issues, with loose stools from almost everything he’s fed. And he’s dog reactive, and highly excitable, probably stressed a lot. I’d love to know more about probiotics (I take them myself!). Do you use human probiotics? Any certain dosage?

    We’ve been giving him an L-tryptophan supplement (with other things in the mix) and I see mild improvement, especially around fireworks. Unfortunately I can’t find a turkey based food with no rice, grains, etc.,

  11. says

    Exactly! I’ve known this myself since my doctor has been talking with me about the neurotransmitters made in the gut. She’s apparently a bit ahead of her time! No other doctor ever said a thing about that with me. So, I have learned that when I get stressed, I have to be smart about what I put in my body.

    I also have seen a large number of animals that have emotionally related behavior concerns also have digestive issues. Awesome stuff!!

  12. says

    As a trainer who is also a holistic practitioner & canine nutritionist, I thank you for posting this!!
    My first action with all my dog training clients is a thorough nutrition discussion & generally a change in diet. What your dog is consuming plays a much larger role in behavior than people are willing to realize!

  13. says

    I just about jumped out of my chair when I saw your blog. I too just read the Psychology Today article Your Backup Brain and had a discussion yesterday with a friend about how some children with behavioral challenges have gut problems.

    My boy (Rhodesian Ridgeback) Gunner was a mess as a puppy. At 10 weeks of age, he displayed a lot of allergic type of behaviors such as chewing on his paws, ear infections and being very, very growly/grumpy. We couldn’t really cuddle or pet him without him growling. I took him to see three different vets which all told me that he was too young to have allergies and then I went to see a dermatologist for animals. We ruled out bugs so we were left with environmental/food. We approached the easier one of the two and switched his food to a novel protein and eliminated certain grains. The did improve his behavior a lot.

    Now he’s 6 years old and this past year I saw a holistic vet about Gunner’s gut issues. He was having very soft stool for some time and it was getting worse. He was put on a low-residue diet and a daily dose of probiotics FortiFlora plus some shots of Vitamin B. It helped a bit. Gunner is much better with his behavior but is sensitive about his personal space especially when he’s laying down and he gets more sensitive in the presence of new people.

  14. Sara CV says

    This definitely makes total sense. My rescue Border Collie had diarrhea for the first few months when we first adopted him, and I thought it was the food, but now this makes me think it was the stress of change and settling in to our pack. My GSP that I show some in conformation is not super crazy about doing conformation….he’s fine in the ring, but he’s a definite ‘alpha-wannabe’ and I think being cramped in with so many other dogs somewhat stresses him. He often has diarrhea for a few days after shows. Actually he gets that from a lot of activities, even ones he LOVES. When we go out to the hunt training field the first thing he has to do is take a big poop; he is just AMPED out at the field (often over threshold IMO). That seems to be more happy nervous energy.
    I’m definitely interested to see more research on this. Wonder if it’s worth it to try probiotics on my tightly wound GSP.

  15. Jeff says

    I might just be the odd man out, I mean there is definitely some plausible thinking to this. However, my newest addition came to me with not super solid stool. A change of food and it got better, for a while. Right about 12 weeks old we started middle of the night emergency diarrhea runs for 2 days then the 3rd vomiting. Off the to vet and there was nothing wrong except the clostridium levels were way high, so basically the gut bacteria was way off. We are now on the 3rd food switch we have done fasting, we have done all kinds of things. Metronidazole is the drug of choice plus probiotics allows him to have movements at normal times, but they still are not well formed. So he has lots of issues going on there. Still at 18 weeks I can’t get normal movements from him. It is a constant battle. The day after he goes off Metronidazole he gets projectile diarrhea.

    Anyway I have never seen a happier dog with no fear of anything. Other trainers and people that met him have commented that he is one of the most level headed and funnest pups they have ever met. While in puppy kindergarten they brought out the uneven flooring and then tunnels to run down and things like that. The trainer there said we usually start with uneven flooring then short tunnels then long tunnels, then vibrating tunnels. Knowing my pup I said, if you don’t mind we will head right for the long tunnel. She looked at me like well ok. So as we are walking to the long tunnel we walk within reach of the uneven surfance and he just jumps on it and runs across it like that was fun, so I back up he gets back on it and I ask him to sit, then down, then shake, all on the uneven floor and he does it without hesitation or slightest discomfort. We go right to the long tunnel get at one end and I throw a treat down it and start shaking the tunnel and down he goes after that treat I call him back and he comes right back down the tunnel. During puppy play time he is running across all the surfaces and through the tunnels to get to the other pups faster. He is probably the most emotional and mentally stable pup I have ever seen. The other day was only slightest sign of fear, we went to go outside and he hit the deck and froze, there were about 10 deer in the back yard, he started to bark, then looked at me like you got my back don’t you dad. I just nodded at him and said Ok. His cue to do something. He charged to the edge of the deck and let out a big woof. The deer scattered. Then he was acting a little too big for his britches. Like Oh yeah I just made all those big things run. He was quite please with himself. Even my sister has noticed this as she loves to take him for walks. Her 2 labs she has a hard time walking them, they pull. My boy was been coaxed with treats and things to where walking loose lease on the left is a totally natural thing. She came back from a walk once and was like totally stunned, he has no fear of cars, garbage trucks, cars with loud music. He really paid them no attention.

    However I do a lot of little puppy parties with him every time he does something right, it is a huge celebration. Even the first time he jumped on the bed turned into a 10 minute celebration. So I do everything I can to keep his confidence level high to let him believe in himself. Anyway the theory is sound and my boy might just be the exception to the rule. There always will be an exception to the rule.

  16. Leanne Paetkau says

    Interesting concept; I’m a vet and often talk to people about “stress” diarrhea. I started after my own dog (who does have separation anxiety) would break out in horrific diarrhea if I left him with a friend overnight. No diet change, or change in food frequency of feedings. We also have a boarding kennel at the back of the property at work and very often have dogs come down with diarrhea – we do screen these guys for the typical culprits (i.e. giardia etc) but more often then not it was unexplained colitis. For my own hound I just threw him on probiotics whenever I was going out of town and it really helped with the diarrhea, never asked about the anxiety issues though. The dogs at work I tend to go on bland diet and antibiotics and probiotics just to avoid a general outbreak. I’ve even seen where dogs are housed together from the same household and 2/3 out break out in diarrhea but not the third (less suggestive of infectious cause). Great food for thought (pun intended)

  17. Leanne Paetkau says

    Also – any thoughts on the new behavior diet put out by medical? One of the girls at work has a dog with separation anxiety and so we tried it with her hound who has a storm phobia. She reported profound success with it, but we did have to take her off for other health reasons…

  18. Jennifer says

    So timely as I watched an documentary last night on the possible link between gut bacteria and Autism, and that they’ve shown behavioral changes in rats based on a certain type of acidic byproduct that can be produced by certain bacteria. I’ve been lucky to not have a dog with major issues, but I wonder about the shelter dogs that I work with if this could be a factor in some of their behaviors, since there are so many influences just in the stress alone that they have while in shelter.

  19. R.d.L. says

    I’ve definitely noticed a link between digestive system problems and behavior in myself and my dogs. I’m a person whose nervous system always seems to be revved up. Last year I discovered I had gluten intolerance. Off of the gluten and my nervous system seemed to slow a notch. A few years ago I got a hound mix 9 month old from the Humane Society. He would have recurrent diarrhea every two weeks. After 6 switches between types and brands of kibble I put all my dogs on raw and he completely quit having diarrhea. All this time this dog was having off and on behavior issues too. He seemed to have calmed down. Then I brought in two foster dogs, BC/heeler. All on raw. Behavior issues came back, quieted down when one foster left. Still on raw. The foster made me fail FOSTER 101, and his nervousness got better on raw plus his coat changed significantly from dry and flaky to rich and curly, soft and sweet-smelling. Recently because of a heavy volunteer schedule with the animal shelter I tried some Blue Buffalo no-grain kibble and all the dogs are tolerating it well. The hound mix has shed most of his behavior issues and continues to be a sensitive dog but seems more balanced. Perhaps he has been missing something in his diet? I hope this is the end of problems. In the past I dosed him with a chicory and Rescue Remedy mix which helped. And I am considering that maybe other changes in my diet might help me feel more relaxed.

  20. Lori Kline says

    It makes perfect sense! I know as a child growing up I had what probably was irritable bowl syndrome in high school. Lots of hormones and emotions churning about at that tender age. I also had a terrible time eating anything before a horse show and would skip breakfast altogether until after my first class. Then I was able to eat.
    We always monitored our horses’ diet very closely and would adjust depending on the behaviors the horse exhibited. Less high energy meals for the flighty ones and more high energy for those who needed a boost.

    I can see it in dogs too. Very fascinating to know my eating those cookies or mac and cheese really do have a mental component to it. Now maybe to try some yoga or zen instead.

  21. Sandy says

    Wow, this is so interesting to me. One of my dogs TT, has always had a lot of diarrhea. He was a feral pup that I took from the shelter when he was 7 months old. Had never been in a house before, afraid of people – you can imagine. Could only bring him home because of my dog Sophie who he immediately bonded to and loves enormously. He loves me now too and has come a long way but of course he is still very shy and in some situations he just shuts down. I spoke to my vet recently about the diarrhea and he recommended probiotics which worked for awhile but the diahrrea is back now. My next step is to monitor if particular foods/meats work better for him. But I never made a connection between this and his emotions. It makes so much sense for this dog. He is a happy guy whose mission in life is to have fun but he is also a fearful dog who looks at the world warily. Thank you for this ah-ha moment – I’m really going to think and read more about what I feed him and work harder to resolve this problem.

  22. Nancy Lester says

    I have been lucky in that I’ve not had a dog with eating/digestive issues. I’ve fed raw for over 10 years. I have standard poodles with whom I do agility. One of them, who loves it, just shut down in the hot weather. I took her to an alternative vet. who said there was nothing wrong with her, but suggested I give her Chinese cooling foods. I did and she started running again. I may not understand the gut/brain connection, but am not at all surprised to hear there is one. Food definitely affects mood, though I’m not sure that is what’s going on with the Chinese heating/cooling foods.

  23. says

    I’ve had lots of clients with gut problems. Some of them had anxiety problems associated with food allergies and itching. But most of them just don’t have nice stools, or defecate two or three times in a row, softer and softer each time. With the treatment they end having normal feces.
    I try to put my clients in a low-protein low-calorie diet, as most of the treats they finally end up using are high-prot high-fat like sausages or cheese. So I try to compensate that.
    I myself have problems with stress and my digestive system. I’m gluten intollerant, and have autoinmune arthritis for some years now, and stress just sends my symptoms up in the air, stomach pains and back pains alike.

  24. Laura says

    I so hope you get to throw something for Willie again. I dread the last time I will be able to throw something for my border collie who is now 12. We have slowed down tremendously and she rarely gets the disc but we do still play fetch with toys. Sometimes I sit about two feet in front of her and throw the toy directly in her mouth. It isn’t the best but it is something and makes us both feel better. Best wishes to you and Willie!

  25. lin says

    My dog has some issues, but her gut has always been golden (or maybe titanium) . We suspect that part of her nervousness and fear-aggression came from lack of socialization, part was genetic. Even now, Pupper prefers not to be petted by people she has known for 8 years (and who give her treats on a regular basis!) She had seperation anxiety severe enough that she was on Clomicalm the first year and a half we had her. She gives herself lick granulomas (not huge and horrible, but persistent). Through it all Pupper has had superb housebreaking habits, and is by no means a picky eater (except when it comes to veggies)

  26. says

    I went to the Winter Symposium on Waukesha last weekend. One of the lectures was on nutrition and given by Tom Cameron D.V.M. Dr. Cameron said that there are as many nerve endings in the digestive tract as in the spinal cord. He also said that 3/4 of an animal’s immune system is along the digistive tract. Nutrition was mentioned as a possible contributing factor in a whole host of medical issues as well as behavioral issues. One point that I really took away from this is that there is so much that we don’t know about the interplay between what we eat and the effects on our bodies and our behavior. There are so many minute chemical reactions and chains of reactions. This point was brought home by a series of slides that listed the known constituents of carrots – one slide with 2 columns, one slide with 4 columns and another with 3 columns – in pretty small print. Seeing this display was a real eye opener for me as I contemplated the idea that it was only one vegetable.

  27. Rachel says

    With my shy dog, reduction in general anxiety (through ds/cc, prozac, and moving from an urban to a small-town environment) has really changed his … uhh… digestive outputs.

    I tried switching him from one food to the next (kibbles, canned food, raw food, etc) with no real change, but once his stress levels went down (and they have really come down since I first adopted him), the poops became much less loose.

  28. Tina says

    My adopted dog came home with diarrhea and was very difficult to calm. Would sometimes eat, sometimes not eat. Diarrhea got better when we did really simple cooked at home chicken and rice. Found a dog food that was only chicken and rice, no exotic veg. etc. We eventually added pro-biotics and diarrhea rarely occurs now, and no more stinky gas either! She is definitely high strung but seems calmer now. A person wearing a backpack was no longer a person and very scary. She is better with lots of treats and space between her and whatever might be scary.

    She is more calm, but is it food, or following good training advice, or just growing up? She is now 4 yo.

    I believe the pro-biotics definitely helped our dog feel better.

  29. Larry C. says

    I have rescued several dogs. Anxiety and digestive problems go together and reinforce each other. Finding a diet that does not trigger vomiting or diarrhea is an important part of the rescue process. A dog also needs a reliable routine that includes exercise, grooming, food, water and sleep. They need to know they can trust you for everything, including placing gentle but firm limits on their actions.

    With patience, unwanted behavior patterns can be extinguished, but it can take months.

    BTW, if anyone has the opposite problem, a constipated dog, try a big (tablespoon) glop of canned pumpkin mixed with the dog food. It will loosen the stool without causing diarrhea.

  30. trisha says

    So many interesting responses! Have to run home to let out Tootsie (she’s doing great but hey, she had 7 years of going in her crate), but thanks so much for all this so far. I’m going home to work on the AAA/AAT seminar I’m doing in Naples, but will re-read all your comments and add more of my own. Such an interesting topic. No surprise to any of us that animals (people too) get diarrhea when acutely stressed, but the idea of a continual conversation between neurons in one’s gut and one’s limbic system fascinates me. Oh, we have so much to learn!

  31. Jane says

    Very interesting topic, and I was intrigued to see that someone found that L-tryptophan helped her dog. Here’s another fascinating little piece of info regarding the enteric nervous system: 90% of all the serotonin produced in the body (in both people and dogs) comes from the nerves in the ENS. Not the brain, which is where anyone who has been on Prozac or any other SSRI would think they were working. These chemicals are produced when the gut senses food (they help start up some of the digestive processes), but you could imagine that too little serotonin would mess up emotions, as well as your dog’s ability to digest its food. And guess which amino acid is a direct precursor to serotonin? Yup, L-tryptophan. Maybe giving that amino acid helps make up for a deficit in Sparky’s gut, and helped both his irritable bowel and his mood.

  32. says

    So interesting, especially in light of Sophie, my Shepherd mix. I got her at 4 months old, and she immediately got giardia. The diarrhea didn’t help my efforts to socialize her. She continued to have diarrhea and GI issues even when the giardia finally went away. And she displayed reactivity to just about anything novel — dogs, people, places, things.

    She’s always been incredibly finicky, and not very food motivated (or toy motivated, for that matter). Her prime reinforcer is lots of praise, attention and love. She’s a very sensitive, anxious and soft girl.

    Sophie never was crazy about her food. Even when I went all out with the most expensive, grain-free kibble I could find, she would still be finnicky and often skip meals. Earlier this year, I researched homemade diets and other options. We finally hit on a great combination months ago. She loves this food so much that she doesn’t skip meals anymore, and she’ll even gobble up kibble that I sprinkle on top.

    Independently (or so I thought at the time before reading this), I noticed this summer and fall that her reactivity and anxiety has really gone down a notch or two. I’m sure much can be chalked up to maturity (she’s about 3 1/2 now), but there must be a connection with diet!

  33. says

    This is a no brainer. I’m always looking at the whole picture of things when I work with animals (and people). Our digestive system is hugely influential on our physical and emotional states and visa versa. From first hand experience body pain and emotional states being a huge component of what is being eaten. But at the same time when being emotionally and/or physically stressed, foods that I might normally tolerate, are now reactive and creating bloating, diarrhea, etc. I truly believe that our whole body is one big brain in which every part constantly acts as a feedback system for everything else (it’s what I experience in receiving and giving treatments). Our neuro-endochrine system is hugely influenced by stresses and impacts on our body in an amazing number of ways. Making an assumption that one thing totally controls another is foolish because animals systems are so complex (we really still know very little about how we and the universe functions). Trying to reduce anything that creates a stress on the body (in any part or way) and then helping the system settle and strengthen through various therapies is a great way to help. I use nutrition, TTouch and Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy but other things like acupuncture or homeopathy, etc can be great. There is a lot being looked at in embryology and understanding that there is a body intellegence that forms how we develop and shape ourselves. This intelligence is not “brain” controlled, is not gene controlled, but comes from somewhere else. This intelligence does not disappear when our brain(s) come into being, it is still a part of us. When we can understand this deeper intelligence we will be part way to truly understanding how the body works. This link is a nice summary on some of this and mentions the work done by Blechschmidt This link is also intersting regarding nervous system and gut inflammation (although I don’t think the word Control is right – more highly influences)

  34. Alison says

    On the topic of comfort food…a bit of oatmeal for breakfast seems to help Meg a lot. I’m not sure if she finds it comforting, or maybe it contains some nutrient she was lacking, but it seems to have made a big difference in her happiness.

    Meg (3 1/2 years old) is on a mostly raw diet and I’ve been trying to get her to gain weight for the past couple months. The vet gave her a clean bill of health, but she was a bit underweight which we felt was largely due to her high activity level and the fact that she’s a nervous dog. She should weigh 40 lbs and eats as much or more than my 80 lb lab mix (though he’s an old low-energy dog).

    After trying many different things to help her gain weight without much success, I started making her a small bowl of oatmeal for breakfast about two weeks ago. Since she began having her oatmeal for breakfast, I’ve seen several changes in her behavior. In our agility class, she approached several people to sniff and visit with them…something she rarely does outside our home. Usually it takes her quite a while to warm up to new dogs and actually play with them, but she made a new friend last weekend and actively engaged him in play within a few minutes. She has also been trying really hard to convince my old lab to play with her (he has yet to accept her invite). Several people who don’t see her very often have commented on how happy and relaxed she looks/acts compared to how she normally is. She even let the cat rub up against her while she was laying down (normally she’d jump up in a startled manner the second the cat came close to touching her). She’s also started putting some weight. :-)

  35. Robin says

    I agree there must be a connection between behavior and diet, and the solutions to both problems definitely help the others. My rescue dog (4 when we got him) is severely reactive with other dogs and has major food allergies. It took us almost a year to get rid of all his infections (feet, ears, etc), get him on food that made him feel good and slowly get his people behavior improved (leash manners, running for the door, etc), and I definitely see a link. His reactivity continues, but he is getting a little bit better (every couple dozen times he hears or sees a dog he thinks to run away instead of bark/growl/lunge), but it’s clear training stresses him out (he gets diarrhea). Again, his allergies flare up at the slightest change in diet, if a guest slips him something or he gets into the trash, so this could certainly still be contributing! Though medication seems like an extreme solution, I’d be willing to try probiotics with more training. Keep us posted!

  36. says

    Yep, Rubin my 4 1/2 year old labradoodle was a horrible eater and never ever had firm stool for the first 2 years of his life. It was awful trying to figure out what to feed him. And anxiety is his middle name. Now he’s on a raw diet (beef…a cooling food though sometimes we add chicken and/or turkey), gets probiotics in his food, and takes Chinese herbs. Every six weeks he goes for acupuncture and osteopathy because his physical body (muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, etc) are also connected to his fear/anxiety. He’s a much better eater these days, nice firm stools, and after a acupuncture/osteopathy adjustment he’s calmer, less reactive, and much more balanced. For Rubin, it’s not just his gut and emotions that are connected, but his (poor) confirmation, his gut, and his emotions are so linked that it’s often hard to tell which sets off which. In Chinese medicine, they’ve always “known” this connection. Funny that it took Western medicine such a long time to figure out the science behind it. Thanks for sharing and it’s great to see Willie enjoying himself and Tootsie “posing” for the camera. Stay warm!

  37. Laurie says

    My study of ENS and human behavior and trauma goes deeper than just foods too. Check out the book “Waking the “Tiger” by Bernie Siegal (sp) so much of our instinctive reactions occur in the ENS, and affect the chemicals in our body as well as body processes. Stress and trauma play a big role in ENS and vice versa. I am sure for dogs too. ENS is behavior right at the instinctual level…

  38. Renee says

    My herding dog/lab mix was the extreme example of dog who lacked of emotional control (but tried really hard…you could tell), didn’t handle environmental change well (diarrhea was normal when we walked around the neighborhood… 8pm at night to avoid seeing other dogs) and had ridiculous amounts of fear and generalized anxiety.

    We did lots of desensitization and counter conditioning work and managed her life. Additionally we did acupuncture, fed her only “cooling” foods and Chinese herbs for a number of years. Integrated medicine didn’t magically turn her into a “normal” dog, but it took a slight edge off. This was evident when we stopped doing these things for a short period of time.

    Knowing what I know now about the gut-brain connection, I would have given her probiotics and home cooked all her meals with ALL grains removed (unfortunately we were not able to try these things because we lost her in October).

    If the gut is malfunctioning, then the brain is involved. Stress, anxiety, the gut and the brain are all part of the same axis.

  39. says

    Oh yes. Inka came into my life just over four months ago. Little stress-head was at the vets three weeks ago for being rather excessively burpy, and bringing up mucous, so was prescribed medication for a stomach ulcer. He improved. but was still having issues, now he gets ‘sensitive’ kibble, and just last night was “prescribed” breakfast & supper by his vet to help his excess stomach acid.
    I think his stomach problem is here to stay, but certainly was exacerbated by being taken from his ‘home’ (a farm), and put in a shed full of dogs (by a broker), then with whatever happened when he was found to be a non-worker, and then (very luckily) taken to a lady who rescues non-workers. Then of course a new life, and car travel several times a week (which he’s still not 100% about, though it does take him to class!).

  40. Wanda says

    I’ve seen the gaping reaction in at least two of our dogs over the years and both were clearly signs of disgust. First, on two separate occasions, our GSD picked up food that had fallen on the floor (a grape and broccoli) and quickly spit it out with literally a look of disgust that could not be mistaken. He worked his mouth as if it had something foul in there and then glared at us, both times. The other dog, my golden, grabbed a piece of poop that I was scooping up and he quickly spit it out and did the gape (get this taste out of my mouth) motion. It was hilarious!

    We also had a rescue golden that was very nervous/anxious. She had recurring diarrhea over her lifetime, always tied to stress (such as encountering aggressive dogs). Her favorite treat, one that seemed to settle her stomach, was homemade oatmeal cookies.

  41. says

    What an interesting article. I wonder if this might be the connection to my 2 yr old Rhodesian Ridgeback’s nervousness. At just shy of 1 year, she shredded a comforter & ingested some of it. The strips & tatters & strings blocked in her gut, requiring emergency surgery to remove. It was extensive, & required 5 separate incisions in the small intestine & stomach to get it all out (none of the gut needed to be removed).
    She was a happy-go-lucky puppy before the surgery, & convalesced at home for 3 months over the winter. When I brought her back out into the world of dog showing, she FREAKED out, very nervous, scared to be approached, gaited around the ring like she was being chased.
    We have been working through it & have made slow but steady progress. I wonder if there might be signals coming from the trauma in her digestive system that are feeding into her behaviors.
    I will certainly try probiotics to see if that helps (she does not have visually apparent digestive issues, no diarrhea or vomiting, etc) but wonder if maybe I would need to switch off the kibble she is on & try something else (canned, raw, etc.)
    Any suggestions from others would be greatly appreciated, thanks! You can email me directly at ~ Tara

  42. Marianna says

    I foster for border collie rescue, all mine get probiotic and especially when a new one comes home.

    I am going to look into this research more. You have got me thinking on a whole new direction. Thank you for this blog.

  43. Kat says

    I was fascinated to see Gretchen’s mention of beef as a cooling food. I know practically nothing about chinese herbs and medicine and have no idea what foods are cooling and which are warming. Finna really seems to crave high protein foods and to prefer grain free. We’ve tried a variety of things with her and it seems to me she does best on a diet based mainly on raw ground beef to which I add cooked vegetables. She’ll eat this reliably and seems less neurotic. For training treats she gets mostly canine beef jerky because that’s what she seems to prefer. I wonder if she knows that the beef is making her feel better. Some of the changes I’m seeing in her are no doubt due to training and living in a consistent environment but I’m sure her diet is playing a part. I’m sure that having Ranger as a big brother is also playing a significant role. I’m intrigued by the fact that when she starts getting spun up he will mount her and she calms down. The other day when the neighbors pulled out a big leaf vacuum I saw her turn her tail to Ranger and back into him until he obliged and mounted her. For whatever weird Finna reason it seems to help calm her.

  44. says

    I can’t think of any specific instances where I’ve seen this in dogs, but I’ve definitely experienced it myself. Before I figured out what specific foods I’m sensitive to (wheat in particular), I would just get weirdly grumpy after eating sometimes. Dumping wheat has given me a permanent boost in my mood.

    I always wondered why I’d experience the effects immediately after eating, given that you think it would take a while for the problems to reach the bloodstream, but this would definitely explain a lot.

    I’ve never really given much thought about this kind of thing possibly affecting dogs, too, but it makes sense! I’ll have to keep that in mind.

  45. Wendy says

    Another connection between food an brain is in this article: [link][/link]
    Wonder if this applies to dogs as well.
    I’ve noticed the coexistence of GI trouble and fear/stress related behavioural issues. Doesn’t apply to all dogs, my fear-aggressive ACD had guts of steel.

  46. Rebecca Fouts says

    There was a fabulous documentary on just the other week about the brain-gut connection. It talked about how in human evolution, the growth of our brains happened at the same time our guts shrank. And this all happened about the same time we started too COOK food. Studies show that cooked food is easier to digest; we are able to process it using less energy.

    The theory goes, when we began to cook our food, we didn’t need to eat as much or as rich of food; and we could better process what we already ate. Our guts shrunk. And the extra energy left over — went to develop our big brains. Bigger brain needs more food/energy.

    And there’s further study, as Dr. McConnell states, about how that gut has some left over programming. It still tends to think like we’re roaming the land. It’s programmed for high-energy sugary food. That’s why that Big Mac and soda may really be addictive — and yet another reason we may be seeing a epidemic of obesity. Our gut-brains are still programmed for lean times, when there wasn’t such a ready-availability of high-energy food everywhere.

    There’s a diet based partially on this gut evolution theory, too — called the Blood Type Diet. It’s based on the theory that the various blood types humans have developed over time may be related to changes in man’s diet. O’s being the oldest, were more hunter gatherers. While the others came later, and because of that, are better able to process grains, milk, veggies/fruits. I’ve always wondered if one couldn’t find a similar connection in dogs; though I doubt it would be as dramatic.

  47. Larry C. says

    About Willie, do you use massage on his injury? I started massaging dogs many years ago as a teenager to relieve arthritis in an older dog. One of my dogs now has shoulder pain from an old injury that will leave him limping after heavy activity. A half hour of massage gives him a lot of relief, and helps him rest. By the next morning he is back to moving normally.

  48. jackie says

    Yup, my stressy dog with a traumatic past = digestive problems. And even my new, much happier dog did an awful and massive poo when I took her onto a busy pavement/sidewalk for the first time!

    The stressy one is a lot more settled on his current diet, though it’s actually much higher carb than many I tried which are supposedly ‘better’.

  49. jackie says

    Tara, I’m certainly not an expert, but I would have thought that needing to spend 3 months at home convalescing at a young age might have interfered with your Ridgeback’s socialisation quite apart from any gut issues. I know a cat that had a very restricted period in his kittenhood after an operation on his shoulder. He is been a nightmare behaviourally.

  50. em says

    ARGH! I typed out a long-winded reply and then hit the wrong button and wiped it out! Blast! Maybe it’s for the best-here’s the summary of my probably-too-long comment:

    Otis had terrible digestive problems for the first year-turned out to be a grain intolerance (more specifically a bran intolerance). He was generally pretty confident, friendly, and outgoing despite his issues, but food was a major problem and he had lots of hangups around food and eating. I worried constantly about him, we tried all different types of kibble, consulted with the vet, but nothing cleared up his constant diarrhea, poor appetite, and anxiety around food.

    We switched first to home-cooked (a bland diet of chicken and white rice), and then to very-low grain raw and he was a different dog. All of that hand-wringing worry, all the months of moving heaven and earth to try to get him to swallow enough calories to keep any weight on him , all of it, gone. He’s eager to eat, happy to take treats, has kept a healthy weight for two years and it has really made a difference in our lives together. Though his issues did not spill over much into general anxiety or reactivity, they were a source of ongoing worry and tension in our home. Now that he’s truly well, mealtimes are a source of pleasure for me. Maybe it’s just my Italian grandma speaking from my cultural subconscious, but food and feeding is an important part of the human bonding process-being able to see a creature in my care thriving on meals that he eats with pleasure and gusto is tremendously comforting and satisfying to ME. I loved Otis to pieces almost from the moment we met, but being able to feed and care for him makes me feel happier and more confident.

    Otis’ energy on raw seems smoother-without the spikes and crashes and with a greater degree of stamina-he no longer sleeps in the car. He used to drop off within minutes whenever we went anywhere in the car-now he gazes out the window from his bed in the back, resting but not asleep.

    Sandy, who started on raw when we adopted her, has also thrived on it. Her energy, too, seems more steady, but I can’t say if diet is the main factor since she also gets much more exericise, mental stimulation, and has many more opportunities for social interaction (human and canine).

    This topic is fascinating for me, not least because digestion seems so interrelated with many other variables-thinking about this always seems to land me in a chicken-and-egg loop, but one thing seems clear to me-if an animal is struggling with digestive problems and the symptoms associated with that-pain, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, etc.- it stands to reason that their discomfort and unhappiness will spill over into other areas of their lives. Likewise the reverse-if a dog is anxious and unhappy, it stands to reason that their digestion will be upset by it. I had never really thought of ‘comfort eating’ being possible in dogs, though. Fascinating!

    p.s. Yay for Willie and Tootsie!

  51. Samantha M. says

    My dog Buddy a Rat Terrier, is prone to Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) and both of his major attacks have been bought on by changes in his environment. One was almost directly after we adopted him and the other after I had to go away for a few days. The only change in his environment was me leaving, my husband was still home as was my other dog, but he ended up back at the vets with an attack and almost bleed to death simply because he’d missed me. I have found one of the best ways to help him was getting him involved in agility and obedience training as it’s built up his confidence and he is learning not to over react to situations. A calmer dog is a happy dog.

  52. Ann W in PA says

    YES! My Rowdy definitely has had lifetime stress/reactivity issues, and lo and behold, just last week we did an endoscopy and found evidence of chronic issues.

    Rowdy is a red Australian Cattle Dog now 9 years old, who up to this point has been in outstanding health, minus contracting Lyme several years ago which was quickly treated.

    Digestive background – not a picky eater, absolutely LOVELY stool (I know you share my excitement,) no history of vomiting/retching/burping/gas/etc, PERFECT bloodwork, athletic, fit, eats great high quality food (most often grain free but I rotate protein sources every couple months – no change by the way in behavior or digestion), etc. A year ago I would have said his gastric system was impeccable, and I am WAY tuned into gastric upset (our other dog bloated a few years ago – took him to vet after seeing him retch followed by weird stretching – in plenty of time for successfuly surgery thankfully.)

    His only related issue is pica, which definitley is related to stress – as his stress level rises, he will obsessively consume leaves, sticks, bedding, plush toys. Low stress = no eating nonfood items. This has always been a very minor issue, but NOW will eat a huge quantity, nearly as soon as he has access – we are down to just nylabones and kongs now that if they are available he will consume large quantities of even those tuffy toys like Willie’s and then reliably like clockwork throw up the huge pile of fabric. Ack! Thankfully, he still leaves our upholstery and linens alone. :)

    Behavior background – chained till rescue at age 2 leaving him with awkward social skills with people (resolved – mostly) and dogs; dog-dog reactivity since age 3 (left to his own devices “before” extensive DS/CC would cross the room to get into a fight with an overexuberant dog); while he has learned to relax more over the years, still has an “always on the job” kind of mentality; bossy/bullying with other dogs and pushy in general. “Just the kind of control freak that might end up with an ulcer” is what it makes me think, actually. He’s the love of my life, but he’s defnitely got some issues.

    He “lost his bark” this past July (actually he still barks, it just has sounded pathetic since then.) Having been through various problem-solving, last week’s endoscopy revealed irritation from tonsils to vocal folds all the way down the esophagus to the cardiac sphincter. Current working theory is gastric reflux at a low level over a long period of time has eroded/irritated the vocal folds to the point where they are slightly damaged. Still working on it, but the main reason I kept pushing this toward diagnosis is behavioral, rather than the quality of his bark – definitely an increasing stress level, increasing pica, decreasing ability to relax, as the gastric issues worsened and his bark did not recover.

    So – chicken or egg? Hard to tell which is driving the other.

  53. Kathy says

    Chinese herbs, cooling foods, probiotics, and acupuncture saved the life of our seriously ill dog. He lived happily and as healthily as possible with diabetes, liver disease and possibly pancreatic cancer for over two years on probiotics, cooked “slurry” of beef, barley, pumpkin, celery, carrots, eggs, and garlic, and lots of herbs.
    Before we started complimentary medicine and changed his diet, he was unable to stand at all, could hardly push himself into a sitting position, and we were literally hours away from putting him down after several months of agony (ours and his). Trish gave us the name and number of her dogs’ acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner. Jody saved our dog’s life, and that’s no exaggeration. Within a week, he was standing and walking. Not too long afterwards, he was (slowly) chasing tennis balls. We will always be grateful to Trish for pointing us in the right direction.
    Loki was my and my husband’s “heart dog,” and we miss him every day, but we learned about diets and how much effect the right foods have on a dog’s health and life. Since then, we have used this knowledge to ease the lives of our other two geriatric dogs until they were ready to go. Now we apply our understanding to the two young herding breed dogs we have: they are less hyper, more attentive, and have much shinier coats, better breath, and generally happier dispositions than when either of them came to our house from rescue organizations. I’m sure their diets are not the only factor, of course, but we’ll never ignore that element again, that’s for sure!
    There is good information on the web about what foods are cooling or warming or neutral and what kinds of dog temperaments might benefit from different foods. Some of the info is meant for humans, though, so be cautious and keep in mind the foods that dogs can’t eat safely.

  54. says

    Not only is the brain-gut (a pretty well documented thing!) interesting, but since formulations of home-made canine diets is what I do for a living, I agree stongly that stress can be a very big issue when it comes to GI problems in dogs. Sometimes, people don’t want to recognize this because it might mean that the dog they had wanted for agility can’t do it without having problems. That always makes me sad because the dog’s needs have to come first and the poor thing has made it obvious that s/he simply can’t take the stress of the sporting event. But some supplements can help. Acidophilus is the best studied probiotic in dogs and seems to work better than the multi-strain varieties, but there’s more we can do. I wrote a short blog post about PREbiotics and another about conditionall essential amino acids , both of which have helped an awful lot of dogs to have a stronger gut. That said, home-prepared diets almost always seem to help because we can take control of the ingredients, so we end up knowing which food and/or supplement does or doesn’t agree with the dog. That can’t be over-stated because I’ve seen all kinds of issues improve once the dog was on a diet that didn’t cause a problem. Like children, a dog’s allergic reaction can show up as hyperactivity, restlessness et al. I’m not aware of studies that show this in dogs, but I’ve seen it so many times that it’s hard to ignore.

  55. Donna in VA says

    Wow, thanks for the info. While I don’t have any anecdotal evidence to relate, I am thinking that I will lay in some plain yogurt for my sheltie and start him on that a week before and while my sister-in-law keeps him for 2 nights in January (I have to go out of town.) He likes plain yogurt just fine and hopefully I can avoid him having any anxiety-based digestive problems at that time.

  56. says

    Wow, that is really interesting! Our rescue dog came to us as a total nervous wreck. Absolutely petrified of strangers, anxious and generally emotionally unstable. She also had some of the worst digestive issues I have ever had to deal with in a dog.

    For us the solutions to the problems were separate, but maybe they did work hand in hand?

    To help with her anxiety and fear, we just employed a lot of time and patience. We took her to flyball and agility classes and had everyone feed her whenever we could, we didn’t push her beyond her threshold (in terms of how close people could get to her) and we took it slow. Now, 4 years later, she doesn’t bark at every person who makes eye contact with her, but instead can calmly pass them on the street within a foot of them.

    As for the digestive issues, the solution was a homemade diet. And just this year we reformulated it (thanks to Monica’s book…I swear she didn’t pay me to write this! haha) and we have definitely seen further improvements in her behavior. The diet is more balanced now and her energy levels have gone up, while her anxiety has decreased.

  57. Laura says

    When my second guide dog, Torpedo, came to me he seemed perfectly calm, but then after having him home for a few months, the vomiting started. I couldn’t figure it out because it was so random. I finally realized it was transitional stress and changed his food to a different grain-free formula. He recovered, and had no more issues until his fear of thunderstorms increased dramaticly as he grew older. He had to retire last year because of his fears, but is in California now, thoroughly enjoying his retirement. No more tummy problems and he’s a happy boy. He was the first dog I’d ever had where I noticed a real internalization of stress. He was calm on the outside, but I think my boy would’ve had constant knots in his stomach if he could’ve told me how he was feeling.
    His successor now, is the most, “Chill,” as Californians like to say, dog I’ve ever met. Nothing bother’s this dog. It’s just a vibe, a feeling I get from him that wasn’t there with Torpy. Seamus projects calm, confidence and peace and he’s not even 2 yet. But he also likes to move my slippers to places unknown… sigh. One of the things in having a pup who’s part Golden retriever.

  58. says

    I’ve felt for a while that diet made a difference. For my last dog when I had her on a higher protein diet she was quite a bit more reactive with other dogs. After a case of pancreatitis I switched her to a weight maintenance food and she started to even out. There was still some behaviour modification to be done, but I really noticed that the new food made life a bit easier (well, as easy as life can be with a compulsive, authoritative rottie/shepherd mix).
    With my new dog I find I have to have him on an endurance diet (GO!, if you’re wondering) and he’s much perkier in his training. Before we would jokingly refer to him as the slowest agility dog in history (which is a funny way to talk about a border collie mix!). Of course, he’s only 19 months, so I don’t think his personality is fully formed enough for me to make any final conclusions just yet.

  59. says

    Also, I realize I’m exercising him lest now that it’s winter and he’s not making my life a living hell for it like he did at 9 months, so I suppose that’s something!

  60. Natalie says

    Very recently a Nature of Things Documentary aired about autism in Canada. The documentary looked at the possibility that the rise in autism may have to do with digestive issues…
    I adopted my first dog, a Border Collie/Spaniel cross from the Humane Society in May and it took about a month for her and her stool to settle as she adjusted to her new home. I haven’t experienced too many food/behaviour issues, and am still new to dog ownership, but am definitely going to continue giving her yoghurt &/0r kefir – both high in probiotics.

  61. Lydia says

    This thread is striking such a cord that I am inspired to post for the first time. When we got our dog at age 10 months, she had some fear and nervousness issues (but a solid temperament underneath), and she had an unhappy gut. And both needed to be worked on before we wound up with the happy, solid little girl who today is an active therapy dog who loves her work.

    I credit the wonderful folks at Dogs Best Friend Training for helping us work on training and counter-conditioning to build Daisy

  62. Sang says

    Great article. Just wanted to add to this by pointing everyone in the direction of Kevin Behan, the creator of Natural Dog Training, who has been talking about the enteric nervous system and how it relates to dogs and dog training for at least 10 years now. That’s where I first learned about it. Lots of people called him crazy for talking about it. So I’m glad to see the mainstream dog training world starting to take hold of the idea.

    Here is one recent article written by him back in 2010 that talks about the “little brain in the gut”, and how it relates to the “big brain in the head”.

    Thanks for sharing this idea with your community Patricia! :)

  63. Rebecca Rice says

    My Katie definitely is a greyhound with a sensitive tummy (I need to do a lot of mixing of foods when switching, even if it’s just different flavors of the same brand. or else I am sure to have soft poop), and she was definitely a spook of a dog! As she has gotten more confident, she seems to have less trouble with foods. But I do still use her poop as a signal of how stressed she is feeling: the more stressed, the softer the poop. Not that stress always is bad. She gets softer stools when she is really excited from seeing dogs that she likes, as well as being scared because she is in a new environment or situation. But the two or definitely linked with her!

  64. Beth with the Corgis says

    I did notice one thing. Both my Corgis are pretty unflappable (love going to a new class with the dogs, because while most of the other dogs are staying near their owners, lip-licking, sniffing and engaging in other nervous behaviors on Day 1, Jack will be happily rolling in the grass on his back, grunting). However, if we have visitors who fuss a lot with the dogs, Jack will throw up after they leave. I believe it’s over-excitement, in much the way that some little kids vomit when they have too much fun. The reason I say it’s excitement and not stress is he does not engage in any stress-related activities that I can discern. He shows distress by coming and sitting by/jumping at/lying on me, for the most part. When we have visitors, he genuinely seems to enjoy it (bringing toys, sitting on feet, asking to play, etc). But after they leave he’ll vomit once and then be fine. If visitors are calm and don’t pay too much attention to him this doesn’t happen. He’s the outgoing type that goes out of his way to meet-and-greet wherever we go, and I think it’s just too much of a good thing.

    On the other hand, when it comes to eating both mine have stomachs of steel. They can get into the most foul things in the woods and never show any ill effects.

  65. says

    Interesting timing for me to stumble upon this post. :)

    I picked up a new foster Friday afternoon — a 4 month old border collie puppy. I choose to foster puppies because I know that my middle dog (an Alaskan Klee Kai who is a little twitchy to begin with) has an easier time accepting them.

    Kaiser was more unsettled than usual when I brought the puppy home. He was being fairly well behaved, but I could tell it was stressful for him and any time the puppy moved he would jump up to make sure he kept order in the house.

    We were at an agility trial all weekend, so Kaiser’s routine wasn’t TOO disrupted. But starting Sunday night, it really started to affect him. By Tuesday he stopped eating and was having repeated bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

    The vet was able to confirm that his gut was super out of whack with very high counts of clostridium & flagellates. All we can figure is that the stress of the puppy made everything blow up and go crazy (FWIW, I feed probiotics daily and that wasn’t enough to control the situation).

    He’s on the mend now and on medications for a while to get him over this. I’m hoping by that time he’ll start settling in with the puppy (or the puppy will get adopted!).

  66. says

    I practice Reiki (Universal Energy) Japanese art or system of healing and/or relieving stress. The more I learn about different types of energy healing, the more I realize Chinese, Japanese, India, (basically Asia) has known of the inner workings of the body (human and animal) for thousands of years. The west has to have scientific proof of whether “things” work or not or have to be proven scientifically. It is like we are doing a 180 now and more and more people are realizing that energy, (chi, ki, etc.) flow is real and beneficial to a healthy life. Everyone has heard of the saying “listen to your gut”. It is so true, it is our intuition that the western world has turned off and tuned out! I am trying to get mine back now after many many years in the western world. Everyone has this universal energy, the west needs to get back to basics and utilize it!

  67. Paula J. says

    My short answer is YES, I have experienced this with one of my dogs, although I don’t think I consciously made the brain-gut connection. My Welsh Terrier Brody (RIP, 2010) had terrible issues with fear aggression. And he had a totally messed up GI system. Both were managed somewhat, but neither was completely eliminated in his nine short years.

    Like the Paula above I, too, practice Reiki. I am personally trying to “tune back in” and, in the process, I hope I can help others do the same – human AND canine!

  68. says

    Makes a lot of sense. At the APDT conference, Suzanne Clothier mentioned the largest concentration of serotonin (a happy chemical) in our bodies and dogs is in the intestine!! Also supports why food can be so powerful in training and changing a dog’s emotional response!! Holly|Milwaukee Dog Trainer

  69. Rusty says

    Amazing stuff, and it makes so much sense. My Sister and her husband have had sled dogs in the past, currently own three Siberian Huskys but they no longer are in to sledding. He told me once that “There is no proof that high quality expensive food will impact your dog’s longevity or health.” I saw the point he was trying to make but mostly disagreed with him. I opt to pay more for my dog food and typically feed less per serving, so the cost in the long run is about the same. With this information on ENS linked to CNS and what part probiotics play, my conclusions of my own study of dog food just got strong validation. Some people tell me they cannot afford to buy premium dog food for their pet. I tell them I cannot afford not to because the difference in price per serving is not all that much. When us humans eat a quality meal we feel good. It just makes total sense that the same can be said for our pets.

    I think this is really neat stuff. Sometimes just need a little help connecting the dots.

    It sure is fun watching them long-eared dogs run. Sometimes you wonder if they will lift off the ground with them ears bouncing like that. Personally, I can wait for the snow. I know its coming, I don’t need to see it by Dec 25 to be in a festive spirit.

    Merry Christmas Trisha & all you blog readers & contributors. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  70. Dianne Gilleece says

    Early research on this was done in the 80’s and 90’s by Candace Pert for the NIH. She ended up writing a book about the research, and her personal experiences with the discovery (and the difficulties with trying to convince a male-dominated medical industry that indeed the brain and body were connected) called, “The Molecules of Emotion”. She discovered, as Miranda Workman’s doctor has expertly pointed out (see Dec. 9 post), that neurotransmitters were not merely generated and sent by the brain to the body, but were also generated within the body, specifically within the digestive system, and sent to all sorts of locations! This book was a bible to a friend of mine who was learning massage and took it very seriously. I was so amazed that I went out and bought the book. That research was truly groundbreaking, yet is still just coming to the surface for the public. It completely (in my mind, anyway) validates thousands of years of Eastern medicine and meditation practice. It also is affirmation of the concept that other species can and do experience emotions, as it is clearly an older adaptive trait in mammals. Thank you for posting these wonderful topics!

  71. says

    Thank you for this post!
    I have a client who has rescued a little min pin who was chained to a pipe for 5 years ( some crazy puppy mill@@). She is a nervous wreck and has gut problems.
    This blog post served as a great reminder for me to suggest addressing the gut issues in tandem with the behavior modification.

  72. Beth says

    My female GSD terrier mix Sadie has had gastro issues since we adopted her at 9 weeks. No one knew what was wrong with her. Tests confirmed environmental allergies so we bought two heavy priced air purifiers (that work great for us) but it doesn’t seem to do much for Sadie. We’ve switched her diet to wet and dry Natural Balance. She gets into a cycle of anxiety for no obvious reason but then become even more sensitive to noises, movements, other dogs, changes, etc. which leads to severe regurgitation episodes for days. Cerenia prescription has helped her with the stomach and we are trying her with different meds for the “anxiety” that we are told she has (although she seems pretty assertive on her own so I’m not sure about that diagnosis). What types of probiotics are recommended? Would gladly try that for her. She always has an appetite but cannot keeps things down for long. Her tests came back negative and her food motility is great. We don’t know what to do for her to help her. Any feed back is appreciated. Sadie just turned 1 year old in April. Thank you.

  73. Trisha says

    To Beth: I can’t say too much without having evaluated Sadie but know that a dog can be both assertive and anxious at the same time. I would be very suspicious that it relates to physiological issues though, so I think you are wise to keep working on the right diet. I give my dogs regular probiotics (Floragen), the basic not ‘enhanced’ kind. Could food allergies be an issue? Wish I could help more, but good luck! Here’s hoping it gets much better soon.

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