We know that what is fed to animals influences their physical health; but the concept that diet also affects mental health and behavior is often overlooked. However, nutrition is the fuel for the body and the brain, which is why, indeed, it has a leading role in animal mental health. In this article we analyze how diet and different nutrients impact the behavior and mood of pets.


The functioning of the brain

Nutrition impacts every cell and metabolic process in the body. Just as a car cannot function without gasoline or gas, the brain and nervous system cannot function without the necessary components.

All the activities and functions of the body are directed and connected by networks of neurons (nerve cells). If neurons cannot 'communicate' with each other in an optimal way, their networks will be affected and consequently their behavior will suffer as well.

In this sense, we must recognize that all behavior is a direct manifestation of activity in the brain and central nervous system. The behavioral outcome is secondary to the underlying mood, emotion, and motivation. The truth is that most studies and research in animals are carried out in order to analyze the presence, prevention or absence of physical diseases, not mental or behavioral.

Scientific studies on pet food and the functioning of the animal brain. It is often said that the intestine is the second brain of human beings, but what is true in this statement if we transfer it to pets? It remains to be seen. A thesis carried out in 2009 for the University of Wageningen focused on analyzing and evaluating the impact of feeding on two physiological systems involved in the regulation of canine behavior.

Dietary fiber and canine behavior

The potential impact of dietary fiber on satiety and behavior in dogs was evaluated. To do this, two in vitro fermentation studies were conducted to analyze microbial fermentation activity in the canine gastrointestinal tract from two diets with different fiber fermentability.

Some results:

  • It was found that the secretion of hormones related to satiety did not differ between the two treatment groups.
  • Dogs fed a diet high in fermentable fiber showed less motivation or desire to eat 6 hours after their morning feed ration and, in turn, less activity, compared to dogs fed a diet low in fermentable fiber.
  • Dogs in both treatment groups did not differ in their level of response to short-term activities performed between 5 and 7 hours after the morning meal.

It was concluded that the type of dietary fiber used in the food can have an impact on canine behavior in terms of their levels of motivation. However, metabolites related to satiety have not been affected by the type of dietary fiber, indicating that other mechanisms were also involved in the feeling of satiety.


Tryptophan and the mood of animals

The second analysis carried out was about the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which is involved in mood, stress, and behavior. Tryptophan supplementation has previously been shown to reduce anxiety in rats and increase resilience in stressed pigs.

To translate the study into dogs, tests and analyzes were performed on a group of anxious dogs; participating pets consumed foods with different levels of tryptophan for 8 weeks.

It was found that:

  • Intake of food with a higher level of tryptophan increased plasma tryptophan by 37.4% and its proportion with neutral amino acids by 31.2%. However, the data provided by the owners of these dogs do not provide a significant change in the behavior of dogs that can be attributed to the particular dietary treatment.
  • The diet high in tryptophan and low in protein presented improvements in behavior, especially a reduction towards aggressive behavior to mark territory and improved behavior related to fear, attachment, attention and sensitivity to pain.

Other studies...

  • It has been shown that behavior and mood in rats, pigs and humans can be affected by certain nutrients.
  • The physical activity of pigs has been influenced by the type of dietary fiber, probably due to satiety after eating. Fermentable fibers were assumed to be able to stimulate several mechanisms involved in the maintenance of satiety, including stimulation of the secretion of satiety-related metabolites in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Enrichment of dog diets with antioxidants and mitochondrial cofactors has been found to reduce the rate of age-related cognitive decline and associated behavioral changes.
  • The inclusion of soy-based ingredients in pet food for dogs resulted in the presence of active phytoestrogens that influence anxious behavior in Rats, and impair the social behavior of monkeys.
  • Studies that focused on the effects of the experimental decrease in tryptophan availability showed that, as there was a deficit of this amino acid, there was an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in mood.


The old saying "we are what we eat" is certainly wise and this also applies to dogs and all pets. Unfortunately, to date, there is very limited research in the area of ​​how certain specific nutrients affect the brains and behavior of dogs.

We trust that, as animal mental health becomes more recognized by both the industry and its owners, the studies and analyzes already carried out will be deepened in order to offer the best possible food and nutrition.

By: All Pet Food

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