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Dog Waving Paw

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  • Writer's pictureBecki Gude

Canine Gut Health and Behaviour: Why Your Dog's Gut is Known as the "Second Brain" (and Why It Matters for Training!)


Heard the saying, "Trust your gut"?


Well, it turns out there's a lot of truth to that, especially when it comes to our furry friends! The gut isn't just about digesting kibble or the evening's leftovers off your plate; it's a sophisticated system often dubbed the "second brain." But what does that really mean, and why should you care? Can your dog's diet really affect their behaviour and training?


Let's look into the fascinating world of the gut-brain connection in dogs and see how it can affect their overall well-being and ability to learn.





The Gut's Own Brain! The Enteric Nervous System:


First off, we have the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). This network of about 100 million neurons lines your dog's digestive tract, from the throat to the rectum. It’s like having a mini-brain in the gut that manages digestion without needing help from the brain in their head! This means everything from moving food along to regulating blood flow is taken care of by the gut itself. 



Gut Feelings Are Real!


Here’s where it gets super interesting: the gut produces a ton of neurotransmitters. You've probably heard of serotonin, the "feel-good" chemical. Well, about 95% of it is made right there in the gut! (2) This neurotransmitter, along with others like dopamine and GABA (a calming chemical), plays a big role in regulating mood and behaviour. So, when your pup is happy and relaxed, their gut health might just be part of the reason why.


The Mighty Microbiota


Now let's talk about the gut microbiota – the trillions of microorganisms living in your dog's gut. They're not just there for no reason, they're busy producing chemicals that keep the brain and gut in contact and working together. This constant communication happens through pathways like the vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve that runs from the head through the abdomen) and the immune system.


Studies have shown that when the balance of these gut microbes gets thrown off (a condition called dysbiosis), it can lead to problems like anxiety, depression, and even neurological disorders (2, 4, 5). Dogs that are anxious or unwell may find it significantly harder to learn and make new associations, which can make training a real challenge. If your dog is struggling to pick up new skills or seems reluctant to engage in training, it is incredibly important to consider their gut health and diet amongst other factors that could be influencing their behaviour.





Healing from the Inside Out


So, how can we help keep our dogs' guts—and by extension, their brains—healthy? It often starts with their diet. Including prebiotics and probiotics can make a big difference. These can be found in certain high-quality dog foods or as supplements, but always check with your vet first.


Practical Tips for a Happy Gut (and Pup!)


  1. Feed a Balanced Diet: High-quality commercial diets from brands such as Carnilove or vet-approved homemade meals can provide the nutrients your dog needs.

  2. Add Prebiotics and Probiotics: These help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Some prebiotics may be more suitable for your dog than others, so make sure to get your vet’s advice before introducing new supplements!

  3. Monitor Stress Levels: Stress can affect gut health (8), so keeping your dog’s environment calm and stress-free is essential.


Understanding the gut-brain connection helps us see just how interconnected our dogs' physical and mental health really are. So next time you see your dog happily wagging their tail, remember: a healthy gut helps make a happy, thriving pup, which makes training a whole lot easier!



By Becki Gude

BA(hons) PACT ABTC-ATI

Training & Behaviour consultant for CarniloveUK




References


  1. Mayer, E. A. (2011). Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication. Nature Reviews Neuroscience https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21750565/

  2. Appleton, j (2018) The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6469458/

  3. Gershon, M. D., & Tack, J. (2007). The serotonin signaling system: from basic understanding to drug development for functional GI disorders. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17241888/

  4. Yano, J. M., Yu, K., Donaldson, G. P. et al. (2015). Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25860609/

  5. Cryan, J. F., & Dinan, T. G. (2012). Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22968153/

  6. Bercik, P., Denou, E., Collins, J., et al. (2011). The intestinal microbiota affect central levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor and behavior in mice. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S001650851100607X

  7. Wallace, C. J., & Milev, R. (2017). The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28239408/

  8. Konturek P et al (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22314561/



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