Fear, anxiety, and stress… a common problem for domestic canines.
For many dogs, the development of fear, anxiety, and stress related issues can be enhanced as a result of their experiences in the early stages of life. The common practice of weaning and rehoming pups at around eight weeks of age has been shown to be an event that may increase levels of anxiety. Like many species, young puppies have a strong bond with their mother and their siblings, and their sudden removal from the family group can be both a stressful and fearful experience. Animal behaviourists are now looking into how we can assist in making this experience, less stressful for those individual pups.
Pups experience many fear related experiences in their first eight months of life. Obviously, rehoming is a stressful experience, as can be diet change, visits to the vet, puppy pre-school, grooming, introduction to strangers, the inevitable handling and petting of the cute puppy, and even going for a walk in a crowded or busy environment. As much as possible, it is essential these high stress occurrences are separated and the pup be reassured through gradual and thoughtful exposure to these stressors. For many dogs, these high stress events early in life can be the forerunner to a life of learned fear, anxiety, and stress. How your dog is introduced to these stressors will often influence their reactions to such events as they become older.
Contrary to popular belief, fears and anxieties rarely diminish with age.
As with many aspects of the animal’s makeup, fearfulness and a susceptibility to anxiety are genetic traits that can be handed down from one generation to the next. When selecting a pup, choosing from a litter born of parents displaying a favourable demeanour. This will improve your chances of securing a pup that has a more robust mental disposition.
The ability of the pup to bond with its human is both a benefit and a potential source of trouble. Bonding is one of the reasons our canine companions have taken such a strong position in modern society. However, anxiety breeds anxiety, and many anxious pets are simply mirroring the anxiety of their human carers through their amazing ability to bond. The impact of the COVID 19 pandemic and continued lockdowns on many families and individuals, plus the stresses of modern living, is fostering a new level of anxiety amongst our furry companions.
Probably the most overlooked cause of fear, anxiety, and stress responses in our beloved pets is the result of poor diet, or to be more precise, the result of compromises to the integrity of the dog’s gut microbiome.
Poor behavioural outcomes are strongly linked to the reduction of microbiota diversity in the dog. This diversity is generally controlled by diet, but more strategically, by the selection and balance of ingredients used in the diet. Other factors which contribute to species diversity loss include the prevalence of antibiotics, chemical pollution such as environmental toxins or treatments for parasites, and stress itself.
As microbial diversity is reduced, a progressively increasing immune response is triggered. This inappropriate response creates inflammation in the body, which in turn further reduces microbiota diversity. This closed loop response degrades the poor dog in many ways and is often reflected in behaviour.
As the general level of wellbeing reduces, the dog’s emotional reflex is affected which results in an inappropriate behavioural response to stress, and as time goes by the poor animal suffers a decline in emotional stability. If this closed loop response is allowed to continue, the decline in emotional stability manifests, in part, as a negative response to training. The further inevitable reduction in microbiota diversity then triggers an increase in behavioural instability which ultimately results in a decrease of sociable amicability and domestic harmony.
Often, dogs in this condition are labelled as “untrainable” or “poorly trained”. However, it’s interesting to note that once the dietary situation has been resolved and gut microbial diversity has been restored, the unsociable dog can become the perfect pet. One of the redeeming features of dogs as human companions is the dog’s ability to continue to learn new responses and behaviour throughout its life.
LifeWise BIOTIC F.A.S. Calm approaches these problems from two directions. Firstly, the ingredient selection and balance are painstakingly monitored to ensure the food stimulates and maintains a healthy gut microbiome. Whilst it is relatively easy to reduce microbial diversity in the gut, it can be devilishly difficult to restore the balance and population diversity. For this reason, we always recommend nutritional therapy be accompanied with probiotic supplement, but even then, it can be a long road back for a highly compromised microbiome. Food is the key to the restoration program, and diligence together with continuity are the key ingredients to a diverse and robust microbiota.
Simply having the correct ingredients in the food in the correct ratios is not enough. These ingredients must also be blended in such a way as to provide all the essential nutrients in the correct ratios and density to nourish the body. For fearful, anxious, and stressed fur babies, close attention to the levels of key nutrients such as B group vitamins, essential fatty acid ratios and essential amino acid levels are imperative.
It is only once all these factors are taken into account can fear, anxiety and stress can be alleviated, thus allowing our beloved companion to live a calm and rewarding life as our preferred companion.