Updated: Nov 4
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” - Hippocrates
Page is a Boston Terrier, she was a recent foster dog - when she arrived, she was a mess, she was neurotic, without an off switch, anxious and fear aggressive - it was so sad to see a dog like this. Thankfully Page's story has a happy ending. Page wasn't born with all these issues, she stacked some of these behaviours over time, for example becoming aggressive at dinner time to make her family feed her faster. Her family not enforcing rules and boundaries further embedded her anxious neurotic behaviour. Dogs give us so much and we want to love on them so bad without understanding they are a different species and without rules and boundaries they can fall apart, it's something they really need. Babying a dog is not good for their mental health, it's not how their social systems work, it doesn't make sense to them, all it does, is force them to believe their humans aren't reliable protectors and therefore puts all the pressure on them to step into those shoes.
Pages journey to recover started when she was surrendered to us, in our home, there are rules and boundaries and consistency - these are the things she needs to help her become more balanced but one very important aspect is nutrition. Dogs, just like humans are what they eat. She was eating a supermarket high carbohydrate diet aka sugar with low quality non-functional ingredients - this does not foster good mental health. Dogs who consume a kibble based diet actually have less diversity in their microbiome - this is important because gut health directly relates to mental health. The brain and the gut are a 2 way highway sending information both ways (20% brain to gut and 80% gut to brain) so it is imperative that gut health is addressed in dogs with behavioural challenges.
Improving gut health starts with transitioning a dog to a fresh food diet with a probiotic. We manufacturer a pro-biotic called Gut Dust that has strains that have been well researched for anxiety and behaviour.
To continue to improve gut health you have to reduce and hopefully eliminate stress in the dog, contracting a professional trainer/behaviourist will help get the dog there faster with a behaviour modification program. Yes, trainers and behaviourists aren't cheap but they are an investment well worth it for quality of life for your dog who has to live in a poor state of mind and also quality of life for you and your family who has to live with a dog with behavioural challenges.
Magnesium & vitamin B group deficiency so often in my experience are a contributing factor to behaviour challenges particularly anxiety - for this reason, I give Page a supplement called Focus which addresses both these potential deficiencies. What is interesting with brachycephalic breeds is that they may be prone to Magnesium deficiency (study) due to not being able to absorb as much dietary Magnesium as other dogs and this is theorised to relate to breathing issues and sleep apnea but Magnesium deficiency is also related to mood disorders such as Anxiety. B12 deficiency outcomes include anxiety, and panic to depression and in humans, hallucinations - we don't know if dogs suffer hallucinations. This is because B12 deficiencies trigger symptoms in the nervous system and red blood cells. When giving supplements, they typically work with an accumulative effect so you need to give them time to kick in - so, be reasonable, you could be looking at least 2-3 months in some cases. You also should not be expecting a cure, they're simply supporting your behaviour modification program.
When putting together a fresh food diet for dogs like Page, I feed them a variety of ingredients on rotation because feeding the same thing day in a day out severally restricts the dogs nutrition and can lead to both deficiencies and excesses in nutrients over time.
I select ingredients that support brain & gut health and that's something you can do too with a little research - there isn't any difference when it comes to humans and dogs as to the foods that promote good gut and brain health - we simply deduct out the foods that aren't safe for dogs such as onions.
There is a lot of science available for those who are nutrition Geeks, if you need a hand in finding it, touch base. Without getting too much into the science in a blog I want to try and keep as easy to follow as possible, here's some food suggestions and basic reasons why: Anti-oxidant foods that fight oxidative stress caused by harmful microbes that can create inflammation in the body:
Organic Berries i.e. Blackberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Cranberries etc.
Cherries – need to be pitted for use in dogs
Citrus – unlikely to be accepted by dogs
Olives – in moderation for dogs
Green & Black tea (decaff)
Plum – remove the pit for dogs
Raw unsalted Nuts – Do not give macadamia or walnuts to dogs due to toxic risks. Nuts will need to be activated by overnight soaking in water or crushed when feeding to a dog.
Pumpkin – Will need to be cooked when fed to dogs
Seafood, lean meat, offal
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
Raw Milk i.e. goats, cow etc.
Lentils & Peas
Sesame seeds – Should be crushed when given to dogs.
Sweet potatoes – Will need to be cooked when fed to dogs
Avocado – remove the pit for dogs. Avocado’s, all or some parts have widely believed to be toxic to dogs, this long held myth has been disproven.
Plant matter will need to be cooked, crushed or finely chopped when feeding to a dog as they find it challenging to break down the cellulose (cell wall) of the plant due to the lack of specific digestive enzymes needed for carbohydrate break down.
Nrf2 pathway - this topic is a bit sciency but basically the Nrf2 has been referred to as the activator of cellular defence, the master antioxidant switch and the guardian and gatekeeper for health and longevity. Here are some Nrf2 activating foods:
Fruits: Red, blue and purple organic berries; apples; citrus fruits and juices (particularly oranges, grapefruits and lemons)
Teas: Decaffeinated green, white, black and oolong
Vegetables: kale; broccoli; celery; hot peppers (in very small amounts); green beans
Herbs: parsley, thyme
Legumes: green beans; chickpeas; mung beans
Functional superfoods can help brain health, cognition and memory:
Leafy greens (supply folate, vitamin B- 9) – kale, spinach, collard and mustard
Cruciferous vegetables (supply folate, carotenoids) – broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts
Beans/legumes (supply choline)
Whole grains (gluten-free = quinoa, millet, flax, TEFF, tapioca)
Organic Berries/cherries (supply anthocyanins, antioxidants, vitamins C and E)
Omega-3 fatty acids (are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory) - in addition to omega-3 foods, we also give a supplement called Antinol, its primary use is for joint support but because it is a broad spectrum omega-3, it's fantastic for cognitive function.
Yellow squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, beets (supply folate, vitamin A, iron)
Raw unsalted Nuts (supply omega fatty acids, vitamins E and B-6, folate, magnesium); but not macadamia or walnuts for dogs due to their toxic risk.
Seeds (supply zinc, choline, vitamin E)
Spices (are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory; turmeric)
Herbs such as Ashwagandha, an anxiolytic to help reduce chronic stress”
Get the gut and the brain communicating through the metabolites. Metabolites are created when gut microbes eat and then produce compounds such as short chain fatty acids from dietary fibre. Short chain fatty acids are produced by bacteria in the gut during fermentation of insoluble fibre from dietary plant matter. Here are some insoluble fibre foods to consider:
Cooked navy beans (1/2 cup contains 9.5 g)
Canned kidney beans (1/2 cup contains 8.2 g)
Cooked split peas (1/2 cup contains 8.1 g)
Cooked lentils (1/2 cup contains 7.8 g)
Cooked pinto/black beans (1/2 cup contains 7.8/7.5 g)
Cooked artichoke (one whole artichoke contains 6.5 g)
Cooked white beans/chickpeas (1/2 cup contains 6.3-6.2 g)
Baked sweet potato with the peel (1 medium potato contains 4.8 g)
Raw pear or Asian pear (1 small pear contains 4.3-4.4 g)
Cooked green peas (1/2 cup contains 4.4 g)
Cooked bulgur wheat (1/2 cup contains 4.1 g)
Raw organic raspberries (1/2 cup contains 4.0 g)
Boiled sweet potato without the peel (1 medium potato contains 3.9 g)
Baked potato with the peel (1 medium potato contains 3.8 g)
Raw oat bran (1/2 cup contains 3.6 g)
Cooked spinach (1/2 cup contains 3.5 g)
Raw almonds (1 oz. contains 3.3 g)
Raw apple with the skin (1 medium apple includes 3.3 g)
Raw banana (1 fruit contains 3.1 g)
This is a subject I could continue to go on and on about because we can then start to look at all the foods that deliver the likes of Magnesium, Folic Acid, B group vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, Taurine, Zinc etc. - all these nutrients that have a direct relation to mood through different systems. Because fresh food feeding is based on the premise of feeding a variety of ingredients on rotation these nutrients can consumed from a range of different foods. In our fresh food feeding group we have a web app that you can use to find potential nutrient gaps and find out what foods could fill those gaps. --- Balanced Recipe
If you're interested in fresh food feeding but getting the balance right freaks you out a little, here's something to get you started. I recommend you join my fresh food feeding group to learn how to make your own food so you can pick and choose anti-anxiety ingredients.
Directions Wash hands well and then mix ingredients all together in a bowl – using your hands is a great method to mixing raw batches well. Wash hands well after mixing.
This batch is complete and balanced however is not intended to be fed day and in and day out – fresh food feeding is based on the premise of feeding a variety of foods to access a variety of nutrients. This batch makes around 1 kilo and you should feed your dog an amount that keeps them lean. BARF ratios as outlined in our Start Here file in the Fresh Food Group can walk you through how to much to feed when starting out.
Chicken often gets a hard time for being pro-inflammatory, however, it is an affordable meat especially the bone in variety which retails for around $2-3 per kilo so for those who want to feed fresh but are on a budget, this can work. To avoid the pro-inflammatory side of chicken, we balance the omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Factory farming animals makes them less healthy so if you get the opportunity to obtain pastured means, go for it! As you’ll be using small amounts of plant matter, you’re likely to have left overs unless you make up big bulk batches. Blend these down and freeze them for future use or even better, swap with another fresh food feeding friend to increase the variety of foods your dog has access to.
This recipe is offal free which is helpful to those who find it icky or hard to find. Feeding offal is a super easy way to hit nutrient targets for the likes of vitamin A, D & the B group so when we don’t include them, we have to go hunting for other ingredients that can cover these which often means having to use more ingredients to achieve this.
Many fresh food diets are lacking in fibre even if they feed around 25% plant matter and this is because all plants have different amounts of fibre. The average BARF ratio diet sits at around 1-2% fibre and for gut health, we want a minimum of 4%. Psyllium husks, ground chia seeds and the likes are a nice way of achieving this. Some quick Googling will help you learn how much approx. to give your dog.
Please use the same hygiene you would use when handling raw meat for your family. If on a budget, as your local Fruit & Veg department manager if there are any of out of date products that you could use for your dog (do not say for you to use personally).
Keep in the fridge what you will use within a few days and freeze the rest. Do not freeze pro-biotic supplements in with your batch as this can damage the probiotics.
--- The happy ending...
Page responded beautifully to her behaviour modification, nutrition and supplementation and was able to find her forever home. She is not perfect, she is a work in progress who is doing all kinds of awesome. She went from a dog who was attacking people on arrival who was so incredibly neurotic to a dog who could safely be rehomed with a continued action plan within 4 weeks.