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Your Dog’s Gut Bacteria and Stress: How are They Related?

Dogs get stressed out just like us. And just like us, many display digestive issues when anxious. For example, how many times have you heard a dog owner or boarding facility owner say a dog had diarrhea the whole time it was there? Their food didn’t change, but their routine and environment certainly did. Some dogs may throw up or drool when stressed as well, all signs that their stomach is upset. Stress also causes behavioral changes in canines, including barking, growling and biting, so understanding how to reduce or alleviate stress is important.

So what does gut bacteria have to do with all this?

There are two basic categories of bacteria that live in the digestive system – good bacteria and bad bacteria. Called the gut microbiome, because the digestive tract is made of up hundreds of different types of bacteria and other microbes, this system needs to be in balance in order for your dog’s body to function properly.

The good bacteria, also called beneficial bacteria, such as probiotics, help keep toxins out of the bloodstream, block bad bacteria, and aid in digestion, immune system function and absorption of nutrients. It’s easy to see why your dog’s stomach may be upset if he doesn’t have enough good bacteria or has too much harmful bacteria in his digestive tract. But what does that have to do with stress?

The Gut-Brain Axis

The brain of many animals (including humans and canines) is connected to the digestive tract in a two-way communication structure. It is this structure that allows the stress we feel in our brain, to affect our gut. Conversely, it also means that what is going in our gut can affect our brain. Including relieving stress.

There have been several studies done on dogs’ gut-stress relationship, and every single one of them found that dogs on probiotics showed less signs of stress than those not on them. One study tested dogs in a boarding environment being fed the exact same diet, the only difference was the probiotics. Another study took already anxious dogs and found that those given the probiotics appeared 90 percent less anxious than those that were not given any. This included reduced instances of spinning, barking and pacing as well as improved heart rate (83 percent of subjects) and cortisol levels (75 percent of subjects).

Part of the reason scientists say this happens is because probiotics produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, which make us feel good. And as mentioned in the study above, probiotics help lower cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone.

So, if you have a dog that seems constantly stressed, you may be able to help your four-legged friend be more at easy by upping his probiotic intake. It’s a great thing to do in conjunction with training. And, since probiotics also aid in digestion and your dog’s immune system (70 percent of which is housed within the digestive tract), it will also help your dog stay healthier.

If you do choose to go down this path, I use human grade probiotics for my dogs. If your dogs are small get the child probiotics and depending on your dog’s size use accordingly. If you have a dog over 40kg you can get the adult probiotics. I go for the probiotics with more than 10 species of good bacteria or more. Reason being, the more diverse the microbiome the healthier it is.

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