Nutritional Support for Your Dog or Cat’s Gut-Brain Axis

An imbalance in the gut microbiome can affect your dog or cat’s brain and cause changes in their mood and behavior. Learn more about the gut-brain axis and how to support it with diet and supplements.

This is the age of communication. Sometimes, though, communications can turn from good to ugly. The same concept applies to the systems in our bodies, and those of our companion animals. For example, did you know that your dog or cat’s gut and brain have been communicating with each other since they evolved into their present forms? And that this bidirectional communication aka the gut-brain axis can sometimes go awry and cause health problems? It’s important to understand your dog or cat’s gut-brain axis, and how to support it to help ensure their overall health and well-being.

UNDERSTANDING THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS

As a communication system, the gut-brain axis plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being in dogs and cats. It helps regulate the digestive system, and alsoplays a role in the animal’s immune system and behavior. For instance, the bacteria living in the gut can affect the way the brain functions, which can in turn impact the animal’s mood and behavior.

There are many different types of bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut that help with digestion and nutrient absorption. When the balance of these microorganisms is disrupted, it can lead to dysbiosis. This can have numerous negative effects on a dog or cat’s health. For example, an imbalance in the gut microbiome may lead to inflammation in the gut, which can affect the way the brain functions. This may cause changes in the animal’s behavior, such as increased anxiety or aggression. In addition, dysbiosis can cause digestive issues, such as diarrhea or constipation, which can be uncomfortable and may also lead to changes in the animal’s behavior.

Animal parents should be aware of the potential effects of an imbalanced gut microbiome, and take steps to support a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This includes feeding the animal a balanced diet, providing them with regular exercise, and avoiding unnecessary medications or antibiotics that can disrupt the gut microbiome.

HOW DIET IMPACTS THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS

What you feed your dog or cat can have a significant impact on the gut-brain axis and the overall health of the animal. The food they eat plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of bacteria in the gut, which is essential for proper functioning of the gut-brain axis. Feeding a dog or cat a diet high in processed, low quality ingredients, for example, can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, leading to dysbiosis and potential inflammation.

Foods that harm the gut-brain axis

The following foods can affect the gut-brain axis, which can impact the way the brain functions, leading to changes in the animal’s mood and behavior.

  • Processed foods that are high in fillers and low in nutrients can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and lead to dysbiosis.
  • Highly processed or preserved meats, such as deli meats or bacon, which are high in sodium and preservatives, can cause inflammation in the gut and affect the way the brain functions.
  • Sugary treats, such as cookies or candies, are high in simple sugars and can contribute to dysbiosis and gut inflammation.
  • Artificial additives and preservatives, such as food dyes and flavorings, can cause inflammation in the gut and affect the animal’s mood and behavior.

Foods that support the gut-brain axis

Be mindful of the type of food you’re giving your dog or cat and choose a diet that is balanced and nourishing to support the health of the gut-brain axis as well as their overall wellness. A diet that’s rich in high quality, natural ingredients can support a healthy balance of gut bacteria and help maintain the proper functioning of the gut-brain axis.

A number of different foods can help support the gut-brain axis in dogs and cats, including:

  • Fresh, whole foods, such as lean meats, fish, vegetables, and fruits — rich in nutrients and help support a healthy balance of gut bacteria.
  • Fermented foods, such as yogurt or kefir — contain beneficial bacteria to support the gut microbiome.

It’s important to include a variety of different types of foods in your dog or cat’s diet. You may also want to consider incorporating probiotic supplements into their diet to further support the gut microbiome — more on this below.

SUPPLEMENTS FOR GUT-BRAIN AXIS SUPPORT

A number of supplements are beneficial to the gut-brain axis in dogs and cats. They can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria and support the proper functioning of the gut-brain axis. Here are some examples:

  • Probiotics contain live beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
  • Prebiotics contain non-digestible fibers that act as fuel for the beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping them to thrive.
  • Digestive enzymes help with the digestion and absorption of nutrients in the gut.
  • Anti-inflammatory supplements, such as fish oil or turmeric, can help reduce inflammation in the gut and support overall health and well-being.

Knowing something about the communication between your dog or cat’s gut and brain — and what can happen when that communication breaks down — can help you get to the root of a variety of health and behavioral problems, and take nutritional steps to bring things back to balance.


Dr. Omer Rashid earned his veterinary degree in 2002 from University of Agriculture Faisalabad, and quickly followed that with a Master’s degree in Parasitology. He worked for several years in veterinary practice with small animals, as well as horses and livestock. He studied advanced pharmacology at Charles Darwin University in Australia, and discovered his love for writing while working as a science writer for a research company with clients such as Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge universities. Along the way, Dr. Rashid developed an interest in integrative veterinary health, and he joined Redstone Media Group as Associate Editor of IVC Journal and veterinary content developer in 2022.

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