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  • Tori Lewis

Is Anxiety in your Dog Head or in His Gut?

What if your dog’s anxiety is not in his head but rather in his gut? Research coming out of several facilities is reporting on the effects the bacteria in our patients guts can have on their overall health. We have known for a long time that when we use an antibiotic, we are putting our patient at risk of developing diarrhea because our antibiotics inadvertently kill so many of the good bacteria that are found in the gut. We have been using probiotics in our patients to help combat that potential antibiotic side-effect, but recent research has suggested that the type of bacteria in our patients gut has far reaching impacts on their over all health. ​​

Interesting research has been presented in mice where a healthy mouse can be given bacteria from a mouse that is affected with diabetes and actually induced diabetes in the previously healthy mouse. This doesn’t seem so crazy when you consider that we have known that the type of bacteria found in the gut changes significantly in response to diet, but it has not previously been appreciated that the bacteria actually play a role in the disease. Researches have gone further to demonstrate that the bacteria produce several molecules that act as communication between the gut bacteria and the brain. Bacteria have adapted to make the most of their survival. Bacteria that thrive and grow best when higher amounts of sugar are found in the gut have adapted to sending signaling molecules to the brain to induce cravings in that individual to seek out high sugar foods. Breaking the cycle of those cravings at least partially involves changing the type of bacteria in the gut so the central nervous system does not get the signals that induce cravings.

Similar studies have been performed in both mice and dogs where normal dogs were infused with bacteria from high anxiety dogs and then monitored for behavior changes. Researchers were reliably able to induce anxiety related behaviors in previously un-anxious dogs. Conversely, they were also able to treat anxious dogs with bacteria from normal behavior dogs and watch the anxiety behaviors go away.

While this research is new enough that we do not currently understand the exact molecules responsible for the anxiety signals, the fact that dogs respond differently simply by having different bacteria in their gut opens a new concept of how we may need to treat anxiety in our patients. Current therapy involves medications like Prozac or Xanax. In our clinic we have shied away from those meds in all but the most extreme circumstances and instead relied on pheromones, essential oils, CBD oil, and behavior changes, but the idea that we could have another physiologically based treatment option that is backed by strong research is exciting.

More research is no-doubt coming as to which bacteria in the gut are primarily responsible for which behavior as well as those responsible for medical conditions such as diabetes, but even now we have enough data to allows us to integrate this concept into our patients treatment plans.

If your dog struggles with anxiety, talk to your veterinarian and see if you can change your dog’s behavior without relying on pharmacological approaches. Once again, we are reminded that when we put good stuff in, we get good stuff out.

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