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Dog Aggression: The Role of Nutrition

Updated on June 19, 2013
Effect of food on dog aggression
Effect of food on dog aggression | Source

Can Nutrition Affect Dog Aggression?

What if the food you are feeding your dog may play a role in your dog's aggression? Can nutritional changes help an aggressive dog? These questions are plausible if we think that a sound body is found in a sound mind. When it comes to behavioral problems, it's always good to take a holistic approach and look at the dog as a whole. "You are what you eat" says a popular saying and this saying provides quite some wisdom.

When dealing with problem behaviors, I often ask dog owners to have their dog evaluated by a vet to rule out medical problems. Then, if the dog comes back with a clean bill of health and possible medical causes for dog aggression have been ruled out, I sometimes ask the owners to consult with a nutrition expert to find what may work best. There have been several studies conducted on this throughout the years. This article will discuss several of them and will reveal foods and additives that have a bad rep and those that that have been considered helpful to help a dog with behavioral problems.

Foods You May Want to Investigate Further

Regardless if your dog is aggressive or not, a low quality dog food may have many adverse effects both from a health and behavioral standpoint. For starters, your dog may not be getting adequate nutrition (just look at his large poop to have an idea of how much food goes down the drain) and secondly, there may be many things added to the food that can cause potential problems. It's important to learn how to read the label of the food you are feeding so you can learn more about what your dog is ingesting. Knowledge is power; just be warned, learning to read labels often is like opening a can of worms. You won't like what you are reading! Following are foods and additives you may want to avoid.

Cheap Dog Foods

Let's face it; it's appealing to safe money and cut corners. That store bought bag of food may be attractive at just $15 for a large bag of kibble. The saying "you get what you paid for" comes true when you learn to decipher the ingredients found in the bag of kibble. As if by-products and fillers weren't bad enough, consider that preservatives, colorings and several other chemicals may have deleterious health and behavior effects in dogs. "Many dogs react negatively to these ingredients and this can manifest in behavior problems" claims James O' Heare author of the Canine Aggression Workbook and executive director of the Academy of Canine Behavioral Theory.


In particular, corn may be problematic. The issue is that cheap dogs foods often contain corn which is low in tryptophan, an aminoacid known for helping the body use serotonin. It's the fault of tyrosine found in the corn which seems to act as an anti-trytophan, according to the book "The Whole Dog Journal" Handbook of Dog and Puppy Care and Training. Dogs who have been found to be deficient in serotonin were found to be extra sensitive to pain, more reactive, and more emotional and aggressive.

High Protein Diet

According to Lindsay, volume 1, 1999 diets that are too rich in protein have a tendency to deplete the brain from ideal tryptophan levels. In many cases, switching the dog to a lower protein diet can cause much more positive behavioral changes in dogs with territorial aggression triggered by fear. The results of one study showed how fear-aggressive behavior decreased when dogs were switched to a low (17%) protein diet compared to a medium (25%) and high (32%) protein diet. The belief is that high protein levels trigger an over-abundance of amino acids, essentially decreasing the levels of tryptophan, which as mentioned, have a calming and stabilizing effect on behavior. Source: Animal Medical Center of California.

Excessive Carbohydrates

You also need to be watchful in feeding too many carbs, especially starches and grains. High levels of carbs are responsible for creating less focus and abrupt spikes in sugar levels further explains the Animal Medical Center of California. If your dog tends to be hyperactive, unable to focus and out of control, don't blame him; rather consider that his grain-based kibble may be the culprit. While it's true that from an evolutionary standpoint, dogs who evolved from wolves, aren't obligate carnivores like cats, it seems like they were meant to consume minimal amounts of grains, roots and fruits found in the stomach and intestinal tract of herbivore prey.

Yet, interestingly, new research has revealed that dogs aren't meant to eat a wolf-like diet as we have assumed for many years. Diet shaped domestication, causing man's best friend's digestive system to adapt eating rice and potatoes according to Science Now. Yet, as with everything food related, moderation is always key. More studies on the effects of carbs in dog behavior are needed.

Food Colorants and Additives

While some dog foods use natural preservatives to preserve freshness, you need to be on the look out for bags of foods using artificial preservatives and colorants. Watch out for ethoxyquin BHA and BHT.There has been research conducted on the effects these may have on the well-being of dogs. After all, why should a dog food have colorants in it? The food is not for the owner's appeal after all, it's for the dog to consume. If you would ask Rover his opinion, you could bet your soul that he could care less about the color of his food!


Better Foods

Pass Some Fat, Please!

While in humans fat may cause troublesome coronary heart disease, in dogs fats are actually beneficial. Of course, we're not talking about the fat you would drain from the strips of bacon you ate this morning--that could trigger a serious bout of pancreatitis! In this case, we are talking about beneficial fats such as fats with essential fatty acids such as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Now, try to pronounce that! Research has shown that dogs with aggressive tendencies tend to have lower blood serum levels of DHA. Make sure you feed your dog animal-based sources of DHA. Fish oils are a good example.

Up the Tryptophan

As mentioned, tryptophan helps the body make use of helpful serotonin. You can supplement your dog's diet with tryptophan but you should always consult with a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist/nutritionist before making any changes to your dog's diet.

A High Quality Diet

In summary, spending a little more for a better diet will be a good investment both in your dog's health and well-being. In particular, look for food with very few additives, no colorants and preferably using only natural preservatives. Look for a diet enriched with bioavailable animal proteins, beneficial fats, and no fillers. Avoid dog foods with preservatives such as ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT. Try dog foods with only natural preservatives such as Vitamin C or Vitamin E ( ascorbic acid and tocopherols)

Disclaimer, this article is based on research, and links and sources from which the information was derived, are provided for further investigation. Nutritional studies vary and tend to change with time. If your dog is aggressive and you want to make changes in his diet, consult with your veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist or nutritionist for the most up-to-date information. This article is not a substitute for professional nutritional advice. When you read this article you automatically accept this disclaimer.

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy.

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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago

      That's a wise choice epbooks, your fosters are very lucky to have you. Thanks for the votes up!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago

      Yes, there are so many dog foods and it's amazing the difference a brand over another can make both health and behavior wise!

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Great hub. We're always fostering or adopting new dogs, and we never know how they'll react to the food we feed them. We stay away from the cheaper foods. Not good for our bank accounts, but it's good for the dogs. :) Always look forward to your hubs. Good info. voted up!

    • Naomi's Banner profile image

      Naomi's Banner 

      7 years ago from United States

      Very. Nice Hub! Great information for dog lovers to have. I found out a long time ago that not all dog foods are alike. Hair condition is usually a tell tell sign that your food is not cutting with your dog. Once again very good information!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Farricelli 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for the votes up and share! my Rottie had to go on weight loss recently because of an orthopedic issue so asked my vet how to proceed. She just told me to just feed the same premium food but just give less, while another suggested a totally different prescription weight loss diet, but we then decided to switch her to an almost raw diet which should help her recover. I don't think I have a hub on weight loss...yet...

    • ladydeonne profile image

      Deonne Anderson 

      7 years ago from Florence, SC

      Your articles that focus on dogs are always of interest to me. I do not have aggression issues with my two dogs, but they both have weight problems. I have changed their diets and am seeing some success. I will check your hubs to see if you have a post on weight loss for dogs. Great hub with useful information. Voted up and shared.


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