Impact of nutrition on canine behaviour: current status and possible mechanisms

Nutr Res Rev. 2007 Dec;20(2):180-94. doi: 10.1017/S095442240781331X.


Each year, millions of dogs worldwide are abandoned by their owners, relinquished to animal shelters, and euthanised because of behaviour problems. Nutrition is rarely considered as one of the possible contributing factors of problem behaviour. This contribution presents an overview of current knowledge on the influence of nutrition on canine behaviour and explores the underlying mechanisms by which diet may affect behaviour in animals. Behaviour is regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones, and changes in the availability of their precursors may influence behaviour. Tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, may affect the incidence of aggression, self-mutilation and stress resistance. The latter may also be influenced by dietary tyrosine, a precursor to catecholamines. As diet composition, nutrient availability and nutrient interactions affect the availability of these precursors in the brain, behaviour or stress resistance may be affected. PUFA, especially DHA, have an important role as structural constituents in brain development, and dietary supply of n-3 and n-6 PUFA could modify aspects of the dopaminergic and serotonergic system and, consequently, cognitive performance and behaviour. Finally, persistent feeding motivation between meals can increase stereotyped behaviour and aggression and decrease resting time. This feeding motivation may be altered by dietary fibre content and source. At present, few studies have been conducted to evaluate the role of nutrition in canine (problem) behaviour through the above mentioned mechanisms. Studies that explore this relationship may help to improve the welfare of dogs and their owners.