Sunday, 17 February 2013

Anxiety and Stress in Dogs – The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Treating, Preventing Dog Anxiety and Stress

Anxiety is a very serious and increasingly common issue in dogs – in-fact it has become an epidemic issue. 

Anxiety when left unaddressed or when addressed in the wrong way can quickly increase in intensity. Anxiety may take many forms, separation anxiety, fear of unfamiliar inanimate or animate objects, sounds, weather – i.e. thunderstorms, or insecurity leading to aggressive-reactive behaviour.

The most effective and beneficial approach to solving your dog’s anxiety issues is definitely NOT medicating your dog with anti-depressants such as Doggie-Prozac. Doggie-Prozac will not cure your dog – in addition it can also cause very serious health issues, you can read about that here. On the other hand, ensuring that your dog has a sufficient daily intake of quality Omega-3 fatty acids can have a beneficial effect on your dog’s ability to overcome anxiety.

In order to successfully remedy anxiety, each factor that contributes to the condition must be addressed. My approach is two-fold  - during the course of a session:
  • My primary focus in curing anxiety in a dog is to observe, analyze and improve the dog’s peoples’ habits and communication skills;
  • Then once habits and communication are addressed it is time to look at the dog’s overall diet.

Omega Fatty Acids are a good example of the gap between that actual ability of a kibble to meet a dog’s nutritional requirements vs. the dog owner’s expectations that he/she has purchased a nutritionally appropriate and complete product. Purchasing an expensive dog kibble (regardless if from a pet store or veterinary office) is not an assurance that your dog’s nutritional needs will be properly met.  

I have yet to find a dog kibble that comes close to providing the correct balance of Omega-3 fatty acids (Polyinsaturated Alpha-linolenic acid [ALA], Eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and Docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] vs. Omega 6-fatty acids. This means that you need to know how to make-up for the lack-of-balance of good fats in your dog’s diet.

EPA’s Importance In Proper Brain Function

A proper daily in-take of EPA can help your dog better handle stress…

  • Increases the fluidity of cell membranes;
  • Improves communication between brain cells;
  • As such daily ingestion of enough EPA:
    • Works to support proper functioning of the brain, and;
    • Enables calming.

Ingesting too much of the Omega-6 fatty acid Arachidonic Acid (AA) causes cellular inflammation.
  • The brain is very sensitive to cellular inflammation. 
  • Cellular inflammation creates a breakdown in the signalling between cells. 
  • When breakdown occurs the brain cannot function at optimal levels.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines are ineffective in treating brain cell inflammation as they cannot cross the blood-brain barrier that isolates the brain from undesirable substances in the blood-stream. 

When brain cells become inflamed the only substance that can protect these compromised cells is sufficient levels of Omega 3 fatty acids. 

When the level of Omega 3 fatty acids available to the brain are insufficient, neuro-inflammation is exacerbated and disruption of signalling between nerves becomes significant. 

The brain uses two Omega 3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA. While DHA is an important and necessary structural component of the brain, EPA is the primary anti-inflammatory Omega fatty acid for the brain. When used by the brain EPA has a short life-span. This means that the supply of EPA (via the blood stream to the brain) must be constantly present. For this reason it is very important to make sure that your dog is taking in a sufficient amount of EPA on a daily basis. 

Commercially manufactured dog kibble has relatively high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids and respectively low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • To make matters worse, when coupled with increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids refined carbohydrates (such as wheat flour, rice and sugar):
    • Increase insulin production;
    • Which in-turn increases the amount of AA (the Omega-6 fatty acid which causes inflammation);
    • At the same time decreased consumption of EPA:
      • Results in an increased AA to EPA ratio;
      • Which further exacerbates inflammation.

DHA’s Importance To Brain Function

When the brain is not receiving sufficient daily amounts of DHA, serotonin levels are decreased. Decreased levels of serotonin are associated with anxiety.

Other Impacts on Brain Function, of Insufficient Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Deficiency Can:
  • Compromise the blood-brain barrier. 
    • This barrier protects the brain from uninhibited flow of undesirable substances/matter into the brain;
  • Decrease normal blood flow to the brain;
  • Decrease phosphatidylserine (PS) levels; 
    • PS is a naturally occurring anti-depressant, and also helps improve the ability to concentrate.
In Conclusion…

If you are feeding your dog commercially manufactured dog kibble:
  • I encourage you to read the food manufactures' label,and;
  • Check the Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 fatty acid percentage, and; 
  • Then supplement your dog’s diet with Omega-3 fatty acids to suit. 
If you are feeding your dog a raw diet or homemade dog food you will still need to supplement your dog’s intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • You can read more about Omega Fatty Acids for your dog:
  • All of the other ways Omega-3 fatty acids support your dog’s health;
  • Options for providing Omega-3 fatty acids in your dog’s daily diet;
    by clicking here.

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this incredible site!
    WOW this is life changing!


Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines:

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic…

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance (ie. an herb) you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectation a natural substance remedies a health or behavioral situation.

A natural substance used to treat symptoms. But, if factors causing the underlying issue remain you do not have a remedy.

Remedy requires a comprehensive approach. It is necessary to identify root cause. Remove items that trigger, cause or otherwise contribute to issues. Holistic approach includes design, implementation to treat, remedy and maintain long-term health.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Wishing your dog and cat the best of health!

Karen Rosenfeld
Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
Holistic Behaviorist - Dogs
Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Adviser – Dogs and Cats