Dog at the vet taking  probiotics

Some dogs become anxious when parted from their owners.

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Do probiotics calm dogs?

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Just as there are many reasons for a dog being anxious, there are many solutions to calm them – including probiotics.

All dogs are unique and there can be many underlying reasons behind their behaviour. If you consider your dog to be hyper or anxious, it is always best to discuss this with a vet and a canine behaviourist. This helps to rule out possible medical causes and to identify the best training aids and techniques for helping your pet feel calmer.

How do you calm an anxious dog?

In the long term, an anxious dog and their owner are going to need some support from a qualified canine behaviourist to help understand the root of the problem. Remember that the dog is trying to tell you something through communicating that they are anxious. Sometimes these behaviours can lead to fear-aggression, if they are ignored, so never put yourself in harm’s way.

What are signs of anxiety in dogs?

Signs of anxiety will vary between individuals but can include excessive vocalising (particularly when the owner is absent), panting even though it is not hot, pacing, destructive behaviours (e.g. ruining toys or furniture), over-grooming, lip smacking, trembling and even ‘aggressive’ behaviours.

What causes dog anxiety?

There are many causes of anxiety in our pets. Some dogs become anxious when they are parted from their owners – this would be considered separation anxiety. Other common anxieties relate to loud noises, changes to the environment (such as a new baby in the family or a house move) or resource guarding (worrying about a valued toy or treat being removed). Yet there are many other types of anxiety and often the root of these problems is not obvious.

What dog breeds are prone to anxiety?

There are studies that show some breeds might be more prone to particular types of anxiety than others. For example, smaller breeds are more likely to show anxiety about strangers. But other factors such as age can also affect this. Younger dogs are more likely to be affected by separation from their owner, while older dogs are more likely to be fearful of thunderstorms. Whatever a dog’s breed, they can all experience anxiety and display associated behaviours.

What is the best calming aid for dogs?

This depends on the underlying cause of your pet’s anxiety. There are many options available that may help calm your pet, but these will not always be appropriate. These may include products that produce natural pheromones, anxiety jackets, veterinary treatments and nutritional supplements. But often the advice of a behaviourist is needed to help identify useful calming aids for your individual pet. Generally some behavioural training or techniques will be needed in addition to any products or treatments.

How do probiotics help dogs stay calm?

There may be benefits of probiotics for anxious dogs and there is some evidence for this. The current research shows that probiotics containing a bacteria called Bifidobacterium longum may be effective. At the moment most probiotics contain other species of bacteria, as they are designed to promote gut health.

There is a theory that probiotics containing Bifidobacterium longum may act on something called the ‘gut-brain axis’ to help reduce anxiety. This is the pathway that links the intestines and the brain via different parts of the nervous system. This two-directional communication includes:

●    Nerves within the intestines (the enteric nervous system) that send signals to the brain via the vagus nerve.

●    Hormones that are released in response to signals from the brain and act around the body including within the gut.

●    The intestinal microbiota (bacteria and other microorganisms) may affect the immune cells within the intestinal lining, altering the chemicals that these cells produce. This may result in changes to the signals sent by the enteric nervous system to the brain.

●    The gut biome is involved in producing short-chain fatty acids and it is thought that these may play a part in brain functioning.

Given that there are many causes of anxiety in pets, it is always best to speak with a vet and canine behaviourist before trialling any treatments including supplements.

When should I talk to a vet?

You should talk to a vet if you think your pet might be anxious or if you have any other behavioural concerns. They will be able to check your pet for signs of an underlying health problem and will be able to advise whether any medical treatment is necessary. You should also speak with a qualified canine behaviourist for a training programme that is appropriate to your pet.

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