by Amber Drake

The Complete Guide to Your Dog’s Emotional Wellbeing

The Complete Guide to Your Dog’s Emotional Wellbeing

The connection between us and our dogs extends way beyond companionship. In fact, it plays a significant role in reducing our anxiety and depression. This benefit is mutual with us, their pet parent, also playing a crucial role in positively affecting their mental health.

Research has found dogs have a wide range of emotions which further emphasizes how important it is to promote happiness in our dogs. Factors affecting canine mental health include diet, genetics, environment, and the quality of socialization they receive. 

In other words, our dogs’ emotions are affected by their environment, who they’re surrounded by, how they’re treated, where they come from, and what they eat. 

Learning the Signs of Dog Mental Wellbeing

Understanding your dog’s emotional state and overall mental wellness is key to ensuring they live a long, happy life. Similar to us, dogs with mental wellness show positive behaviors that indicate their happiness. 

When we’re happy, we’re more likely to show it in our body language, the way we talk, and the way we act. A mentally healthy dog will often show playful behavior, engage in play, wag their tails, and keep their ears in a natural position. 

Healthy social interactions are also telltale signs of happiness; dogs that are comfortable and confident around humans and other dogs are likely experiencing a good level of mental wellness. These dogs are typically eager to greet their owners and other familiar faces, showing enthusiasm for companionship and social activities.

Signs Your Dog’s Mental Health is Slipping

It’s equally as important to know the signs of your dog’s mental health slipping as it is to know they’re happy. It could actually be more important to watch for signs of depression so we can maintain their physical and mental health. 

Common signs that your dog’s mental health is suffering include a noticeable change in appetite (could be more or less), looking for areas of isolation, or no longer enjoying food or activities they previously enjoyed. 

Aggression can be another sign of mental distress, as can obsessive behaviors such as excessive licking or pacing. A decline in activity levels, or lethargy, can also suggest a dog is not in the best state of mental health. 

Strategies to Improve Your Dog’s Mental Health

Promoting canine mental wellness involves more than just providing shelter and food; it requires a proactive strategy to help dogs live fulfilling lives and prevent mental health issues. We don’t just want our dogs to survive; we want them to thrive.

Regular exercise is essential in this approach, as it not only keeps dogs physically healthy but also helps reduce anxiety and depression. Daily activities like walks or play sessions offer dogs much-needed sensory stimulation and a way to expend energy.

Mental stimulation for dogs is also critical. Interactive toys, training sessions, and puzzle feeders help keep dogs mentally stimulated and prevent boredom, stress, and anxiety. Social interactions are vital for helping dogs develop confidence and behave well in various settings with people and other animals. 

A consistent routine also aids in reducing anxiety by helping dogs know what to expect. It’s important to note that consistency doesn’t have to mean that you do everything exactly at the same time every single day. If you can stick to a fairly regular schedule, that is often sufficient. 

If you feed your dog every day around your dinner time, for example, it doesn’t really matter if you wait until 6:00 PM even though you usually eat around 5:00. An hour difference isn’t likely to make a huge difference.

SHINE by Waltham Petcare Science Institute

The Waltham Pet Science Institute developed an acronym to help pet parents remember what to focus on when it comes to their pet’s mental health. This acronym is: SHINE

  • S: Socialization
  • H: Health
  • I: Individuality
  • N: Nutrition
  • E: Environment

“S” for Socialization

Our dogs require positive socialization experiences that include exposure to a variety of new environments, experiences, and interactions in order to grow into confident and well-adjusted family pets. This process is highly recommended during a puppy’s critical learning stage, but adult dogs can go through the process, too. And– it’s something that should be done on a regular basis anyway. 

Regular exposure to a diverse range of people, other animals, sights, sounds, scents, and situations is essential for building a solid foundation for their behavioral health. This ongoing process helps nurture their development into behaviorally sound dogs who will maintain a happy disposition throughout their lives.

“H” for Health

Achieving optimal well-being in dogs requires both good physical and mental health. Preventative healthcare, proper nutrition, regular physical activity, and mental stimulation are essential for maintaining a dog's happiness. 

Experiencing injury, illness, or pain can negatively affect your dog’s mood. If you notice your dog isn’t feeling well, especially if it’s for more than a couple of days, it’s time to visit the vet to get to the root cause. 

“I” for Individuality

Every dog is different and has their own set of likes and dislikes. Getting to know your dog and discovering what makes them happy is key to maintaining their mental health. Personally, my dog absolutely loves swimming. Any time we are near water, he’s running, jumping, and splashing all over. So, guess what we do a lot in the summer? You guessed it– beach time! 

“N” for Nutrition

You know the saying “you are what you eat?” This doesn’t just apply to humans– it applies to our dogs, too. We’ll talk about this one more shortly when we discuss the gut-brain axis.

“E” for Exercise

A tired dog is a happy dog. Think about it– if you’ve felt bored for the entire day– are you actually happy at the end of it when it’s time to go to bed for the night? Similar to people, some dogs need more exercise than others to be happy. A Basset Hound, for example, is more likely to be happy with lower amounts of exercise than their German Shepherd pal. 

How the Gut Affects Your Dog’s Mind

The gut-brain axis is a crucial communication pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain in dogs, similar to humans. This connection significantly influences a dog's mental health, with diet playing an important role in its functionality. 

Here’s how this relationship works and affects a dog’s mental state:

Neurotransmitter Production

The gut is often called the "second brain" and is crucial for a dog's mood because it produces important mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin. This "feel-good" neurotransmitter helps dogs feel happy and stable. Keeping a dog's gut healthy with a balanced diet that includes nutrients, fibers, and probiotics can boost these chemical levels, improving their mood and reducing stress and anxiety.

Inflammatory Responses

Diet significantly influences inflammation in the body, which can impact a dog's brain health and behavior. Eating foods that cause inflammation, like processed meats, lots of sugar, and unhealthy fats, can lead to mental health issues in dogs, such as anxiety and depression. This is because inflammation can interfere with the brain's normal functions and affect mood.

However, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods can help protect a dog’s brain. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oils, flaxseeds, and full-spectrum hemp extract, are especially good because they reduce inflammation. 

Including antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can also support brain health and lower the risk of mood disorders. By choosing the right foods, pet owners can help their dogs stay mentally healthy and maintain stable behavior. Just make sure to clear anything you add to your dog’s bowl with your vet, especially if your dog has underlying health issues. 

Stress Response

The gut microbiome, a complex community of bacteria in the digestive tract, is closely connected to the body's stress response system, especially in what is scientifically known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 

This system helps regulate stress responses and various body functions like digestion, immune responses, mood, and energy use. An imbalance in the gut microbiome (also called dysbiosis), which can be caused by a poor diet, excessive use of antibiotics, or infections, may disrupt this system. Such disruptions can lead to an overactive stress response, resulting in higher levels of stress and anxiety in dogs.

To help manage this, it's important to feed dogs a diet that supports a healthy gut microbiome. This diet should include a mix of nutrients that promote the growth of good bacteria. Adding prebiotics, which are fibers that nourish these beneficial bacteria, and probiotics (like those found in Daily Dog), which are live good bacteria, can help maintain a healthy balance in the gut. By focusing on such a diet, you can help reduce stress and anxiety in dogs by ensuring their gut microbiome is well-balanced.

Diet and Behavior

Certain dietary components can directly affect a dog’s behavior. For example, diets deficient in essential nutrients like B-vitamins, amino acids, and minerals may lead to irritability or lethargy. Tailoring a dog’s diet to meet all their nutritional needs helps maintain optimal mental well-being.

Gut Health Maintenance

Probiotics and prebiotics can be beneficial in maintaining healthy gut flora. Foods that contain these components or specific veterinary-formulated diets can support the gut-brain axis and improve or stabilize mood and brain function. 

Understanding Your Individual Dog’s Mental Health

Understanding the factors that affect your dog’s mental health is crucial as they shape a dog's overall well-being and behavior. Recognizing the complexity of these factors encourages pet owners to take a holistic approach to their dogs' mental health needs, helping ensure their pets live balanced and fulfilling lives.

While there are many factors that will change from dog to dog, what we know for sure is that a daily probiotic is valuable for any and all dogs. We recommend our leading veterinarian-formulated, comprehensive gut health supplement for dogs. 

Read More:

Effects in Dogs with Behavioural Disorders of a Commercial Nutraceutical Diet on Stress and Neuroendocrine Parameters

Impact of Nutrition on Canine Behaviour

Gut-Brain Axis Impact on Canine Anxiety Disorders

The Gut-Brain Axis in Neurodegenerative Diseases

The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease

Gut Probiotics and Health of Dogs and Cats

A Guide to Dogs’ Emotional Wellbeing

Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

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