Tag Archives: Brain Development

Blueberries Combat Stress/Anxiety Better than Drugs

20150711_125530

A recent study found that blueberries worked better than Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to calm the brains of rats that were put through a process to simulate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This research is important for dog caregivers because SSRIs are sometimes used for separation anxiety, storm phobia and other behavior problems. When you think about it, some of our dogs probably do suffer from PTSD-like mental conditions.

SSRIs include such drugs and Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. They work by slowing the destruction of serotonin by brain neurons. This increases the level of this calming chemical in the brain. Unfortunately, SSRIs also inadvertently increase the level of norepinephrine which is a stress hormone. So, SSRIs cause the increase in calming and stress in the brain at the same time. This contradictory effect may be why studies show that these drugs work no better than placebo.

In the recent study, the control group was fed the normal diet and the experimental group was fed the normal diet plus blueberries. All rats were exposed to a cat for 1 hour on days 1 and 11 of the 31-day trial. In the end, the blueberry-eating rats had higher levels of serotonin in their brains. Incredibly, these rats did not have an increase in norepineprine as is seen with taking SSRIs. Food wins over drugs!

Blueberries have many health benefits for people. They provide potent antioxidants, help maintain brain health and function, and have even been shown to fight prostate cancer. No doubt these health benefits apply to dogs as well.

The kicker of the rat study is that the neurotransmitter balancing benefits were seen when blueberries made up just 2% of the diet. That’s just 1/10 of a cup (< 1 oz.) of berries for every 5 cups of food your dog eats. However, one key is that the rats were fed the blueberries consistently for 31 days.

Blueberries will not work like a pill that you give and expect to see improvement within hours. It will most likely take a month to start to see improvement. Natural methods often take time. Of course, you will also not see the side effects that medications can cause. If your pet is suffering from anxiety, why not give some blueberries and see if it helps?

Have you found any dietary changes that have helped your pet?

Why is this Dog Goofy?

20140124_150040

Recently I went on a special house call to Disney World to answer this age-old question. You will never believe what I discovered.

It all has to do with a nutrition study sponsored by the Iams Company in 2004. The research revolved around the idea that feeding extra DHA (an essential fatty acid found in fish oil) can improve brain function.

DHA and the Brain

In fact, 30% of the brain is fat – so the next time someone calls you a “fat head” you should respond, “Oh, thank you very much.” A large portion of that fat (up to 5% of the brain) is DHA. That would seem to make DHA an important nutrient for the brain. (Imagine flying in a jet that has 5% of its engine parts missing).

The Iams Study

The Iams study started with two groups of pregnant female dogs. The first set of dogs (the experimental group) was fed Iams diet plus fish oil. The second group (the control group) was fed plain Iams diet. Now, the puppies from the first group of dogs were also fed Iams diet plus fish oil. The pups from the second group were fed the standard Iams food.

When the puppies got older, they were put through training performance testing. Amazingly the puppies that got the fish oil in their diets were found to be twice as intelligent as those in the control group. The researchers concluded that “since the number one killer of dogs is euthanasia due to behavior problems, we should be recommending high DHA diets.”

Unintended Conclusions

I agree with the findings of this study. However, this research leads to an interesting conclusion. Remember the control group – the stupid dogs. They were being fed standard Iams diet which we all know from the label is “100% complete and balanced.”

If you believe that statement then it follows that dogs are inherently stupid, but feeding them this “new” nutrient can make them smart enough for us to keep them alive. I think a more rational idea is that we have created and continue to create behavior problems in dogs due to our arrogant attitude toward nutrition. We think we know everything but we do not.

Two troubling corollaries to this study are:

  1. DHA is still not on AAFCO’s list of required pet food nutrients
  2. It makes one wonder how many other health problems are we inflicting on pets because of nutritional deficits we are unaware of?

The bottom line is that Goofy and his mother had been fed conventional pet food all their lives and that is what led to his mental deficiencies.

Do you supplement your pets with fish oil?

Poor Puppy

Puppy Selfie 2

The recent sale of some of P&G’s pet food brands to Mars brought out the “experts.” In a news article, here’s what one pet food authority had to say:

“Ninety percent of pets live on the cheapest pet food and survive,” says Nestle, co-author of “Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat.”

Wow, doesn’t that sound like a great marketing slogan – Feed Brand X and your pet will survive! (Barely). Marion Nestle is a professor of nutrition. She made this comment after basically saying that it really doesn’t make sense to spend money on quality pet foods because there are no studies proving they are any healthier.

This attitude is what keeps us veterinarians in business treating pets with chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, recurrent infections, and cancer. This is what “survival” looks like. The myth that these diets are “complete and balanced” perpetuates the fantasy that they promote pet health. In reality, countless pet illnesses are related to poor nutrition.

Many of the major brands of pet foods are made with low quality ingredients and filled with cheap carbs in order to keep pet food prices low. In fact, pet food brands are being bought up by major players in the human food business as a way to make money off of the waste of their industry. The problem is that when it comes to pet nutrition the old saying holds true: Garbage in – Garbage out.

Speaking of garbage, later in the article there is another telling quote of Professor Nestle:

“The more disgusting it is to humans,” she says, “the more dogs like to eat it. They like rotten meat flavors. They like garbage.”

Yes, let’s feed them garbage. That is the attitude of nutrition experts and many pet food companies. How unfortunate for 90% of pets.

My aim is to help pets thrive, not survive. Proper nutrition, from puppy-hood to senior, is the way to do just that.

It is true that more expensive pet food is not necessarily better. There is also the over-use of catch words such as “Natural” and “Holistic” on pet food bags. You really have to carefully read the ingredient lists and know what tricks pet food companies like to play. I’ll have more on this in upcoming posts.

What do you feed your pet and why?