Nutrition and Your Dog’s Behavior: Part II

In Part 1 of our nutrition and behavior series we briefly touched on the genetics and environmental factors that could affect your dog’s overall health and behavior. Here, in Part 2, we are going to discuss functional foods and how they can play a key role in your dog’s overall health.

We know diet plays an important role in gene expression but knowing which foods promote optimum gene expression is key. There are specific nutritional ingredients that alter gene expression in a manner that they can help prevent, manage, and even reverse a variety of chronic illnesses. These ingredients are what we call functional foods.

Functional foods are nutritional ingredients, such as certain botanicals, vitamins, amino acids and phytonutrients that send signals to the epigenome to trigger healthy gene expression. To promote optimum gene expression, we must do two things. First, we must create a diet based around functional foods that send healthy signals to the cells, then we must reduce or eliminate foods that promote unhealthy gene expression. This can be difficult as many of our functional foods become harmful when they are laced with added chemicals, hormones or antibiotics. Also, because dogs are individuals, an ingredient that benefits one dog’s genetic code might not be beneficial to a dog with a different genetic code. For example, your dog may eat duck with no problems and will actually thrive on it, but my dog has an intolerance to any type of fowl and so it must be avoided in her diet. There are ways that you can tell how your dog will react to specific foods so you can eliminate any reactive ingredients from his diet. You will find more information at the end of this article.

Many owners find themselves feeding a commercial prescription diet labeled for their dog’s specific needs (e.g. small or large breed, age, activity level or medical condition). While these products may work for some dogs, they are still too limited in their effect. Another concern is “mystery” ingredients that find their way into commercial pet foods but are not listed on the ingredient list. We will discuss this later on in our blog series.

There are three major categories in a dog’s diet: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Each category has functional foods that can, and should be added to your dog’s diet. We will begin with carbohydrates.

Dogs, in general do not have a specific dietary requirement for carbs, however, carbs are essential for sending healthy messages to their epigenome. Carbs contain lots of functional nutrients, if they are the correct type of carbs. Functional carbohydrates are packed with health-promoting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are chemicals that occur naturally in plants. Carotenoids, which include alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, are probably the most well-known class of phytonutrients. Carotenoids are the red, orange, and yellow pigments that give vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin their color. Flavonoids include anthocyanin pigments that give berries and other dark-colored fruits and vegetables their blue, purple and red tints. Phytonutrients also have potent antioxidant properties that help protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
Phytonutrients work at enhancing immune response, enhancing cell-to-cell communication, repairing DNA damage caused by exposure to environmental toxins and altering estrogen metabolism.

It is recommended you incorporate the following functional carbohydrates into your dog’s diet:

– Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and bok choy.

– Fresh, whole fruits: Apples, bananas, berries, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Even though fruits contain simple sugars fructose and glucose, fruits in their whole, unadulterated form possesses functional attributes. Fresh fruit also contains fiber which helps promote optimal GI function and weight loss. Do not give fruit juice to your dog since without the fiber it’s nothing but sugar.  Never give your dog the following: Citrus fruits, grapes, raisins and strawberries.

– Gluten-free Grains: Millet, quinoa, sorghum and gluten-free oats.

– Green leafy vegetables: Kale and collard greens are a great addition. Green leafy vegetables, as well as many fruits, nuts and seeds, have Oxalates. Under certain circumstances, too many oxalates can cause health problems such as leaky gut syndrome or kidney stones. However, since there are so many health benefits to eating leafy green vegetables it is recommended to feed your dog in moderation, unless instructed by your veterinarian. The key is to avoid greens with the highest level of oxalate levels, such as spinach. Collard greens, watercress, cabbage, bibb lettuce and dino kale are a few that have lower oxalate levels. If your dog suffers from kidney stones or leaky gut syndrome, or you would like to know more about oxalate levels I encourage you to visit for a list of various foods and their levels of oxalate.

– Legumes: Kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, lentils, lima beans and peas.

Even though you are encouraged to add functional carbohydrates to your dog’s diet, it is not recommended that you feed your dog a high starch (complex carbohydrates) diet. Even though dogs can digest starches, they certainly do not thrive on them. Many of the commercial pet foods on the market are full of starches such as corn and cereal grains. These foods are certainly contributing to chronic disease and obesity in dogs. To think that these problems used to be the exception but are now the norm should tell you something about where our commercial pet food as gone.

In Part III of this series, we will discuss functional protein and functional fat.

Information adapted from Canine Nutrigenomics – The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health by W. Jean Dodds and Diana Laverdure.