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Most life long dog enthusiasts have experienced at least one dog in their lifetime that suffered from one or more anxiety or stress triggers. My favorite breed is the Labrador Retriever, not a breed that is known to be particularly anxious or stressed except when they are separated from their owners (they commonly suffer from separation anxiety which can be severe in some dogs). Frustratingly, treatments for various canine anxieties or stress triggers often falls short of effective, even when multi-modal approaches are instituted concurrently: tricyclic or SSRI antidepressants, sedatives, pheromone therapy, compression shirts, etc. There has just been no magic bullet that truly resolves deeply ingrained stress or anxiety in dogs that suffer from them.
Thankfully, however, we seem to have yet another natural and safe anxiety relief nutritional supplement aimed at providing relief via promotion of a healthy gastrointestinal microbiome (digestive bacterial population in the gut that are integral in digestion) with probiotics tied to relief of anxious behavior in dogs.
Specifically, Bifidobacterium longum (BL999), according to Purina research scientist Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD, “Scientific evidence has shown that manipulating gut bacteria through probiotic administration can have a positive influence on anxious behavior in both rats and humans.”
Based on this evidence, the Purina Pet Care Center conducted a 15-week blinded, placebo-controlled crossover study, which administered BL999 to 24 Labrador retrievers that exhibited anxious behaviors. Over 90 percent of dogs showed improvement in their anxious behaviors over the course of the study, the release states. “In addition, dogs in the study showed reduced salivary cortisol concentration, decreases in heart rate and increases in heart rate variability in response to various stimuli—all of which were considered physiologic evidence of improvement,” Dr. McGowan explained in the release.
The product that resulted from this research is called Purina Calming Care and is now commercially available. It comes in the form of packets of powder that are simply sprinkled into the food daily providing convenient ease of administration.
It may seem odd that a probiotic could influence anxiety or lack thereof, but there is plenty of evidence of this in human medicine. It is a proven fact that people that suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, commonly concurrently suffer from depression. One may conclude that simply living with chronic disease is enough to trigger depression, but the story is much more complex than that. Chronic disease of the gut negatively alters the microbiome and is suspected to be a contributing factor to depression in IBD patients. An abstract from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health clearly established a direct relationship between the gut microbiome and mental health, a phenomenon they termed the “gut brain axis.”
Having been actively engaged in an integrative medical approach for stress relief in dogs for well over a decade, while I am hopeful based on the data that Purina Calming Care will be another important natural tool in our arsenal to combat anxiety and stress in dogs, I am also realistic in understanding that it will not likely be that elusive magic bullet that be the cure all for canine anxiety. Combined with other modalities, however, it may take us one step closer to relieving dependence on pharmaceutical help for stress that some patients still at least occasionally rely on due to the severity of their anxiety disorders.
At any rate, a healthy microbiome and the optimal GI health that comes with it is a good thing, so you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain in trying it out. I have already started two anxious patients on it with many more to come. I will keep you posted on my experience with Purina Calming Care in the comments section of this article.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.