Can diet composition affect behaviour in dogs? : food for thought

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The consumption of food goes beyond the basic provision of energy and essential nutrients for the maintenance of physical health. Studies in rats, pigs, and human subjects have shown that behaviour and mood can be influenced by specific nutrients consumed. The research described in this thesis aimed to evaluate the impact of dietary composition on two physiological systems involved in the regulation of canine behaviour. In other studies it has been shown that physical activity of pigs can be influenced by dietary fibre type, likely through sustaining satiety after a meal. It appears that the fermentable fibres can stimulate several mechanisms involved in sustaining satiety including the stimulation of the secretion of satiety-related metabolites by the gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, hunger has been found to influence anxiety in rats. The current study evaluated the potential impact of dietary fibre types for effects on satiety and behaviour in dogs. Two in vitro fermentation studies were conducted to evaluate the microbial fermentation activity in the canine gastrointestinal tract and to screen the fermentability of various fibrous ingredients. Based on these in vitro fermentability data, two diets were formulated expected to differ in fibre fermentability in vivo. The difference in fibre fermentability between diets was confirmed in an in vivo study by evaluation of fibre degradation and concentrations of faecal short-chain fatty acids. In this latter study, the secretion of satiety-related hormones was found not to differ between treatment groups. Feeding dogs a high-fermentable fibre diet did result in a lower motivation to eat 6 hours after their morning meal and a lower activity in their home-kennel compared to dogs fed a low-fermentable fibre diet. Treatment groups did not differ in their responses to short-lasting challenges in a test arena conducted 5 to 7 hours after their morning meal. The second dietary strategy investigated was the use of the essential amino acid tryptophan, the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. It has been shown that dietary tryptophan supplementation reduces anxiety in rats and increases resilience in dealing with stress in pigs. To investigate if similar effects would occur in dogs, a study was designed and conducted in mildly anxious privately-owned dogs fed diets differing in tryptophan content. Dogs were fed the study diet for 8 weeks using a randomised double-blinded, placebo-controlled design. Intake of the tryptophan supplemented diet increased plasma tryptophan concentrations by 37.4% and its ratio with large neutral amino acids by 31.2% compared to the control diet but the data reported by owners did not show a significant change in the behavioural of the dogs over time that could be attributed to the specific dietary treatment. More controlled behavioural tests conducted on a subset of dogs in both dietary treatment groups failed to show a significant difference of supplementation of the diet with tryptophan. In conclusion, the present work has shown that dietary fibre type can have an impact on canine behaviour through feeding motivation. The measured satiety-related metabolites were not affected by dietary fibre type indicating that other mechanisms were involved in sustaining satiety. Dietary supplementation of tryptophan had no effect on the behaviour of privately-owned dogs.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Hendriks, Wouter, Promotor
  • Verstegen, Martin, Promotor
  • van der Poel, Thomas, Co-promotor
  • Beerda, Bonne, Co-promotor
Award date18 Mar 2009
Place of Publication[S.l.
Print ISBNs9789085853565
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • dogs
  • dog feeding
  • animal behaviour
  • fibres
  • diets
  • food composition
  • animal physiology
  • animal welfare
  • dietary fibres


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