The term 'gut-brain axis' refers to the constant bidirectional communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.
The idea that the gut influences the brain, and therefore also behavior, is widely understood and accepted. The concept has made its way into everyday language with terms such as 'gut feeling,' 'gutsy' and 'butterflies in the stomach.' Despite this, scientists have only recently begun to unravel the mechanisms behind the gut-brain axis. This communication link is at the core of an emerging area of research – neurogastroenterology.
Mounting evidence suggests that gut microbes help shape normal neural development, brain biochemistry and behavior.1 In particular, the gut microbiota are emerging as a key node in the communication between gut and brain. This has led to the coining of a new term: microbiota-gut-brain axis.
Altering the gut microbiota via nutritional interventions has the potential to facilitate cross-talk between the gut and brain, and even to potentially alter behaviour and mood.
Research has shown many links between gut bacteria and conditions such as obesity, Alzheimer’s disease and pet anxiety.2-4 The latter is important because up to 70% of behavioral disorders in dogs can be attributed to some form of anxiety.5
The role of the veterinary general practitioner in identifying and treating their patients’ behavior problems – such as anxiety – is a crucial one.6
Pet owners may not recognize all signs of fear and anxiety, or may only reach out once the problem has escalated to the point of crisis.7
A strain of bacteria, Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum BL999) has been shown to help dogs maintain calm behavior.
In a blinded, crossover study, Purina scientists discovered that dogs supplemented with a specific strain of Bifidobacterium longum (BL999) showed significant reductions in several anxious behaviors when compared to placebo. A majority of the dogs supplemented with BL999 showed lower heart rates and salivary cortisol levels. From behavioral and physiological perspectives, B. longum BL999 had anxiety-reducing effects on anxious dogs.