Dog behavioral problems can manifest themselves in many ways. From soiling in the house to displaying aggression against people and other dogs. Owner’s who love these dog’s spend millions(maybe billions) on training and management to try and alleviate the problematic behaviors. But a study published last month in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science has reached a startling conclusion that may change the playing field dramatically. Antioxidant supplementation may be the “magic bullet” to fix problem behavior, where everything else has failed.
The chart on the left defines the problem behaviors that were used in the recruiting criteria for the study. These specific problems contribute to a startling statistic, up to 20% of all owner surrenders in the United States are due to the dogs behavioral problems. That translates to around 780,000 dogs every year relinquished to shelters due to problematic behaviors. The scientists chose the participant dogs from”…adult terrier dogs presented to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, over a one-year period. The inclusion criteria
were no drug consumption in the month prior the study and clinically and laboratory healthiness as judged by the full clinical examination, hematological and biochemical analysis and ECG (if necessary)”
The researchers focused on the serum trace elements Zinc, copper, and Iron–each with major implications for overall healthy brain function– along with a measure of total antioxidant capacity. They recruited a group of 30 “terrier” dogs(more on this in my conclusion) that were split into two groups–14 without behavioral issues and 16 with at least one behavioral problem in common–
The goal of the study was to compare the serum trace elements and total antioxidant levels in these two groups to assess any statistically significant differences. The researchers use blood samples to measure each dog’s trace element levels. While iron and copper levels showed no statistical correlation, Zinc and total antioxidant capacity(TAC) levels were significantly lower for dogs with behavioral problems. It is also worth noting that there was no significant difference in these levels(zinc and TAC) between dogs with only 1 behavioral issue and those with many.
These results are inline with other studies focusing on zinc levels. A plethora of research on humans has shown zinc to be crucial to proper neurological function as it affects neurotransmitter responses and therefore has a direct link to the brain’s chemistry. Another study cited by the authors showed that zinc-deficient mice displayed higher levels of aggression than their normal counterparts. Given this information, it is not surprising to find that the authors conclude “The present research is the first study in which a number of trace elements and antioxidants were evaluated in terrier dogs with behavioral problems. The results of the present study revealed lower levels of serum zinc and total antioxidant capacity in terrier dogs with behavioral problems. These findings support the hypothesis that using food supplements containing antioxidants and zinc could be beneficial to prevent or improve behavioral problems in dogs”
As I was reading through this study, the sample size immediately stood out to me as being very small, but the researchers to address this problem, pointing out that in a larger sample size they believe that the results of the Iron/copper tests would start to show a statistical correlation with behavioral issues as well. The other issue that struck me as odd is that the authors only identify the dogs as “terriers”. There is a large spectrum of terrier breeds. Everything from rat terriers to American Pit Bull Terriers. There is no mention of the specific breeds of dogs involved anywhere in the study. I’m uncertain as to the reasoning behind this, but I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject.
This is exciting research without a doubt. I’m looking forward to following where it leads us in the future.