Supplementation to prevent or improve behavioral problems in dogs(study)

dog-1308948_960_720Dog 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.

Definitions of problematic behaviors
Definitions of problematic behaviors

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)”

Information regarding the dogs involved in study

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.

Wisdom Panel 3.0

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.

6 thoughts to “Supplementation to prevent or improve behavioral problems in dogs(study)”

  1. Very interesting summary of the study, I hope they go on to carrying out a larger research programme. It would be interesting to know whether pet dog owners with reactive dogs could use supplements and trial themselves?

    1. My first thought is that it couldn’t hurt! Zinc and antioxidants provide other health benefits as well so I can’t see a downside.

  2. Anyone have suggestions as to what type of supplement, i.e., brand(s), dosage, to try?

    1. I have a friend that is a vet. Let me shoot her an email and see what she believes in the best brand/dosage to try.

      1. Thank you! I am “Desperate in the Sierras.” I live an hour east of Sacramento and there are no positive reinforcement trainers that can come out to me. I’m going to Sac next week to me a behaviorist/trainer as we are desperate to get Kaya some relief. She has a lot of fear based behaviors, is deaf, blind in one eye and impaired in the other. We’ve had her five months and the behaviors are only increasing (she is seep exist, rescued from a backyard breeder last Fall). I think a supplement is worth a try!

        1. I haven’t heard back from my vet friend yet, but I took it upon myself to see if I could find something for you. Admittedly, I’m a bit partial to Only Natural Pet(because I’m a hippy at heart and they are eco-responsible) but I found this supplement that has everything the study talks about. As I mentioned before, I’m not a vet, but there doesn’t seem to be a downside to trying supplementation on our own because of the other, not associated with this study, health benefits. Whatever you decide to use, I would love to hear how it works out! Also, I will update if/when I hear back from the vet.

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