dog food

Brain Food



If you spend any time on the internet, reading dog magazines, or in pet shops, you will be aware of the huge range of foods out there promising your dog a longer, happier life. But could a change of diet really help change your dog’s behaviour?


Some behaviour problems may actually be related to a dog’s diet. Take the case of a collie who was attacking his owners when they tried to sit on the sofa. Initially it was thought that the dog was guarding the sofa, but when the behaviourist visited in the daytime there was no attack… careful questioning revealed that his behaviour was more related to the time of day, than the sofa. His owners were very active people and only tried to sit on the sofa in the evening. They were only feeding their dog in the mornings and then he was having long, exciting walks. By the evening the collie was tired and had low blood sugar which made him extremely grumpy. He would curl up to sleep on the sofa and when woken by his owners he was so confused he would snap at them. This dog didn’t need retraining….just food at tea time as well as at breakfast!

Another case involved a rescue springer spaniel who suffered badly with shadow chasing which meant he could only be exercised at certain times of day. Being a springer this meant he had lots of pent up energy and could be destructive in the house. To help, a trainer recommended a very low protein diet…which made the poor dog worse. Reducing the protein in his diet meant that he wasn’t getting the raw materials to make the brain chemicals that make dogs (and people!) happy. Against his owners expectation switching him onto a diet of raw meat, vegetables, and bones didn’t send him crazy, it improved his behaviour a lot. And chewing on large, meaty bones not only provided essential amino acids, it gave him a very satisfying activity to do when it was too sunny to take him out for walks.

One of the advantages of a behaviour consultation with our holistic vet is that she will consider your dog’s diet, health, and exercise when assessing problem behaviours. Key areas she will consider are the quality and quantity or protein, and how often the dogs is fed. Not all protein sources are the same; muscle meat is important in a dog’s diet to supply essential amino acids. These can’t be manufactured in the body and are vital building blocks for proteins, hormones, and messenger chemicals in the body and brain. Some diets seem to have sufficient protein, but it comes from vegetable sources, or from feet and feathers which don’t have the right levels of essential amino acids. Some dogs cope well when fed once a day, but the very active dog, young dogs, and toy breeds can suffer from low blood sugar on once a day feeding. Low blood sugar can cause confusion, grumpiness, and in severe cases collapse or fits.


For some dogs low serotonin is the cause of their problem behaviours, or makes it difficult for them to learn new behaviours. Serotonin levels in the brain can be raised through the use of drugs usually used for depression in people. Unfortunately these drugs can have side effects and getting the right drug for the dog (or human!) can be a case of trial and error. In many dogs, switching from a diet with low protein quantity or quality (like the springer we discussed above) to a diet with higher muscle meat levels, or a raw meat based diet can lead to improved behaviour. In others behaviour does not improve enough. Various supplements are sold containing tryptophan, the essential amino acid which is needed to produce serotonin. These have a limited effect on brain serotonin levels however, as tryptophan is often broken down before enough of it can enter the brain as it competes with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that our clever colleagues have designed a diet that allows plenty of tryptophan to enter the brain, which in turn means higher serotonin levels, and a happier dog!

We have been recommending this serotonin raising diet to our clients for several years and we have used it with owners who are raw feeding, as well as those who prefer prepared wet or dry foods, Sadly the DIY version we recommend has proved difficult for some owners as it involves feeding four times a day. For owners who raw feed, or who have very fussy dogs we will still recommend the DIY serotonin raising diet (please book as consultation for details!). However, for those owners who would prefer to feed a kibble food twice a day we will recommend Breakthrough ™.

If you think your dog might benefit from either the DIY serotonin boosting diet, or from Breakthrough™, we would strongly advise you to book a behavioural assessment. If you decide to try Breakthrough™ before a consultation, please thank us for making you aware of it by choosing 02301 Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care as your referring behaviour practice.


We don’t judge our clients. We aim to help as many pet owners as possible improve the physical and mental health of their pets through a truly holistic combination of conventional diagnostics, conventional medicines, acupuncture, physical therapy, behavioural assessment and treatment, herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, and dietary changes, as appropriate for each client and pet.

We do love raw feeding as it allows owners to feed high quality protein, and to know exactly what their pet is eating. Some dogs don’t do well on grain based diets, and others become intolerant of processed meat proteins so raw feeding can be ideal for these pets. It can be a cost effective way to feed, and when whole meaty bones are fed there is ample opportunity for chewing and food play. However, raw feeding isn’t for everyone! It may not be safe for those who are immunocompromised, and may not be practical for those without room to store meat and bones. It is also unsuitable for dogs with food guarding issues until these have been addressed. If our clients want to feed raw we will help them every step of the way, even adapting the serotonin raising diet to suit raw feeding. However, for those who can’t or won’t raw feed, we will work with our client to find the best alternative.




Really? It looks like it’s time for another episode of Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care Mythbusters…

At Four Seasons we think the BEST way to feed your dog is with a home prepared raw diet made with meat and veg that you could eat yourself (and bones which you’d be happy to make stock from!) but we also appreciate that not all our clients are able to provide that, for a variety of reasons, and instead feed their dogs on premium dry or wet foods.

This week a blog about the UK’s worst dog foods has been doing the rounds and it’s got several of our clients worried as it contains brand they thought were high quality, so what should you be concerned about when buying dog food?


Look for a food which lists all the ingredients. If it says ‘lamb meat’ that’s what you’re getting. If it says ‘meat and animal by-products’ it could well include poor quality protein sources including beaks, feet and feathers. These are not toxic to your dog but too many of them mean he may miss out on essential amino acids.

If you have concerns over GM ingredients then there are dry foods which are GM free, and which use meat from animals fed GM free diets. Similarly if you prefer organic foods then several brands offer organic ranges and use free range meat. Fish varieties should state if they are from sustainable wild or farmed sources.

Carbohydrates and grains are a big source of concern for some owners. Grains are not a natural part of a dogs diet but for many dogs they provide a cheaper source of carbohydrates and protein than meat. Some grains are more digestible than others and quality and processing are important factors too. Alternative sources of carbohydrate include pulses and potato and many manufacturers now offer ‘grain free’ dry and wet diets.


Most foods will need some additives to prevent spoiling. Avoid the artificial ones like BHT and BHA which may be linked to health problems and look for natural anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and Rosemary oil. Don’t panic about E- numbers but do take the time to check them out if listed. Even natural colours get an E-number! E-162 is Beetroot juice used for colouring.


You might be looking for a low fat dog food,  or maybe a high protein one so with these percentages on the packet it’s easy….right? Actually it’s not because a wet food with 5% fat is much more fatty than a dry food with 5% fat! Confused? It’s all about DRY MATTER.

If a canned food if 5% fat and 80% moisture this makes it’s Dry Matter fat 25%

If a dry food is 5% fat and 10% moisture this makes it’s Dry Matter fat 5.5%!

For most healthy dogs look for a DM protein of at least 25% and fat around 10-15% in pre-prepared food. The rest will be carbohydrates, fibre and ash.  Carbohydrates aren’t the dogs preferred energy source (they work most efficiently from animal fat and protein) but they are a cheaper source of energy than animal fat and protein so make up around 50% of most dog foods. Fibre is indigestible but useful to bulk out diets for overweight dogs and provides certain good gut bacteria with their fuel (sugar beet pulp is often included for this reason and despite the name the product used in dogs foods has had almost all the sugar removed, chicory is another plant added for fibre and gut bacterial health). Ash is everything else; the minerals and trace elements.


We’ve seen some scare stories about foreign dog food containing road-kill, diseased meat and even dead pets! We don’t know how true these tales are but by sticking to foods made in the UK you are assured that only meat passed as safe for human consumption is used (although it might not be the prime cuts!).

There have been verified health scares with ingredients from China (including medicinal herbs) being deliberately or accidentally contaminated with toxic substances; another reason to buy British.


Avoid: wet or dry foods with unclear ingredients, artificial additives, mostly grain based.

Good: dry food with clear, limited ingredients list, natural additives, high meat content.

Better: sachets or pouches of lightly cooked meat and veg with minimal grain or a pre-prepared raw diet.

Best: home prepared raw diet.

For more advice on feeding your dog make an appointment!