Ask A Vet: Can What I Feed My Dog Make Him Calmer?

We struggle with where our focus should be when we select foods and supplements for our dogs. There are diets for almost everything and recently there are even diets and dietary additives that are designed to produce mental calming and aid in anxiety disorders.

Research has shown that there are compounds in food that can help our brains manage anxiety or chemical imbalance. Studies show that certain compounds that are found in foods can act as mood stabilizers or even as sedatives.


Some of these things mimic chemicals found naturally in our brain and some just have calming as a happy side effect. New research is ongoing to uncover more of these compounds, but there is something to the rumors. You are what you eat and what you eat can even make you better. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”


Everyone feels sleepy after eating Thanksgiving feast, but some of the calming might be from the tryptophan found naturally in turkey meat. A very recent study found that fearful dogs have alterations in some of the metabolism of molecules involved in oxidative stress, tryptophan and lipid metabolism. Tryptophan is a precursor of important molecules like serotonin, melatonin and niacin. The serotonin system has been shown to be unbalanced in some mood and anxiety disorders 2  and all three of these compounds are popularly believed to be involved in a sense of well-being and happiness in humans.

Although more work needs to be done to investigate the specifics of dietary supplementation to ease anxiety in dogs, we do know that tryptophan is an essential amino acid and must be obtained through a dog’s diet, so making sure it is a part of every dog’s diet plan is a great idea.


L-Theanine is another amino acid, but it is found in tea plants. It is thought to have beneficial physiological effects in many species, especially enhancing relaxation and improving concentration. It is bio-available when taken orally and is an area that shows promise when added to dogs’ diets.


Alpha-casozepine is a peptide derived from milk. The age old advice about drinking a glass of milk at bedtime has some science behind it. Studies as early as the 1930s prove the anxiolytic properties of milk for humans. The properties are believed to be an adaptation to help calm infants and baby animals after nursing.

We can take advantage of some of the properties of such compounds to help dogs manage anxiety. These are commercially available in diets and supplements. Ask your veterinary professional to guide you in selecting one that is right for your dog.

Project Paws ™ Advanced All-Natural Calming Chews for Dogs contain natural ingredients to help relieve stress and anxiety in your dog.

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  1. Non-targeted metabolite profiling reveals changes in oxidative stress, tryptophan and lipid metabolisms in fearful dogs. Behav Brain Funct.2016 Feb 12;12(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s12993-016-0091-2.Puurunen J, Tiira K, Lehtonen M, Hanhineva K, Lohi H
  2. Neuro-imaging the serotonin 2A receptor as a valid biomarker for canine behavioural disorders. Res Vet Sci.2011 Dec;91(3):465-72. doi: 10.1016/j.rvsc.2010.09.021. Epub 2010 Nov 3.Vermeire S, Audenaert K, De Meester R, Vandermeulen E, Waelbers T, De Spiegeleer B, Eersels J, Dobbeleir A, Peremans K.
  3. An overview of biological production of L-theanine. Biotechnol Adv.2015 May-Aug;33(3-4):335-42. doi: 10.1016/j.biotechadv.2015.04.004. Epub 2015 Apr 12. Mu W, Zhang T, Jiang B.

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