Freshpet Breaks Down the Correlation Between Our Pets' Food and Mood

Food is love. Across cultures and even across species, it's one universal way we express affection for those we care about. And that includes our dogs and cats.

As pet parents, we always try to show that love by making sure we're feeding our pets the best food possible for their needs. Still, as the pet food market expands over time, the sheer variety of pet foods to choose from has skyrocketed. And with so many choices on the pet food aisle, evaluating our pets' diets can become a little more complicated than expected.

Veterinarians and other professionals often note the role our pets' diets play in keeping them happy and healthy throughout the various stages of their lives. Like us, pets can develop a wide range of health issues because of a poor diet—and these can impact their moods drastically (and unexpectedly) as time goes on.

One of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy diet for our pets is to choose the best healthy dog and cat food options available at an affordable price point. But pet parents may be curious about the specific ways that diet can impact not only an animal's physical health but their mood, as well. Learning more about that food-to-mood connection can help you recognize the warning signs our pets show us when distressed, and can give you a chance to adjust their diet so that you're consistently making the right decisions for their health.

To assist pet parents who want to learn more about the correlations between our pets' diets and their moods, Freshpet examines a few elements of this fascinating phenomenon.

The Impact of Diet on a Pet's Behavior and Mood

For years, scientists have studied pet behavior to help us develop an understanding of how animals think and feel. What they found is that our pets' behaviors are largely impacted by daily factors such as their diets, exercise levels and socialization.

Diet stands out as a conversation point for many pet parents because it's one of the factors that we have the most control over. As pet parents, we research food, purchase it and pepper our vets with questions if we notice any significant changes in our pets.

Our pet's diets are also crucial for their health and, therefore, their moods. Animals that are not getting their dietary requirements may often begin to act unpredictably. This is doubly true for animals with conditions that need to be managed through a specialized diet.

To best get a clear picture of the role that diet plays in our pets' moods, we need to look not only at what we are feeding them but how we're feeding them, as well.

Pet Food Ingredients

When evaluating a pet's diet, it's important to consider how pet food ingredients can affect your pet's behavior. For example, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are common additions to puppy and kitten food, and are often used because of the behavioral effect it has on their growing bodies. DHA and EPA play a vital role in helping younger animals develop, increasing their mental acuity and trainability as they transition to adults. This is because the fatty acids assists with both brain and retinal development, and help build cognitive function.

Antioxidants that are added to foods formulated for senior pets can also have an impact on their mood as they age. Studies have shown that senior dogs fed antioxidant-enriched diets may suffer from fewer age-related behavior changes.

One important thing for pet parents to remember is that while there are ingredients you definitely want to see in your pet food, there are also ingredients to watch out for, since they're not beneficial to our pets' health (and occasionally, even harmful). Preservatives that can be found in some foods and treats such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, for example, are primarily added to extend their shelf life. These artificial ingredients may be harmful rather than helpful, and unhealthy ingredients could impact our pet's behavior.

Nutrient Levels

Pet food ingredients and nutrient content are often interlinked. For this reason, pet parents typically seek out pet foods that have simpler, fresher ingredients.

Experts point out that our pets need a variety of nutrients to maintain a balanced diet. For example, protein and essential amino acids are necessary for both dogs and cats, and protein levels within pet foods can vary drastically from brand to brand.

Pet parents will want to choose foods that have high-quality ingredients and a well-rounded nutrient content. Ingredient lists that include offerings too high in sugar, fat or filler can mean that our pets are receiving more calories, but less of the nutrients, that they need to stay happy and healthy. This will eventually have an impact on both their health and mood, as higher calorie intake increases the risk of obesity. And an inactive, lethargic pet is a less happy pet (and one with higher risk of arthritis, diabetes and health issues, too).

A nutrient deficiency due to a poor diet, such as a lack of vitamin B, could also result in distress or depression symptoms, and these issues can be detrimental to our pet's mental and emotional wellbeing over time. One of the trickier parts about pet food nutrients is the variability from animal to animal, and across an individual animal's lifespan. What is best for our pet's specific needs can depend on many factors.

For this reason, it's always a good idea to check with your veterinarian when attempting to determine what foods may be best for your pet.

Being Underfed Versus Overfed

Generally, pet parents do a good job of determining how much they should feed their pets based on factors such as size, age, breed and lifestyle. As pets grow and age, however, it can sometimes be difficult to be sure that they're still being given the right amount of food.

Even high-quality pet food can be detrimental in improper amounts. If a pet is fed too much or too often, they may be at risk for a variety of health issues that will wind up impacting their behavior. For example, overfeeding can lead to obesity, sluggishness and tiredness, all of which affect your pet's quality of life and their personality.

Experts note that it's important to be sure that you're not feeding your pets too little, either. Underfed pets can experience discomfort and stress due to nutrient deficiency.

Nutrient deficiency due to underfeeding is dangerous for any pet because it can cause a range of issues ranging from weight loss to coat problems to digestive issues. Pets that develop health issues from underfeeding may also experience depression, aggressive feeding behaviors or irritability. To prevent potential issues, pet parents should do the research and speak with their vet regarding the best feeding routine for their pet.

Checking in With Your Pet

Some of the signs that your pet's diet is impacting their health and mood could be easily missed at first glance. Since our pets can only hint that something may be wrong, it's important that pet parents check in with their furry friends and make note of anything suspicious.

If your pet ever shows signs of distress or a serious mood change, always check with a trusted veterinarian to see what the problem might be. A vet will be able to give tips on what the best foods are for your pet's needs while helping you evaluate your current routine.

It's important to consult your pet's veterinarian with any medical concerns, and before making any changes or adding supplements to your pet's health plan.