Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The use of drugs to control aggression in dogs

One of the most interesting conversations I had at Crufts was with a behaviourist with a canine customer (patient?) on medication to control aggressive behaviour. She spoke airily of the Amino Acid Manipulation Diet as if everyone knew what that was. I didn’t and so the first thing I did that night was look it up online. Nothing. Not a sausage. I wrote to our vet, Tom, about it and in a moment I will explain what he said.

Dog on Prozac

First, an interesting study relating to behaviour and drugs that I found in a site dedicated to English Springer Spaniels. In it the author explains that Ilana Riesner DVM, formerly of Cornell University (NY), did quite a bit of research into aggressive dogs and discovered that many of the dogs studied by Dr. Reisner had abnormally low amounts of serotonin metabolites in their urine and cerebral spinal fluid. This suggested that the dominance aggression was associated with abnormally low levels of serotonin in the brain which corresponded with findings in violent mental patients and prison inmates!

Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that has a calming effect. In most mammals, it seems to decrease the amount of aggression associated with dominance. While it doesn’t necessarily change the social status of an animal, higher serotonin levels decrease the likelihood aggressive displays will be used to maintain that social position. Based on these findings, Dr. Riesner used drugs that increase serotonin levels to treat dominance aggression in dogs. We’re talking here of drugs such as Prozac!

Anyway, about 50% of the dominant aggressive dogs respond to these drugs, with a decrease in aggressive displays. The drugs don’t solve the problem, but they made it safer and easier for owners to use behaviour modification techniques to change the dog’s social status in the home. This indicates that dominance aggression may, at least in some individuals, result from a brain abnormality on the chemical level.

So what about the Amino Acid Manipulation Diet?

So, where does this diet come in? Here are the key points Tom made:

“It is believed that some behavioural problems in dogs are due to genetics that lead to low serotonin levels. However, these may well be 'normal' dogs who are getting the wrong diet which is inadequate in serotonin's precursor tryptophan, due to cooking.”

“The highest sources of tryptophan are what dogs eat in the wild red meat, eggs, chicken &c”.

“If you want more serotonin and a calmer dog feed a raw meat diet - you couldn't get a better Amino Acid Manipulation Diet except that there is no manipulation.”

I am still not 100% sure

I am still not quite sure what the Amino Acid Manipulation Diet actually is. Does it only mean a change of diet? Or is it achieved by using processed foods? All help gratefully received. In the meantime I have to say that I do think drugging dogs with behaviour issues is madness when there may well be a much more natural and effective solution viz. a raw food diet. There has been quite a bit written on the connection between raw food and better behaviour and I will return to it again in the future.


  1. You might find the following interesting:
    'The Dog's Dinner' by Val Strong M.Sc
    ISBN 0-9532814-5-0
    Among other things it discusses the dietary manipulation of serotonin levels in the brain.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I would like to express my support for the excellent article which you wrote on your blog about the use of drugs like prozac to control aggression in dogs. I'm grateful that someone is brave enough to expose some of the sad facts about the underlying nutritional deficiencies in commercial dog food that affect dog's health both neurologically and physiologically. Drugs like Prozac and other psychotropic medicines simply cover up the problem rather than addressing the underlying root cause.

    Seratonin is manufactured by the body itself in all mammals including dogs and humans. It is a neurotransmitter that regulates, confidence, concentration levels, pain threshold, our ability to deal with stress and our ability to be content and relaxed and generally feel good. Seratonin along with other hormones like Dopomine are part of the body's neurological reward system.

    Seratonin cannot be ingested directly by supplementation, but it's pre-cursor Tryptophan is converted by the body into Seratonin. Raw meat and bone has high levels of the heat sensitive trace element Tryptophan. Cooked meat or processed commercial dog food has destroyed the Tryptophan and all of the other essential pro-biotics and enzymes that help maintain optimum health in a dog.

    Resolving separation anxiety, and certain types of aggression in dogs is vastly accelerated when we combine behavioural modification therapy along with addressing underlying nutritional issues. The way forward without any doubt is RAW Feeding, and Darlings have made this whole process into a very convenient easy to manage methodology.

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