Where horse meets hound: the diet, microbiome, emotions, and behaviour connection

Very please to be talking about dogs and horses at Royal Windsor Racecourse. Here’s a summary from my slides…

The most extensively studied species in the science of brain, mind and emotion is ourselves. Coming in a close second place are dogs. This is because, over the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research in universities all over the world, where whole departments have been established, dedicated to the study of canine cognition.

Much more recently, horses now represent an important third group worthy of serious scientific study because of their close association with humans. It will come as no surprise to animal lovers how similar the emotional lives of these two magnificent species really are, and how their emotionality so closely mirrors our own. Two of the most important and closely inter-related components of emotionality in both dogs and horses are personality type and mood states. Personality type is predominantly an inherited trait (nature), while mood state is largely influenced through learning and environmental conditions (nurture).

Both the personality type and the mood state of an animal form the foundation on which two important core emotional systems are built. In evolutionary terms, the oldest of these emotional systems is responsible for an animal’s survival (reproduction, fight, and flight). The second emotional system evolved much more recently, and this is the system we are most familiar with in domesticated species of animal like dogs and horses. How they cooperate with each other within social groups, how they form strong social attachments, not only within their own species, but with their humans too. The process of domestication has led to a number of modifications to the functionality of this core emotional system in both species. This has left them more vulnerable to developing human-like mental illness.

This presentation is focused on the brain side of the gut-brain axis, which is the gateway into the mind and emotionality. We now know where emotions are generated in the brain, and we know how they work and what happens when they go wrong. We also know a great deal about how we can offer real support to dogs and horses in emotional distress.

There is an intimate connection between the diet and the gut microbiome, and the gut microbiome and the brain. So, the animal’s diet is a good place to start treating stressed animals. Then of course there’s the microbiome itself using prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics. In addition, there are a number of simple support tools and therapies that can really help.

Over the last 3 years, I have been working with Lallemand experts to develop a range of easy-to-use tools that will enable owners to measure and monitor the welfare of their pets, based on personality and mood state. We are delighted to announce the public launch of our first tool – PETWAG.