By Dr. Becker
Research has conclusively established that children do better in cognitive exercises when they eat breakfast.
Not surprisingly, a recent study at the University of Kentucky suggests dogs may also be mentally sharper after a morning meal.1
The researchers measured the search performance of trained dogs with empty stomachs, and dogs who had been fed a morning meal. But first they drained all the dogs’ energy levels by making them sit and stay for 10 minutes. When dogs are required to exercise self-control, it depletes their natural vitality and ability to complete certain tasks.
Next the dogs were shown a treat before it was hidden in one of several containers. The researchers observed that the dogs who were fed breakfast searched more accurately for the treat 30 minutes after their meal than the dogs who searched on an empty stomach.
Can Study Findings Be Applied to Wild Dogs?
The key finding of the University of Kentucky study is clear: eating breakfast seems to benefit the cognitive abilities of domestic dogs.
But BBC Nature, in an interview with University of Kentucky researcher Dr. Holly Miller, asked whether the same is true for wild dogs, as well as wolves, coyotes and jackals. “Here is where it gets a bit complicated,” was Dr. Miller’s response.
Dr. Miller explained that when dogs eat a carbohydrate-laden diet (like commercial dog food), their brains grow more dependent on glucose and more sensitive to fluctuations in glucose levels.
But when wild dogs eat their natural diet of hunted prey meat, the carb level is low and the fat content is high. This means the dogs’ brains don’t experience the glucose fluctuations seen in dogs fed carb-based diets.
What About My Own Dog and Breakfast?
Based on Dr. Miller’s theory about wild vs. domestic dog diets, we can assume that whether or not your dog’s cognitive skills are sharper after a morning meal depends on what type of nutrition you feed her regularly.
If you’re feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet that closely resembles your dog’s natural diet, like her cousins in the wild, she may not get much of a mental energy boost from a morning meal. Her cognitive skills more likely remain constant throughout the day, because her brain hasn’t been sensitized to the fluctuations in glucose levels that result from ingesting carbohydrates.
Many of you know I prefer to mimic nature when it comes to nourishing our pets. Dogs living in the wild hunt in late afternoon or early evening. That means if they’re lucky, they’ll be eating dinner in the second half of the day. I, like many holistic vets, have found that most dogs thrive consuming a species-appropriate diet once, later in the day or during the evening. (Please note the one-feeding-a-day rule applies to adult dogs of average size or larger with average metabolisms – not little or toy breeds. Of course there are always exceptions, so I recommend you discuss the subject with your vet.)
Dogs in the wild can’t afford to be less alert or mentally foggy at any point during the day, which is why their natural diet promotes stable cognitive function and doesn’t contribute to ups and downs in mental acuity.
A biologically appropriate diet for pet dogs, based on the canine ancestral diet, should include around 14 percent carbohydrates sourced from ground veggies that mimic the intestinal contents of prey. Most dry dog foods contain between 45 and 75 percent carbs – far beyond what nature intended for carnivorous canines.
Given the huge disparity between what nature intended canines to eat and what most pet food manufacturers provide, it’s clear why pet dogs on commercial diets may perform better mentally after a morning carbohydrate “fix.”