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Latest Entry in the Pet Food Follies: Stress Relief Formulas

Pet Food

Story at-a-glance -

  • Lately it seems a new “specialty” pet food is introduced every other week, and many of these formulas claim to treat a wide range of companion animal health and behavior problems.
  • One such specialty formula to hit the market recently is a dry food targeted at owners of stressed dogs and cats. It contains three substances known for their calming effects. Unfortunately, the actual food in the formula is made from the same low-quality, grain-based ingredients commonly found in inexpensive commercial pet food.
  • No amount of additives – for stress or any other malady -- can overcome the nutritional unsuitability of a dog food that lists brewer’s rice, chicken meal, corn, chicken fat and wheat gluten as its first five ingredients.
  • If your pet is stressed or has other physical or behavioral problems, you won’t find the answers you need in a bag of dry dog or cat food.
  • Balanced, species-appropriate nutrition, plenty of exercise, environmental enrichment, and natural calming remedies are a much better approach to dealing with your pet’s stress than a bag of dry “stress formula” kibble.

By Dr. Becker

There's an emerging trend in commercial pet food that unfortunately seems to be gaining momentum.

Major pet food manufacturers are scrutinizing prevalent health and behavior problems in today's dogs and cats for opportunities to develop new "treatment" food formulas.

In the last year alone I've reported on a wide variety of "specialty" pet foods, including:

Allergen-free formulas Senior pet food formulas
Breed specific dog food Low-fat diets for dogs with GI disease
Weight management formulas Diets to "keep healthy pets healthy"
Preventive cat food "Raw kibble"

What I'm seeing when I check the ingredient lists for these products are the same low quality, grain-based, biologically inappropriate ingredients one typically sees in commercial and veterinary pet food formulas. The only real difference between these foods and the non-specialty varieties is the addition of substances that are known to provide certain health benefits under certain conditions.

Once these substances are added, the new specialty formula can be marketed as "treatment" for this or that health challenge in your pet.

Stress-Relieving Pet Food?

One of the latest entries I've noticed in the fast-growing "treatment" pet food market is a formula advertised to relieve stress in cats and small dogs.

According to, the formula…

"…combines three ingredients: L-tryptophan, the amino acid found in turkey and other meats that creates a sense of well-being by creating more serotonin; alpha-casozepine, a peptide found in the protein in milk that calms nerve receptors; and nicotinimide, also known as niacin or vitamin B3, which has the same calming effects as alpha-casozepine. [The food] also has a skin complex that helps skin retain moisture, helps heal any skin trauma and helps prevent infections, along with prebiotics and extra fiber as a gastrointestinal support for more normal bowel movements."

In addition to the claimed ability of this highly processed, grain-based kibble to calm your pet's stress, there is also something in it that claims to hydrate and repair your pet's skin and normalize her bowel movements. Let's just say I'm skeptical.

The ingredient list for this "calming" dog food formula contains over 40 non-food additives. And the all-important first five ingredients are:

  • Brewer's rice
  • Chicken meal
  • Corn
  • Chicken fat
  • Wheat gluten

As many of you know, I have an extensive background in animal nutrition and years of first-hand experience nourishing dogs and cats. I can tell you for certain no amount of additives will make up for a diet of cheap, low-quality, biologically inappropriate pet food such as this. Although some pets can benefit from supplements to help reduce anxiety, adding them to a poor quality diet does not address the possibility that poor nutrition can contribute to behavior changes and stress levels.

In my opinion, the majority of pet food manufacturers should focus more on developing species-appropriate diets for dogs and cats, and less on finding new and creative ways to market products containing poor quality ingredients. In an attempt to fill a marketing niche, I foresee dozens of new foods hitting the market with specific nutraceuticals, vitamins, minerals or antioxidants added in, similar to "prescription diets" veterinarians market at their practices. Unfortunately, most of these foods will still be made from rendered meats and poor quality, cheap fillers (grains and potatoes).

If Your Pet is Stressed…

… or has skin or digestive problems, or any number of other physical or emotional challenges, you won't find answers in a bag of processed kibble.

A fresh, balanced, species-appropriate diet is the foundation of good health for your dog or cat. Often, transitioning an animal to the right food clears up allergic, skin, GI and other disorders, and can even improve some behavior problems.

If additional help is needed for a stressed-out pet, I recommend consulting with your holistic vet about natural calming remedies like OptiBalance Pet Formulas or Spirit Essences. You can also investigate using herbs and nutraceuticals such as 5-HTP, calming milk protein, l-theanine, ashwagandha, vitamin B3 and B6, GABA, rhodiola, chamomile, holy basil (Tulsi) and chamomile. There are also excellent traditional Chinese herbs that can reduce anxiety, as well as homeopathic remedies.

Most importantly, I recommend trying to address the root cause of your pet's anxiety through behavior modification and training for the best long-term success. And if you feel your pet's anxiety is getting worse, consider consulting with a board certified veterinary behaviorist.

I also recommend, if your pet hasn't been seen by a vet in six months or longer, that you schedule a wellness exam. Illness in animals causes stress, so you want to rule out any underlying physiological issues.

And keep in mind that dogs and cats get bored just like we do, and boredom can be stressful. It could be your dog needs more daily exercise, or your kitty could use some environmental enrichment.

+ Sources and References