The Best Foods for Anxious Dogs

brown and white medium-coated dog
What are the best foods for anxious dogs?

What are the best foods for anxious dogs? In the first part of this series, we looked at what nutrients can help nervous and aggressive dogs. Now we will look at whether specially formulated dog food for anxiety, such as Royal Canin Calm, can help your dog calm down. We will compare it with another anti-anxiety dog food called Breakthrough, also touted as the best dog food for anxious dogs.

But first, let's look at what we really want in dog food for anxious dogs.

What should be in the best foods for anxious dogs?

When deciding whether dog food can actually help reduce anxiety and aggression in dogs, we need to look for the following:

  1. The best food for anxious dogs contains plenty of tryptophan and other bioactive compounds such as casein extracts that help dogs calm down.
  2. The food should be as anti-inflammatory as possible. This means less-processed or well-balanced raw food, if possible, with plenty of natural antioxidants such as vitamin E. This article shows you more about how to reduce chronic inflammation in dogs.
  3. Since 90% of serotonin comes from a dog's gut, we want to see highly-digestible food that promotes gut health and an excellent immune system.

What foods are typically suggested as the best food for anxious dogs, and do they work?

Typical food that the internet suggests for anxious dogs includes:

  • Blueberries and other fruit or vegetables are high in antioxidants.
  • Meat such as turkey that is naturally high in tryptophan
  • Oily fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruit such as blueberries is indeed high in antioxidants. Still, it is unlikely that your dog will eat enough blueberries to affect them. Other vegetables, such as sweet potato, do have benefits. Still, they are so high in vitamin A & D that they can cause toxicosis if you feed too much to your dogs. This is especially true if your dog is already getting other foods high in vitamin A & D, such as the liver.

In our article on diets for dogs with anxiety, we also discuss why turkey does not really give your dog enough tryptophan despite being high in it. In short, turkey is also very high in other neutral amino acids such as tyrosine that compete with tryptophan for absorption. This means that your dog will still have issues absorbing enough tryptophan for it to help them.

Of all these common suggestions, the most effective is probably fish. The omega-3s in fish do have some anti-anxiety effects on dogs and promote gut and brain health. They also reduce inflammation. Therefore, looking for fish-based dog food is an excellent step to helping promote well-being for your furbaby.

Now, with all this in mind, what about veterinary prescriptions or therapeutic diets for stressed dogs?

Does Royal Canin Calm Work For Anxious Dogs?

Royal Canin Calm is perhaps the few veterinary therapeutic diet for nervous dogs. Your vet may prescribe this diet if your dog is anxious or aggressive. It is also labeled one of the best foods for anxious dogs.

But does it work? To understand whether the Royal Canin Calm diet can help your dog, let's look at the ingredients and break down the label to understand why Royal Canin decided on this formula.

Royal Canin Calm contains:

  1. Rice: A standard cereal grain that is easy to digest and suitable for large breed dogs. However, since it is the first ingredient, there may be too much rice in this food compared to quality animal protein.
  2. Dehydrated poultry protein: This non-specific poultry source could be turkey but is likely whatever is most closely available to the manufacturers. This is usually some sort of chicken by-product meal.
  3. Maize and wheat flour: another cereal by-product so high up in the ingredient list suggests that the majority of this food is plant-based.
  4. Animal fats: this is a non-specific source of calories. Keep in mind that chicken fat has very different health implications from beef or pork fat. Since they don't specify the kind of fat, we can't be sure how many saturated fats are part of this diet.
  5. Hydrolyzed animal proteins: These are proteins already broken down by enzymes to be easy to digest. The source of protein isn't specified.
  6. Chicory pulp: this contains inulin and is a soluble fiber that acts as a prebiotic for a healthy gut.
  7. Dehydrated pork protein: pork protein is a more controversial protein. It can be high in saturated fat, and red meat is generally not as healthy as white meats like fish and poultry.
  8. Minerals: The minerals listed for Royal Canin Calm are standard according to AAFCO minimums and maximums. It does not specify if they are chelated or not chelated.
  9. Wheat gluten: a plant protein source that is also highly digestible
  10. Soya oil: a source of omega-6 fatty acids, but not ideal
  11. Fish oil: a good source of vital omega-3 fatty acids but very prone to going rancid and losing its benefits.
  12. Fructo-oligo-saccharides (0.49%): this is another soluble fiber and prebiotic.
  13. Hydrolyzed milk protein: this is the casein portion of the food that is active as a calming compound.
  14. Borage oil is a good anti-inflammatory that contains gamma-linolenic acid, a reasonably rare omega-3 fatty acid.
  15. Marigold meal is the final source of the healthy antioxidant lutein.

What do these ingredients tell us about Royal Canin Calm? Is it one of the best foods for anxious dogs?

Veterinarians often prescribe Royal Canin Relax Care or Royal Canin calm for stressed dogs. But is it really one of the best foods for anxious dogs?
Veterinarians often prescribe Royal Canin Relax Care or Royal Canin calm for stressed dogs. But is it really one of the best foods for anxious dogs?

Like other therapeutic and prescription diets, there is technically nothing in Royal Canin Calm that is medicine or should require a prescription. The active ingredients in this dog food designed to calm a dog down are the following:

L-tryptophan: 0.26% of dry matter and,

Alpha-S1.0 trypsin-hydrolysed bovine casein: 1.24 g/kg.

Essentially, Royal Canin has added tryptophan and a protein isolated from milk casein to their recipe to help calm a dog down. These are easy supplements to find at your local drug store. They likely did this based on a study that showed that alpha-casozepine and L-tryptophan help reduce stress indicators in dogs.

The fact there was less cortisol in the dogs' urine when they were stressed and on this diet is compelling. So, Royal Canin Calm is likely to help somewhat reduce a dog's anxiety and nervousness. The problem is that you can probably achieve the same result by supplementing your dog's diet with L-tryptophan and alpha-casozepine. After all, this is expensive food.

This is often the problem with prescription diets. You can read more about the issues with prescription diets here.

There are pros and cons to this food. For one thing, heavily processed food is never ideal for any creature, and it is more inflammatory than raw, meat-based food. However, we can guess why this food is formulated the way it is. Although most of the food is not animal protein, the animal protein that does exist is very easy to digest.

The high volume of plant material in this food is typical of most commercial dog food and likely has more to do with being cheaper than with health. Royal Canin Calm has good anti-inflammatory and antioxidants such as borage oil and marigold meal.

And while this food is meager in fiber, the fiber that is there is soluble fiber meant to aid the gut. At a glance, the actual aim of this food is just to be as easy to digest as possible and help stem any diarrhea issues your dog may have from their anxiety.

This makes sense since dog food manufacturers put a high emphasis on good stool quality. Pet parents who have dogs with loose stool or diarrhea are more likely to switch their dog's food. So making ingredients that break down quickly in the small intestine, and don't spend time fermenting in the hindgut creating watery stool, is a major priority for many "premium" dog food brands. In addition, gut health is emphasized in their packaging.

So what's the verdict on whether Royal Canin Calm is one of the best foods for anxious dogs? It likely does have some effect on your dog's ability to calm down. However, the food itself is not exceptional. If you add a trusted L-tryptophan and alpha-casozepine supplement to your dog's diet, you should get the same effect.

Best food for anxious dogs: How long does Royal Canin Calm Take to Work?

The initial study on Royal Canin Calm suggests that dogs calm down after 8 weeks, although many owners say they see a change after roughly ten days. The active proteins, L-tryptophan and alpha-casozepine, may help a dog produce more serotonin and GABA. However, since these are merely supplements, they are unlikely to help dogs with severe anxiety or aggression issues.

Breakthrough Startup Dog Food For Dogs With Anxiety

Breakthrough StarUp claims to be one of the best foods for anxious dogs
Breakthrough StarUp claims to be one of the best foods for anxious dogs

Another of the best foods for anxious dogs is a UK food called Breakthrough. This food makes many claims, including that it helps dogs with various behavioral problems. To get a better idea of whether it might work, let's look at what's in it:

Breakthrough lists its ingredients as:

Potato flakes (19.4%), Poultry meal (17.5%, (min 14.9% Chicken)), Sweet potato (14.5%), Tapioca, Naked oats, Whole barley, Poultry fat (4.7%), Dried egg, Beet pulp (2.4%), Poultry gravy (1.9%), Linseed (1.2%), Fish oil (1%), Minerals, Lucerne concentrate (0.7%), Brewer’s yeast (0.2%), Chicory extract (as a source of the prebiotic fructo-oligosaccharide) (0.1%), Yeasts (as a source of the prebiotic mannan-oligosaccharide) (0.1%), Glucosamine (0.04%)

It also has:

Vitamin D3 2000IU

DL-Methionine 900mg/kg

L-Tryptophan 500mg/kg

We can see from this diet that there is no significant difference with Royal Canin's formula for anxious dogs. Instead of rice, Breakthrough has potato flakes as a first ingredient. Potatoes are not a grain carbohydrate source for dogs, and we discuss this in our article on grain-free diets. It may be because of the potato flakes that they choose to add the high dose of methionine since potatoes are critically low in this essential amino acid.

Like the Royal Canin, Breakthrough has a poultry meal as a second ingredient. It also has a much lower level of protein in the diet at 18% rather than 25%. Other elements have no major difference from the Royal Canin recipe; other than that this food has much higher levels of vitamin D3 than most commercial dog foods.

Dogs store Vitamin D3 in their livers, and it can build up over time and become toxic. So this high amount of vitamin D may not be necessary or helpful. Finally, they put their tryptophan at a 500 mg/kg of food.

So is Breakthrough StartUp one of the best foods for anxious dogs?

There is unlikely to be a significant clinical difference between Royal Canin's therapeutic diet for anxious dogs and Breakthrough StartUp. The idea is that both recipes rest entirely on added L-tryptophan. Although Breaththrough also tries to use hormones like insulin to stimulate serotonin response by using a carbohydrate with a higher glycemic index.

So what are really the best foods for anxious dogs?

The best foods for anxious dogs are fish-based raw dog foods that incorporate a healthy grains such as oats and plenty of omega-fatty acids. You can add supplements such as L-tryptophan to your dog's food. Other good natural remedies that may help your dog calm down include:

  • MCT oil
  • L-theanine
  • Hawthorne
  • Valerian
  • Rosemary extract
  • Pomegranate extract.

*Be sure to add a recommended L-tryptophan supplement to these foods for the best effects. The casein extract, Zylkene. is another great supplement to help your dog calm down.

The best options on the market for anxious dogs are:

Merrick Backcountry Chicken-Free Raw Infused Pacific Catch Recipe + Grains with Salmon, Whitefish & Trout Freeze-Dried Dry Dog Food

If supplemented with L-tryptophan, Merrick Backcountry is the one of the best foods for axious dogs
If supplemented with L-tryptophan, Merrick Backcountry is the one of the best foods for axious dogs

Our first pick for best foods for anxious dogs is Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Pacific Catch. It contains a variety of fantastic fish proteins that are ideal as an anti-inflammatory, highly digestible protein source. It contains brown rice, barley, and oatmeal, a good carbohydrate source to help with insulin production. As stated above, a bit of insulin helps a dog's body absorb more tryptophan and create more serotonin.

This food also contains chelated minerals and riboflavin that help the body synthesize serotonin. Finally, there are plenty of natural antioxidants.

It is hard to find a food that meets the same criteria for anxious dogs as this formula. However, some great freeze-dried options use fish as their main protein. These are:

Primal Turkey & Sardine Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food

Primal Freeze-dried nuggest is one of the best dog foods for anxious dogs
Primal Freeze-dried nuggest is one of the best dog foods for anxious dogs

Nulo Freestyle Salmon & Turkey Recipe With Strawberries Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food

dog foods for anxious dogs
Nulo Salmon & Turkey Recipe is one of the best dog foods for anxious dogs

Stella & Chewy's Surf' N Turf Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food

Best Dog Food for Anxious Dogs: Final Thoughts

The best food for anxious dogs is not necessarily a prescription diet such as Royal Canin Calm or Breakthrough StartUp. The primary ingredients in these foods meant to calm dogs down are simply L-tryptophan and Zylkene. These are supplements that you can add to your dog's diet yourself.

A better idea is to take a healthy fish-based raw diet high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories can also go a long way. Good and healthy grains such as rice and oats can also give your dog a gentle insulin spike to help their body absorb the tryptophan it needs to create serotonin. Remember, diet alone can not fix anxiety or aggression in your dog, but it's always important to try to take care of issues holistically.