Animal abuse is a worldwide problem [1]. There is limited research to understand the effects on the physical, psychological and behavioural characteristics of these animals [1]. According to a small number of researchers [1], the clinical criteria for determining the occurrence of animal neglect and abuse is almost non-existent, especially with regard to recognizing behavioural signs of abuse. Some studies have attempted to identify the potential behavioural and psychological effects of known physically abused dogs [3]. Aggression is known to be one of the behavioural signs of dog abuse. Dog behavioural training has been seen to help eliminate and/or reduce the occurrence of abuse related behaviour.

Nutrition along with behavioural training is supported to help improve with behavioural issues. It is important to look at some behavioural and psychological differences between abused and non-abused dogs.


Dogs can be physically abused in numerous ways and according to a study done by McMillan et al. (2014) [4], some of the abuse faced by dogs included being kicked and beaten, shot with pellets, shot with a gun, used as bait for other fighting dogs and being stabbed. The table provides further descriptions of some of the inhumane types of abuse that dogs were subjected to prior to being taken away from their abusers.

Abuse Faced by Some of the Dogs in the Behavioural Study [5]


BreedDescription of Abuse
Yellow Labrador mixLocked in room without food and water. Left in its urine and faeces then thrown in shower on high heat to scold for being dirty.
Labrador RetrieverBeaten, shot in hindquarters.
Australian KelpieVerbal and physical abuse.
Cocker spanielBeaten by kids with a stick, needing several stitches.
Labrador retriever mixDragged by tail, kicked, swung around by its ears.
Labrador Retriever and Pit Bull mixAbandoned, tied to a tree, starved.

Many dogs are faced with similar and worse abuse such as these every day and it appears in most cases the abuse is not reported. No animal should be treated in such a way and there is no excuse. If you see something, then say something. Ignoring the issue won’t help the dog or animal.


The behavioural studies conducted by researchers found significant differences between abused and non-abused dogs. Abused dogs were more excitable, showed increased attachment and displayed significantly more attention seeking behaviours, than those who weren’t abused [6]. Abused dogs displayed more aggression and fear towards humans and other dogs that they weren’t familiar with [6]. They were more likely to roll around in faeces, be more hyperactive and have a greater fear of walking up stairs. The abused dogs displayed more persistent barking and more frequent strange, repetitive behaviour. Examples of such behaviour included excessive digging of holes, hoarding shoes, spinning in circles and excessive sucking on pillows [6]. One prominent finding of the study was the high levels of fear observed in abused dogs. Fear levels increased significantly when encountering unfamiliar people and towards other dogs, when compared to non-abused dogs [6]. Several researchers noted that poor treatment in the form of social isolation or abandonment by the caregiver seemed to intensify the attachment of companion dogs to the caregiver and could lead to separation-related emotional distress issues in adulthood [7]. This separation anxiety behaviour is like to that seen in rescued, shelter obtained, abandoned, and re-homed dogs, which are at higher risk of having the behaviour compared to those which came from a more stable, abuse free home [8].


The unpleasant behaviours of most abused dogs increases their risk for shelter relinquishment and euthanasia. The potential impact of physical abuse may have detrimental effects on the dog’s health and can manifest as changes in its behaviour. “Musculoskeletal injuries from abuse could cause pain and be a source of pain-induced aggression” [9]. Brain damage can also change a dog’s behaviour [10].


Hiring a dog behaviourist can help your dog break some of its behavioural problems such as separation anxiety, aggression and reactivity. Seek a behaviourist who doesn’t use any forceful or punishing methods, as these could trigger your dog. Qualified behaviourists can address many of the issues that abused dogs are prone to such as anxieties, aggression (towards people and dogs), barking (aggressive, distress barking), repetitive and compulsive behaviours, hyperactivity and phobias [11].


How can nutrition help your dog while it is being trained by the animal behaviourist? Many veterinary and behavioural experts have questioned the impact of processed, chemical, toxin heavy or dyed commercial dog foods have on the overall health and behaviour of animals [11].

The use of unusual protein sources is thought to be directly and indirectly involved in disrupting the pathological pathways, which can lead to reduced health, modified behaviour and/or stress related problems [12]. The two main neurotransmitters associated with behaviour are dopamine and serotonin. Studies have shown that the brain’s tryptophan to serotonin metabolism affects how humans and animals feel (happy, sad, depressed) [13]. Serotonin helps to control moods while dopamine is essential for cognitive functions and controls hyperactivity, among other functions. Providing your dog with foods and treats that are high in tryptophan will help to boost its serotonin levels, while foods high in tyrosine will help boost its dopamine levels. Adequate levels of these neurotransmitters will help to prevent neurological imbalances and help your animal to be calmer.

Foods to Help Balance Your Dog’s Hormones and Help Them Calm Down

Foods that boost serotonin levels (high tryptophan content) include:


  1. Egg yolk (rich in tryptophan, tyrosine, choline, biotin, omega-3 fatty acids)
  2. Cheese
  3. Salmon
  4. Nuts and seeds
  5. Turkey
  6. Tofu
  7. Chicken
  8. Spinach [14]

Foods that boost dopamine levels (high tyrosine levels) include:


  1. Beef
  2. Chicken
  3. Turkey
  4. Eggs
  5. Nuts and seeds (Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds,)
  6. Salmon
  7. Mackerel
  8. Fruits and vegetables
  9. Cheese
  10. Omega-3 Fish Oil
  11. Cruciferous Vegetables (cabbage, collards, kale, cauliflower etc.) [15].

Chamomile has been used for many years because of its many health properties and calming effects [ 16]. Add a ¼ teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers to your dog’s daily meal while it’s being trained by the animal behaviourist. A calmer, more relaxed dog will be more receptive to training. ALSO Include one or two of each of the foods which are high in tryptophan and tyrosine in your dog’s diet to FURTHER HELP.


Incorporating specialised nutritional ingredients with behavioural training could help to increase the likelihood of your dog’s recovery from the mental, psychological and behavioural damages caused by abuse.


[1] Tiplady C., “Animal abuse: Helping animals and people,” in History of animal abuse, Oxford, England, CABI, 2013, pp. 8-16.

[2] Kowal L. W., “Recognizing animal abuse: What veterinarians can learn from the field of child abuse and neglect,” in American Humane Association (Ed.), Recognizing and reporting animal abuse: A veterinarian’s guide, Denver, Colorado, American Humane Association, 1998, pp. 40-49.

[3] Sinclair L., Merck M., & Lockwood R.,, Forensic investigation of animal cruelty: A guide for veterinary and law enforcement professionals, Washing, DC: Humane Society Press, 2006.

[4] Patronek G. J., “Animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect.,” in Shelter medicine for Veterinarians and staff, Ames, IA, Blackwell, 2004, pp. 427-452.

[5] Ascione F. R., & Bernard S.,, “The link between animal abuse and violence to humans: Why veterinarians should care,” in American Humane Association (Ed.), Recognizing and reporting animal abuse: A veterinarian’s guide, Denver, Colorado, American Humane Association, 1998, pp. 4-10.

[6] Marder A., & Engel J.,, “Are there behavioral indicators of animal abuse?,” in Symposium conducted at the Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Meeting, Baltimore, MD., 1998.

[7] Munro H. M., & Thrusfield M. V.,, “‘Battered pets’: Features that raise suspicion of non-accidental injury,” journal of Small Animal Practice, vol. 42, pp. 218-226, 2001.

[8] Munro H. M., & Thrusfield M. V.,, “‘Battered pets’: Non-accidental physical injuries found in dogs and cats.,” Journal of Small Animal Practice, vol. 42, pp. 279-290, 2001.

[9] McGuiness F. D., Allen M., & Jones B. R.,, “Non-accidental injury in companion animals in the Republic of Ireland,” Irish Veterinary Journal, vol. 58, p. 392–396., 2005.

[10] McMillan F. D., Duffy D. L., Zawistowski S. L. & Serpell J. A. , “Behavioral and Psychological Characteristics of canine Victims of Abuse,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 92-111, 2014.

[11] Serpell J. & Jagoe J. A., “Early experience and the development of behavior,” in The domestic dog: Its evolution, behaviour and interactions with people , Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 79-102.

[12] Dodman N., “How to care for an abused pet,” n.d.. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 April 2019].

[13] Flannigan G., & Dodman N. H., “Risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs,” Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 219, pp. 460-466, 2001.

[14] Overall K. L., Dunham A. E., & Frank D. , ” Frequency of nonspecific clinical signs in dogs with separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia, and noise phobia, alone or in combination,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 219, p. 467–473, 2001.

[15] De Kuester T., & Jung H., “Aggression toward familiar people and animal,” in In D. F. Horwitz & D. S. Mills (Eds.), BSAVA manual of canine and feline behavioural medicine (2nd ed.,, Gloucester, England, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, 2009, pp. 182-210.

[16] Olby N., “Brain disease and behavioral problems,” in Symposium conducted at the Western Veterinary Conference, Las Vegas, NV, 2004.

[17] P. i. Hand, “Risks of hiring a dog behaviourist,” Paws in Hand, n.d.. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 09 April 2019].

[18] Verstegen J. P., “Does diet contribute to abnormal dog behaviour?,” Veterinary Record, vol. 180, pp. 16-17, 2017.

[19] Butler N., “7 Foods That Could Boost Your Serotonin: The Serotonin Diet,” 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 1 November 2018].

[20] Sissons C., “,” 2018. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 1 November 2018].

[21] Tilgord G., “The Calming Herb Chamomile,” Whole Dog journal, February 2004. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 08 April 2019].


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