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Nutrition and Behavior and Vice-versa

Paradox: we rarely pay enough attention to the most obvious correlations. Tied relationships between behavior and nutrition seems so natural that they became indisputable, not only in pet application but even for humans.

These relationships are a two-way road - on one side the behavior determines how the digestion should proceed and what the organism will obtain. On the other side digestion’ abilities and the organism’s demand has to direct the behavior in a proper way. Both adaptations in nature occurs simultaneously, but to ease their analysis, let's theoretically separate them.

Thus, what do we know about the influence of behavior on nutrition and the health status of an organism in general” We shouldn’t forget that the two main pets are close ancestors of wild carnivorous animals - ancient wolf-like dogs and wild cats. We used to think that being carnivorous meant the consumption of flesh to keep an organism healthy. This thesis might be almost right for the cats, but it is under strong questioning regarding the dogs.

In the 21st century after seven thousand years of domestication, 93 to 95 % of a cat’s normal diet has to be meat, fish or dairy products, while for the average dogs this percentage is much lower, - 52-57%. For cats up to 95 % of the portion of consumed food is in the form of flesh, which is almost the same amount as it was before domestication. In the wilderness felines also consumes mostly flesh - up to 97% - and just a small percentage of their food is vegetarian - some herbs and pica. (Notes, our own predecessors being omnivorous consumed mostly vegetarian food and less than 20 % of their diet was flesh - eggs, small animals, etc. The raise of meat portions in human diets has happened historically just recently.)

There is little known of what kind of plants that cats prefer to eat and how such a choice correlates with their health and other needs. For certain, almost half of these “vegetarian percentage” of a cats’ diet come in the form of partly digested plants and seeds consumed by their prey. Cats rarely leave the intestines of mouse or birds uneaten, while the muscular tissues of partially eaten preys may be found more often.

For dogs, the situation differs a lot. The enzyme specter of their intestine shows that, during more than fifteen thousand years of domestication, the dogs’ food significantly switched into a vegetarian diet, especially for breeds cultivated by farming tribes.

Of course, even the dogs’ wolf-like predecessors consumed a meaningful amount of non-flesh products - herbs, fruits, berries, etc., but after multiple generations of life next to humans, this species raised its ability to survive on almost a vegetarian diet very dramatically.

Wild canines also consume small body animals as a whole, including their stomachs full of vegetation content. Even more, when the prey is bigger than they can consume in one meal the wolves prefer to eat the chitterlings of a prey first. It might be connected with the softness of these tissues, but more likely the reason for that is the richness of these organs with specific active components - enzymes, hormones, vitamins and other exotic molecules valuable to a carnivorous predator. Probably, at least part of these highly desirable substances originate from seeds and the plant parts of their prey’s food.

Small in amount, but permanent from generation to generation the flow of such herbal ingredients molecules into the metabolism of carnivorous is a normal part of the natural nourishment of the animals which look like strictly flesh-eaters. Naturalists and those who observe carefully the real natural feeding habits of canines and felines in the wild also report direct evidence that they consumes definite amounts of berries, herbs, fruits and vegetables besides being mediated by the consumption by their preys.

The Gut Rules.

The start of all living beings on Earth happened when the planet’s surface accumulated enough organic materials due to different chemical processes. These initial organic sources were soon exhausted. To survive, protobiotic organisms had to either eat somebody or to develop mechanisms for exploitation of energy and chemicals from the environment.

The history of all animals among all the biota and its deviation from plants started when some of the living beings “decided” to live on energy from somebody else’s molecules used as “fuel,” while others “chose” to supply their energy needs by chemo- or photosynthesis.

To gain their  “fuel,” these proto-animals developed mechanisms to detect their “proto-preys” from the distance, to reach them (movements), to catch them (arms), and to destroy and absorb them. And, of course, they needed to organize the work of all of these tools for an optimal supply of the gut’s input. So, the behavior of all “eaters” (animals) appeared as a phenomenon, the purpose of which is to obtain a proper inflow of nutrients. This thesis was right for the early stages of evolution, and it is right for all contemporary ancestors of those who live because they eat - including humans.

Some animals are the first-step consumers --they eat biological materials derived from photosynthesis in form of plants bodies. Some go even further - they eat those who consume vegetation. The first ones are known as vegetarians, the seconds as carnivorous.

Our pets - cats and dogs- belongs to the second category. Of course, there is nothing in nature which might be 100% accurate. Certain members of the vegetarian family consume a definite part of their diet in the form of other animal’s bodies. For example, the cow eats the grass with some insects on it and eats microbes and sometimes a portion of other animal products. On the other hand, seemingly strict carnivorous eaters may include in their diet certain parts of vegetarian products. The degree of carnivorousness is significantly variable; felines are almost fully flesh-eaters (but not 100 %), while dogs are closer to being omnivorous.

The Behavior Influences Nutrition and Metabolism.

Let’s start from the obvious observation: hyper activity induces more energy spending, so the level of active behavior in a certain degree influences on the amount of needed nutrients, especially rich in calories.

Thus, the behavior plays a significant role in determining the amount of food and the nutrient composition. To help keep the status-quo of the body while the extensive physical work or cooler environmental conditions stimulates appetite, the food input goes up and it raises the loading of the digestive system. In opposite, a lazy life style and warm weather leads to the saving of energy, and if the amount of consumed food remains the same, the storages in the body will be overloaded with fat.

The other thing is a selective appetite. To navigate the search for food in a world fulfilled with millions and millions of different conglomerates of a long list of molecules is not an easy thing!

Appetite is a vital mechanism serving living beings to find the necessary resources in their outer sphere and to avoid the toxic ones.

It is a blessing to have the right to a healthy appetite. Any disturbance in it might lead to catastrophic results. The most common deviation of appetite from normal are overeating (bulimia), under-eating (anorexia), and consumption of wrong substrates or a misbalanced choice of them.

For instance, among humans we know those who may like sweet or salty products over any reasonable limits. Such disproportion of sugar or salt in their food might be very harmful for their health but psychological dependence pushes them to do it. It is like some kind of drug-dependence, narcomania, or alcoholism. Strictly carnivorous animals are not interested in sweet and sugary products, but for them there is a similar role in regards to fat. More fat would often mean, for dogs and cats, that this is a more valuable food. The result of this wrong type of appetite is becoming overweight with all of its dangers for the health and well-being of the pet.

The vision, smell, and taste are natural compasses, which help to orient in the surrounded world to choose proper food for animals. Unfortunately, for the pets, these choices have to be made from a very poor set of options mostly limited by our selection of food sources and a human’s understanding of what their pet’s body needs.

The wrong diet choices of those who feed their pets might play a role in the formation of inadequate appetite habits.

To serve the needs of the gut, the behavior may act only in certain environmental conditions. To find this or that substance in the surrounding world may be possible only if this substance is present there.

Even if the necessary substance is there, it does not mean that the “price” for it is acceptable or that these molecules will contain a necessary level of purity or that they will be contaminated with non-inert molecules. Thus, to supply the gut with a certain vitamin (task for the behavior from the gut) mostly will occur in a way, which simultaneously implies the entry there of some other unnecessary or toxic molecules and now it becomes the task for the gut or organism to have to deal with these matters harmlessly.

While wild predecessors of our pets had almost an unlimited access to different sources of natural chemicals of their choice, our in-home pets have a strictly reduced choice due to what is dictated by our thoughts of what is right for them and what is wrong.


Forgetting or not knowing about some kind of necessary components of nourishment may limit or distort the pet”s health. Often, that happens regarding herbal products - they might be a minor part of the food, but they can be really important for their well-being.

There is no credible information on which herbs exactly under what condition are preferable for wild canines or felines. But every pet-lover is a witness of the careful smelling of plants by dogs and cats in a field or forest when they have a chance to do it. Their search is non-chaotic or purposeless, it seems that they are looking for something definite.

Gut-Brain Communicative Language.

In 1985, I published a monograph devoted to the new theory of natural nourishment based on A.M. Ugolev’s* ideas on adequate nutrition. The main points of it are: nutrients come with “prices” and the technology of nutrients” processing has to be accounted for. Beside every dinner, there was a meaningful evolution and a vision of the nutrition as an integrated result of cooperation of many physiological systems with strong hookups between involved mechanisms.

These theories incorporate the main achievement of the rather popular balanced theory, but discovered many other important aspects and applications.

A very meaningful omissions of the previous theories of the nutrition is the lack of the understanding of the roles of regulatory substances in food so common in these wide spread diets.

The list of regulatory things in natural food is pretty long: while in the consumption of natural foods dogs and cats get hormones and enzymes from the body of preys and numerous exotic molecules rather similar to a number of pharmaceutical substances.

People usually better understand the necessity of vitamins and minerals presence in carnivorous pets’ food, than the fact that specific molecules with regulatory properties (some of them derived from herbs and vegetarian part of a diet) are also have to be present in natural foods. Thus, for most brands of pet food it became a widely accepted to advertise them as “free from byproducts” (an appeal to public unprofessional opinion), while such a claim means that there is a small amount of enzymes, hormones and other important regulatory substances.

For those, who understand well the natural function of an organism and its digestive system, it is obvious that the deficit of these trace molecules is not normal and not good for the health.

Also, while processing of food within the digestive system there appeared numerous neuro-active molecules like serotonin, insulin, endorphin etc., which play a significant role in the activation or relaxation of the brain.

Cooperation Is Better than Struggle.

We are interested in pets only because of their behavior, which touches our deep feelings.

The behavior is a sequence of acts, which leads to the achievement of something useful for organism results within the limits of existent conditions. It might be performed due to conscious activity, but is not necessary - plants without any “thinking” mechanisms behave this way, which leads to seed production (a positive result for them) under more or less appropriate conditions. The behavior of animals (and humans themselves) incorporate a significant part of conscious acts, which appeal to us due to extrapolation of them onto our own thoughts.

The proper nourishment of animals is the only way to keep our pets alive and well behaved and it is the realization of this through the most ancient function of all living beings - the mechanism of the digestion of supplied matters. The processing of the outer materials into energy and constructive materials for the body is the meaning of the nutrition.


The sources of energy and materials in nutrients’ flow cannot be separated from molecules, which have regulatory properties. Even more, the chance (which appeared just recently) to use an artificially purified from regulatory components (like hormones, neuro transmitters, different mediators, steroids, etc.) nutrients (like pure sugar, pure fats, pure proteins, etc.) is rather unnatural and hardly a healthy way to eat. Even more, the nutrition itself while digesting the food also appeared to be a constant source of the regulative influences on the organism - pancreas, liver and intestine constantly send signals to the brain and other organs through blood circulation.

In nature a healthy (right) behavior serve as a supplier of the digestive system with necessary substances and the digestive system gives a cue to the brain how the food behavior should be changed, awarded or punished.

There are certain borders within which self-adjustment of both systems can be made naturally (some kind of auto piloting). In artificial conditions (like life of pets under our supervision, when the choice of food and desirable style of behavior is determined by a pets’ owner) the right nourishment is a key to everything. The pleasure of eating is not something useless, the right food should be the pleasant ones.

Each case is slightly individual, but attentive owners (maybe with the help from a veterinarian) should apply the proper food, which can satisfy digestion and behavior under a certain life style and, if necessary, the right nourishment may correct the behavior in a desirable way, as well as the proper food behavior may support nutrition.

For instance, some animals may need relaxing factors, some need stimulating ones or agents able to adjust their sexual drive, or even to improve (compensate problems) other organism‘s functions (immunity, stress resistance, etc.). Herbs incorporation into food can be a right solution in such cases.

Recently there appeared on the market products marked under the VetVittles brand (biologically active supplements based on multi components formulas of herbs, meat & salad sausages, as well as treats with herbs). These products and a few other supplements implement this new revolutionary approach for helping pets be healthier, live longer and be happier.

There is numerous evidences that dogs can differentiate by odor a human in the early stage of cancer, or can find truffles under the ground, or can detect minor differences in herbs” smell. Nature is not stupid and not a waster to lose this natural “search engine” for the benefits of animals.

The recognition of the useful things and dangerous ones in food is a powerful ability for self-improvement and the restoration of health. The absence of these useful nutrients in the wild leads to weakness or even death, but Nature is a cruel ruler, it does not care about any individuals, and just cares about the survival of the whole species.

For pets, as a family member living under our patronage, we wish them to live a healthy and happy life even beyond natural longevity limits and it is our duty to assist them with rich and right nourishment. The right appetite should be used for that in full.

Mostly, the appetite works as an instinctive behavior, but certain part of it appeared to be a subject of learning. The learning of food behavior has some specificity - its main way to learn is some kind of imprinting process.

The stereotype of the appetite is often memorized just after the first introduction of a new food. The inside feeling after the first consumption of a new food can be memorized for a long time (sometimes forever) even if it is random overlap and it happened with a long (up to 12 hours) pause after feeding. For instance, the puppy which tried a new food and later became sick because of unrelated reasons may then avoid this new food during the rest of its life.

We still don't know enough about what is good and what is bad regarding diets. It seems that there is more risk to teaching appetite in a wrong way than to correct it. And the only adviser for us is to look at nature and try not to damage its delicate mechanisms.

E. Gurman, PhD, Dr.Sci. (Physiology of Digestion)

* A.M. Ugolev (1926-1991) is unfairly little known in Western World physiologist whose prominent ideas and experimental data on evolution of digestive system and technological principles of the organisms? functions anticipated the theories of nutrition even now. His discovery of the membrane digestion brought him recognition as a nutritionist, but his absolutely brilliant, genius last monograph ?The evolution of the digestive system and the principles of the evolution of the physiological mechanisms? (1986) remains mostly underestimated.


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