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Probiotics for Behavioral Health

February 11

7:00 am PT

This talk is eligible for CEUs from: CCPDT - Behavior, CCPDT - Training, IAABC, KPA


The first veterinary probiotic for behavioral, not gut health came on the market in January of 2019, marketed for dogs with anxiety issues. We have long given our companion animals probiotics to help manage gut issues, but probiotics for behavior are new, and the number of products out there aimed at the veterinary market are very limited. Most veterinarians have little to no real information about how well they work or when is appropriate to give them.

Join Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD, a research scientist who specializes in the biology of behavior, for a deep dive into the crazy new findings coming out about probiotics and behavior in dogs. Jessica will start by explaining what a probiotic is and what it isn’t, and which ones are intended for behavioral health (as opposed to gut health), untangling some of the confusion around different products on the market. She will explain the concept of the microbiome and how we live in concert with our friendly bacteria and other organisms, and how they can actually affect our behavior through a variety of mechanisms.

She’ll talk about the research around whether probiotics are or are not effective and think through some of the implications about which bacterial species might be best and which doses might be more effective. How long might you want to give probiotics? What sorts of behavioral issues might they be best for? Are there side effects? Can they be dangerous? Is freeze fried or fresh better? Can you use fecal testing to determine the right probiotic? How much can you trust that label? She’ll talk about other approaches to keeping your gut microbiome healthy, such as fecal implants (“two ways in, neither fun”).

She’ll wind up with a checklist of how to find the best probiotic product for your situation with some examples of how to use that checklist, and then some case studies that may show some interesting results of giving probiotics, or since Jessica is famous for pointing out that biology is complicated, may not.

Presented By:

Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD

Jessica (she/her) is a veterinary researcher who is fascinated by dog behavior. After eleven years working as a computer programmer, she decided to go back to school to research the causes of behavior problems in dogs. She received her veterinary degree in 2012 from the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, where she also received a Master’s degree for her work on stress behaviors in hospitalized dogs. After graduation, she completed a year-long internship specializing in shelter medicine at the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program. She received her PhD in genetics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studying a group of foxes (often known as the “Siberian silver foxes”) which have been bred over many generations to be friendly to humans.

She is currently working at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as a postdoctoral associate, studying the genetics of behavior in pet dogs through the Darwin’s Ark project and the Working Dogs Project. Jessica is also running the Functional Dog Collaborative, a non-profit group which supports ethical breeding of healthy and behaviorally solid dogs. She frequently teaches online classes and webinars about canine genetics and behavior. Jessica lives in Raymond, NH with her husband and three dogs. You can follow her or on Facebook at