I’ve long (and I mean looong) been fascinated by the gut. For years, people wrote off the gut as a simple system where food goes in, gets digested, then gets shipped out. I honestly couldn’t follow that logic – to me, there were just too many connections. I saw it every day.
Chronic disease and cancer are at epidemic levels. In the 20 years of practice at my veterinary hospital, it was clear that there was a very close relationship between the breakdown of gut health and these health issues. I recognized that if an animal’s gut health is impaired, there are so many different systems, throughout the entire body, that can be affected. There are myriad health issues that result from a damaged gut – and there are lots of things in your dog’s environment that can cause that damage.
And thankfully, I’m no longer the odd one out. We now know how complex the relationship is. Because of a growing body of research, there’s a huge focus on gut health and overall health, and how the two are intimately linked. And I’m not just talking about human gut health, but dog gut health as well (and of course the same goes for any animal, really).
Thankfully, there are also many things you can do to start repairing and rebuilding gut health.
But first, how can you tell if your pet’s gut health is suffering?
Signs of Dog Gut Health Problems
If your animal has vomiting or diarrhea or a loss of appetite, those are pretty clear signs that’s something is up. But dog gut health is about so much more than that. And this makes sense, since as much as 80% of your pet’s immune system lives in the gut.
And sometimes the signs can be much harder to detect.
Leaky gut syndrome (gut trauma), for example, though harder to spot, can be behind everything from food allergies to digestive problems to ear infections and really any common health condition that comes from an inflammatory disorder. Leaky Gut is when the junctions (microscopic openings that absorb nutrients) in the lining of the mucous membrane become larger than they should, allowing undigested food and other particles (disease-causing pathogens, chemicals, allergens, and other toxins) to “leak” through the intestinal wall and enter into the blood stream therefore leading to disease.
What Damages the Gut?
There are many things that damage the gut environment, causing dysbiosis (a decline of friendly, beneficial gut bacteria) and creating much of the chronic disease we see in our dogs today. This includes:
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids
- processed food
- grains or beans (anything with lectins)
- yeast (candida)
So, what can we do to support dog gut health?
5 Simple Steps to Boost Gut Health
There are many different things you can do to help improve the your dog’s overall health by improving gut health in general.
These 5 are arguably the most important, and they’re simple things you can change up right now!
The vast majority of microorganisms exist within the digestive tract. A normal digestive tract contains both “good” and “bad” (pathogenic) bacteria. However, when a gut is traumatized, pathogenic bacteria can then take over the environment, overwhelming the “good guys” and creating poor gut health.
Probiotics encourage those helpful communities to flourish in the gut, working to crowd out the harmful bacteria and keep the system in homeostasis.
Species-specific probiotics are even better. Each species of animal has its own specific microflora, so finding probiotics that have those host-specific traits means they’re at home in your animal’s gut, and therefore even more effective.
Without prebiotics, those vital probiotics would just starve and die. They feed the beneficial bacteria colonies in your animal’s gut. My favourite prebiotics are arabinogalactans which you can find in abundance in the larch tree.
3. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are paramount in the digestion. They help to break down food into absorbable nutrients and supporting the synergistic process of the digestive tract.
Digestive enzymes can be found in supplements, or naturally in foods like pineapples, papaya, kefir, kiwifruit, ox bile, and pancreas.
4. A Species-Appropriate Diet
As mentioned, highly processed foods are particularly hard to digest, and those with a high starch content can be an even bigger problem. Carbs turn into sugar in the body, and yeast feeds on sugar, therefore unbalancing the microbiome of the gut.
A species-appropriate diet consisting of fresh, whole foods, rather than processed high-carb foods, helps provide the gut (in fact the whole body) with everything it needs to thrive.
Especially good additions for gut health are:
- Fermented foods – sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kefir, yogurt
- Bone broth
- Pumpkin (make sure you’re buying pure pumpkin NOT pumpkin pie filling!!)
5. Helpful Herbs
There are several different herbs that can help improve dog gut health:
- Slippery Elm is a large, deciduous tree native to Eastern North America known for its mucilaginous, strengthening, and nutritive properties. It exerts a soothing effect on mucous membranes of digestive tract and can also discourage stomach and duodenal ulcers, for colitis, diverticulitis, GI inflammation and acidity.
- Aloe Vera is known for its healing effects on the skin and intestinal tract. Its primary internal use is for constipation or soothing the GI. In humans, research shows it can help with several digestion-related issues.
- Licorice root, which is considered one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies, comes from the root of the licorice plant. It benefits gastric mucosa by improving circulation, secretion of protective layer, and supporting growth of new mucosal cells.
For the last 30 years I’ve been immersed in the study of the microbiome. What I’ve discovered is that gut health and bacterial organisms are the foundation of a healthy body. Helping to prevent and derail chronic conditions starts with a healthy diet, a diverse gut ecosystem, and love.