Hippocrates (traditionally regarded as the father of medicine), stated over 2000 years ago that “all disease begins in the gut” – a concept that has well and truly stood the test of time.
In the last few decades, research has started to catch up with this traditional wisdom and recognise that a healthy gut is largely responsible for good overall health. Unfortunately, just as gastrointestinal diseases are a major cause of illness in people, poor digestive health also plagues many dogs, with the research showing that gastrointestinal problems are the primary reason for doggie vet visits.
As a natural healthcare practitioner, I see the consequences of compromised gut health daily, along with the impact that this has on many other facets of health. Some signs and symptoms that your dog may need targeted gut support include:
- Food intolerances
- Environmental allergies
- Recurrent gastrointestinal tract infections
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Behavioural problems
- Stinky gas
- Bad breath
- Undigested food in stools
- Recurrent diarrhoea
- Weight loss
The critical importance of gut barrier function
One of the main ways that prebiotics, probiotics, and various nutrients, herbs and enzymes can deliver such amazing health benefits to our dogs is due to their positive impact on the gut lining.
By strengthening the mucosal barrier of the gastrointestinal tract, it reduces the transfer of toxic compounds into your dog’s bloodstream and promotes a stronger immune system. A healthy gut barrier also supports increased mucosal antibody production, which acts as a first line of defence to help protect our dogs against infection and to suppress the growth of potentially pathogenic organisms.
Conversely, any disturbance of gut barrier integrity can lead to increased permeability – aka ‘Leaky Gut’. This results in bacterial endotoxins, insufficiently digested food particles and other compounds entering more easily into the bloodstream, where they are then linked with an increase in various inflammatory disorders.
Unfortunately, many common dietary and lifestyle factors that our dogs are exposed to are known to cause leaky gut and to damage our dog’s resident microbiota. Key examples include:
- Acid-lowering medications such as proton-pump inhibitors, antacids and histamine-2-antagonists. Such drugs are consistently linked with profound changes in the gut microbiota and have been associated with an increased risk of enteric infections.
- Anti-inflammatory medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSIADs), which are a common cause of acute gastric erosion and chronic gastric ulceration.
- Antibiotics which cause rapid and significant drops in microbial numbers and diversity, the negative effects of which can persist for months or even years.
The great news is that there’s lots of scientific evidence to support the incorporation of gut-loving ingredients into our dogs’ diets as a means to support both their gut and long-term health and wellness. Let’s start by looking at the top three fundamental ways you can support your dog’s health starting today.
Prebiotics are specific types of dietary fibre that are selectively fermented by beneficial organisms in your dog’s intestine. By acting as a food source for bacteria, prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, which then go on to produce highly valuable immune-boosting compounds called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Two of the most powerful prebiotics for our dogs are inulin (which mostly comes from chicory root) and Larch Arabinogalactan (which comes from the Western Larch tree).
Benefits of prebiotics for dogs
- Increase the number of beneficial bacteria
- Improve the integrity of the gut lining (making it less ‘leaky’)
- Reduce inflammation (we now know that inflammation is the root of all disease)
- Stimulate the immune system
- Improve nutrient absorption
- Improve digestive function and bowel regularity
- Promote weight loss
Click HERE to get your dog started on these two amazing prebiotics today.
The bacteria in your dog’s gut are critical to their health. Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host (your dog).
This is why it’s important to give your dog probiotics that have been clinically trialled and shown to be effective in dogs, otherwise, you’re probably just wasting your money. Giving probiotics designed for humans to an animal likely won’t cause any harm, however, there are some significant differences in the physiology of dogs and humans, including differences in the acidity of stomach fluids and other features of the gastrointestinal tract. These differences may result in human formulations becoming ineffective when administered to animals.
Examples of two widely researched probiotics with amazing health benefits for our dogs include Saccharomyces boulardii and Bacillus coagulans.
S. boulardii is a non-pathogenic, beneficial yeast that is one of the most researched probiotic species when it comes to both human and animal health.
S. boulardii is an ideal probiotic for our dogs as it’s able to withstand the stresses of gastrointestinal transit (including the highly acidic stomach) and is resistant to antibiotics, making it effective when given concurrently with antibiotic treatment.
This last point is particularly important given that antibiotics are dispensed in 1 in 3 vet visits across Australia and antibiotics are known to upset the balance of good and bad bacteria leading to dysbiosis and several negative health consequences, including diarrhoea.
Click HERE to access a pure high strength S. boulardii product for your dog.
B. coagulans is a spore-forming bacteria that is known as ‘the king of probiotics’ due to its stability in the gastrointestinal tract, broad health benefits and high safety profile.
Spore-based probiotics derived from Bacillusspecies are among the most widespread microorganisms in nature and can grow under extreme environmental conditions such as high temperatures, high humidity, extreme drying and different types of radiation.
Such resilient properties also allow them to resist those aspects of the body that are naturally designed to have an antimicrobial effect, such as gastric acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile. Such robustness of spore-forming bacteria results in a greater number of spores reaching their destination in the intestines, where they then revert to active, growing bacteria that have been shown to support health in several ways.
Benefits of probiotics for dogs
- Competitively inhibit (block) pathogenic bacteria from taking up residence in the gut
- Aid in restoring levels of beneficial bacteria
- Maintain gastrointestinal mucosal membrane health (reduce ‘leaky gut’)
- Increase the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs)
- Reduce diarrhoea associated with antibiotic use and inflammatory bowel disease
- Reduce the production of inflammatory compounds
- Increase the production of anti-inflammatory compounds.
- boulardii and B. coagulans are both stable at room temperature and don’t require refrigeration, providing optimal convenience.
Click HERE to access a unique gut and immune blend that contains B. coagulans (Lactospore).
#3: Digestive enzymes
The health of the digestive tract is crucial for the overall health of the body. If food is not digested properly, it becomes very difficult to achieve optimal health.
Digestive enzymes are produced and secreted by the gastrointestinal system to break down food coming into the small intestine from the stomach, and they play a significant role in ensuring that our dogs are getting all of the nutrients they need to thrive. The main classes of enzymes that our dogs need are proteases to break down protein, lipase to digest fat, amylase to process carbohydrates and cellulase to break down the tough fibrous cell walls of plants.
Most types of processed dog foods are heat treated multiple times throughout the manufacturing process. Such heat treatment destroys the enzymes naturally present in foods, making them non-functional.
In addition, commercial kibble is much higher in carbohydrates than a dog’s natural species-specific diet, and while dogs do produce pancreatic amylase to support some carbohydrate digestion, their lack of significant levels of salivary amylase reminds us that nature did not intend for carbs to be their primary source of energy. That’s where supplemental amylase can make a big difference to how your dog feels.
Benefits of digestive enzymes for dogs
- Improved breakdown and digestion of food
- Increased nutrient assimilation
- Enhanced cellular energy
- Reduced stress on the digestive system
- A healthier microbiome
- Reduced risk of food sensitivities and allergies
- A healthier immune system
- Improved skin health
- Improve wound healing
- Improved joint health
But wait, there's more!
In addition to prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes, there are several other ingredients to look out for to support your dog’s gut health. A few of my favourites are…
Soothing herbs: Chamomile and Fennel
These powerful digestive aids help to soothe intestinal irritation and pain and assist in the relief of various gastrointestinal disturbances, including:
- Intestinal cramping
- Acid reflux
- Motion sickness
- Nausea, and
Restorative herbs: Slippery elm, Marshmallow root and Licorice
Slippery elm, Marshmallow root and Licorice are all ancient herbal remedies best known for their use as demulcents to help soothe an irritated or unsettled stomach.
Demulcents work by forming a protective and healing barrier over the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, which helps to reduce inflammation and repair damaged tissues. Studies show that they are particularly beneficial in reducing symptoms of:
- IBS and IBD
- Stomach ulcers, and
Anti-inflammatory herbs: Turmeric
Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help to relieve gastrointestinal symptoms across a range of different digestive conditions. Turmeric has been shown to favour the growth of beneficial bacteria strains (such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli) and reduce the growth of pathogenic strains.
Amino acids: Glutamine and Glycine
Glutamine and glycine are amino acids widely recognised for their role in supporting gut health. They act to protect the structural integrity of the gut lining, reducing permeability, and help to heal a leaky gut.
Glutamine is a preferred energy source for the intestinal cells, supports gut immune function, and is important for the production of secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), which acts as the body’s first line of defence and prevents the attachment of pathogens to mucosal cells.
Insufficient glycine levels can lead to impaired digestive function, such as reduced bile acid production, which can lead to fat malabsorption and deficiencies in the fat-soluble vitamins.
Anti-allergy nutrients: MSM and Quercetin
MSM and quercetin are potent anti-inflammatory compounds that may assist in rebuilding and maintaining the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, thus reducing symptoms of leaky gut.
MSM may be effective in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation that can weaken immunity, and it has been shown to decrease allergic reactions by inhibiting the release of cytokines and prostaglandins. Quercetin is a potent and natural anti-inflammatory compound that has been shown to enhance gut barrier function by stabilising mast cells and preventing the release of histamine and other inflammatory chemicals from the cells.
Mighty minerals: the benefits of zinc for dogs
Zinc is arguably the most important mineral for the immune system. It is known to enhance the tight junctions of the intestinal lining, helping to limit gut permeability and reduce the risk of allergies.
Diminished levels of zinc often result in opportunistic infections and zinc supplementation has shown to improve mucous membrane integrity in those suffering from diarrhoea.
Poor gut health (often referred to as ‘dysbiosis’), disrupts overall health and wellness. There’s growing evidence to support the safe and beneficial use of ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics, nutrients, herbs and enzymes for our dogs.
Giving your dog targeted gut support can positively influence chronic gastrointestinal and inflammatory conditions such as IBS and IBD, along with other downstream health effects of poor digestion.
Healing the gut can also help to improve the appearance and quality of the skin and coat, reduce intestinal gas, improve bad breath, reduce the risk of allergy and yeast-associated disorders, and lead to improvements in bowel regularity and consistency – who doesn’t want that!
Not sure where to start? Take a look at our suggested CanineCeuticals products below to discover which gut-loving product is best for your dog:
- Gut Protect – Perfect for everyday use
- Gut Restore – A must for dogs with upset tummies
- Pure SB-10 – Designed specifically for dogs taking antibiotics
- The Ultimate Gut Bundle – Combining all of the above
Prefer to learn by listening? Then check out Narelle's podcast episode on Why Every Dog Needs Gut Protect here.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia's health 2012, in Australia's Health Series, No. 13.(Cat. no. AUS 156.). 2012.
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- Zhou, Y., Zeng, Z., Xu, Y., et al. (2020). Application of bacillus coagulans in animal husbandry and its underlying mechanisms. Animals (Basel), 10(3).
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- Imhann, F., Bonder, M.J., Vich Vila, A., et al. (2016). Proton pump inhibitors affect the gut microbiome. Gut, 65(5): p. 740-748.
- Leonard, J., Marshall, J.K., and Moayyedi, P. (2007). Systematic review of the risk of enteric infection in patients taking acid suppression. Am J Gastroenterol, 102(9): p. 2047-2056.
- Janarthanan, S., Ditah, I., Adler, D.G., et al. (2012). Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea and proton pump inhibitor therapy: A meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol, 107(7): p. 1001-1010.
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- Francino, M.P. (2015). Antibiotics and the human gut microbiome: Dysbioses and accumulation of resistances. Front Microbiol, 6: p. 1543.
Mentioned in this article
Not all mushrooms are inherently beneficial, but the great news is that each of the medicinal mushrooms listed in this article are readily available and provide a wide range of potent health benefits for our dogs. Learn more about medicinal mushrooms for dogs here.