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How gut health affects our dogs

How gut health affects our dogs

Cecilie Hemsen Berg

The micro environment in the gut influences our dog both physically, mentally and emotionally. Gut health is therefore important for overall health. Dogs have a unique collection of different types of bacteria, fungi and viruses in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract affecting everything from absorption of nutrients, the production of vitamins and other important substances to protecting the body from disease. In addition, dog’s cognitive health and mood are also dependent on a well-functioning microbiome.

the gut and absorption of nutrients

Most of the nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine. The large intestine absorbs water and electrolytes, as well as vitamins B and K. The microorganisms ferment indigestible materials (fibre) and produce, among other things, a short-chain fatty acid (butyrate) that nourishes the intestinal bacteria. Furthermore, the mucus lining in the colon acts as a barrier that protects against microbial infections.

How gut health impacts your dog

The gut produces vitamins

Vitamin K which is important for the blood’s ability to coagulate and wound healing, is produced in the colon/large intestine. Vitamin K is also important for bone strength. 

Some of the B vitamins are also produced in the gut (thiamine, folate, biotin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid).

The gut’s impact on the immune system

Around 70% of the immune system is linked to the gut, and immune cells in the gut cooperate with the diverse range of bacteria, viruses and fungi living in the gastrointestinal tract protecting the body against disease. It is the intestinal bacteria that program the cells of the immune system.

The colon also consists of lymphoid tissue, which protects the body against foreign antigens and pathogens.

The gut and the brain

Have you heard about the gut-brain axis? Dr. William Beamont (1785-1853) described this connection, and it is increasingly recognized that communication between the gut and the brain is mainly controlled by neural, endocrine, immune and metabolic messengers. This communication also affects cognitive health (emotions, mood, memory).

By changing the types of bacteria in the gut, it may be possible to improve brain health. A troubled gut can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Your dog’s digestive issues can be related to anxiety, stress or depression. New research describes the connections between the composition of the dog’s microbiome and behavioral characteristics such as aggression and sociability.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which is the only precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter crucial for emotional regulation, hunger, sleep and pain. Approximately 90% of the serotonin produced in the body originates from the gut. 

Help your dog get a healthy gut

In our modern society, we see an increase in health issues caused by imbalance of the normal gut microbiome both in our dogs and ourselves (also called dysbiosis). This is due to poor diet, medications (especially antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory/NSAIDs) and lifestyle choices (less exercise, less time outdoors, antimicrobial cleaners, pesticides, stress etc.) Fortunately, it is possible to restore and maintain a well-functioning digestive system with of proper diet and lifestyle changes. The internal environment is affected by your dog’s diet, lifestyle and age. 

1. Healthy diet

There are hundreds of different types of gut bacteria in your dog’s microbiome, which require certain nutrients to survive. The food your dog eats will affect which bacteria that will thrive in the gut.

How gut health impacts your dog

There are several different diets for dogs. Each dog is unique, and the goal is to ensure your dog gets all the nutrients needed to stay healthy, i.e. a balanced mixture of complete protein, healthy fatty acids and useful carbohydrates – in addition to vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other beneficial nutrients. Your dog might appreciate variations, so mixing in some leftovers (clean, organic meat/fish, steamed vegetables, some fruit and berries, bone broth or high-quality wet food) can be beneficial.

Nutritional science is constantly developing, but the basic understanding of what dogs need to maintain good health is based on the fact that they thrive on a mixed diet.

A diet providing a balanced content of useful carbohydrates adds fibre, which nourishes the gut bacteria. When the bacteria break down fibre in the food, they produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that supports digestive health, helps control inflammation and can prevent leaky gut. Your dogs poo will give you an indication of whether the diet is optimal or not.

2. Probiotics

Many dogs struggle with gastrointestinal problems, and supplementation with probiotics can have a beneficial effect on the bacterial environment in the gut. Some dog food adds probiotics to help maintain a healthy intestinal flora. There are also probiotics as dietary supplements.

The dog microbiome contains many of the same bacterial species as the human microbiome, but differs at the strain level.

How gut health impacts your dog

3. Outdoor activities

Fresh air and spending time outdoors in nature has many health benefits, also when it comes to the microbiome.  Bacteria that are potentially good for your dog are everywhere in nature: in the dirt, on plants, and even in the air. You can boost your dog’s physical and mental health with sufficient exercise and playtime. 

Stress affects the gut, so try to minimize stressful situations for your dog as much as possible (including reducing your own stress levels as this can also affect your dog). Reducing stress via exercise will not only keep them entertained and fit but will curb the amount of cortisol their body creates. This hormone can weaken the immune system and cause inflammation.

How gut health impacts your dog

4. Bonebroth

Bone broth provides collagen through its easily digestible liquid gelatin. The collagen contains antioxidants, mainly glutathione, which helps to detoxify the liver and restore the gut lining. Adding bone broth to your dog’s meals increases the absorption of nutrients and creates the perfect environment for gut flora to thrive. Bone broth can also help your dog obtain their daily need for liquids.

Nature’s pharmacy

  • Herbs and supplements containing chamomile, valerian, St. John’s worth, l-theanine or tryptophan can have a calming effect.
  • Pheromones are natural hormones dogs secrete that can help to reduce anxiety. Discuss with your vet about pheromone calming collars.
  • Fermented vegetables – buy organic or make your own. Start out slowly and work up to 1tsp per 7kg of body weight. Add to your dog’s food daily or feed as a snack when needed.
  • Organic, unsweetened plain yoghurt and amazi with live culture can be useful if your dog tolerates dairy products. CBD oil for dogs is also an excellent option for reducing stress. Make sure it doesn’t contain THC.