A fecal microbiota transplant involves the transfer of fecal material (including beneficial bacteria and fungi) from a healthy donor to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of a recipient. While this sounds gross to many of us, for a growing subset of people (and their pets), it also represents a lifesaving treatment. FMTs are far more effective than existing probiotics in restoring the community of bacteria in the GI tract (Chaitman et al. 2016), which is one reason for their widespread use.
About fecal transplants
The principle behind FMTs arises from relatively recent discoveries that the health of an individual can be closely tied to the condition and function of their gut microbiome. The microbiomes of sick individuals may be plagued by overgrowths of certain strains of bacteria, such as Clostridium perfringens in dogs. Individuals can also suffer from a lack of bacterial diversity that characterizes a healthy, robust gut. For people and animals seeking an FMT, there are several delivery methods, the most common of these being via colonoscopy. Using a long, flexible tube inserted through the rectum, donor feces is released along the inside of the colon. This is costly, invasive and requires your pet to undergo sedation, so AnimalBiome is manufacturing orally ingested FMT capsules as a more cost-effective and convenient alternative.
FMTs save human lives
So who, exactly, might agree to undergo a fecal microbiota transplant? FMTs are commonly used to treat people suffering from Clostridium difficile colitis, which is caused by an overgrowth of a harmful bacterium (typically after using antibiotics). This particular strain of bacteria, known as “C. diff” for short, releases toxins that inflame the lining of the intestines, causing diarrhea, fever, and sometimes even death. Many lives are saved every year with a FMT from a healthy donor. The applications for FMTs don’t stop there: current research is investigating FMTs as treatments for a diverse range of ailments, from Crohn’s disease to skin inflammation to obesity. Historically, many FMTs were performed with material donated from a family member. More recently, a non-profit company called OpenBiome created a bank of material from healthy, screened human donors that is now widely used by hospitals in the US.
Above figure is a scanning electron micrograph of Clostridium difficile bacteria from a stool sample (obtained from the CDC Public Health Image Library. Image credit: CDC/ Lois S. Wiggs (PHIL #6260), 2004).
FMTs for suffering pets
Although FMTs are increasingly used to treat C. diff infections in people, the use of this treatment to restore digestive health in companion animals is still in its infancy in veterinary medicine. However, Swedish farmers have performed transplants of cud from healthy sheep and cows to treat indigestion for hundreds of years and this practice remains in use for livestock around the world. A growing number of veterinarians are offering fecal transplants for dogs and cats to treat conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease, chronic diarrhea and atopic dermatitis. A recent study came out showing that FMT is associated with faster resolution of diarrhea for dogs with parvovirus.
AnimalBiome provides affordable alternatives
Millions of companion animals suffer from gastrointestinal distress, and diagnosis of a disorder like inflammatory bowel disease in your furry friend can cost you thousands of dollars. That is why we developed our microbiome assessment kits for dogs and cats, which can help you and your veterinarian determine if your pet’s digestive issues may be linked to an imbalanced gut microbiome.
In addition to offering microbiome assessments for pets, AnimalBiome has created an FMT capsule that is delivered orally at home to treat symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea in cats and dogs. There’s only a limited number of solutions available for companion animals suffering from chronic digestive disorders, many of which require daily medication (like antibiotics and steroids) that can be harmful to your pet’s health.
We’re hopeful that the work we are doing can help thousands of pets – maybe even yours. We’d love to hear comments from you, whether you have experience with FMT in your cat or dog or if you are considering it.
Holly Ganz, PhD, CEO and founder of AnimalBiome