How to Support your Dog's Gut Health
Written by Katie Dahlhausen, PhD
Published on November 1, 2019, Updated on January 11, 2020
A healthy gut is foundational to your dog’s overall health. The trillions of tiny bacteria, and microorganisms that live inside your dog’s gastrointestinal tract make up its gut microbiome. These good bacteria do so much more than break down food and absorb nutrients; they also contribute directly to your dog's immune system, metabolism, and brain health.
Your dog’s gut bacterial community is an active system that changes in response to many factors in their day to day life. So, as a pet parent what can you do to improve your dog’s gut health?
Learn how your dog’s diet, health, and environment are connected to their gut bacteria and ways you can improve and support your dog’s gut health.
When your dog eats, you are actually feeding the bacteria in their gut. Providing your dog with a healthy diet is the best way to take care of your dog’s gut microbiome and therefore your dog’s health.
There are so many different kinds of bacteria in your dog’s gut and each kind requires a different variety of nutrients to perform their job well for optimal digestive health. Your dog’s food is the source of most of these nutrients. If your dog's diet isn't balanced or they have an underlying health condition that prevents nutrient absorption, that will impact the type of bacteria that live in their gut. When key good bacteria aren't able to thrive in the gut, they die off. Unfortunately, a bacterial imbalance in your dog's microbiome may lead to digestive issues or disorders like, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) down the line.
With so many options to feed your dog from kibble to raw foods, it can be really hard to know if you’re making the best choice. Your veterinarian can help you make informed decisions about what food is best for your dog. However, be aware that some ingredients can cause inflammation in your dog’s digestive system.
There are hundreds of different dietary supplements for dogs, with glucosamine (for healthy joints), multivitamins, fish oil (fatty acids for a healthy coat), digestive enzymes, and probiotic supplements for dogs. While most commercially available dog foods contain adequate nutrition for all of your dog’s gut bacteria, supplements are sometimes necessary and helpful. You’ll want to talk to your vet before giving your dog a supplement because some can be detrimental to your dog’s health or are downright unsafe. For example, vitamin A and vitamin D are harmful to dogs in high amounts - you wouldn’t want this to be in a multivitamin if it’s already in your dog’s food.
The mental, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing of your dog are all important components to your dog’s overall health. All of these facets of your dog’s health affect their gut microbiome and vice versa.
The bacteria in and on your dog are already really great at protecting your dog from getting sick, but taking care of your dog’s hygiene is your first line of defense. Regular grooming and bathing can help prevent infection. However, be mindful that these practices don’t disrupt your dog’s skin bacteria. For example, try using gentle products free from antibacterial ingredients (e.g triclosan).
Because dog oral health is also foundational to their health, it's important to brush their teeth regularly. Unfortunately, there is a link to heart disease in dogs with gum disease. In addition to brushing, consider a product like TEEF, which is a drinkable prebiotic added to your dog's water. It helps beneficial bacteria living in your dog's mouth outcompete bacteria associated with gum disease, improving breath and reducing inflammation in the gums.
4. Mental Health
Did you know that your dog’s gut bacteria can communicate with your dog’s brain and play a major role in your dog’s mental health? The majority of your dog’s hormones (the chemical language used to communicate with the brain) are actually released by his or her gut bacteria. Hormones dictate everything about how your dog feels such as mood, stress level, hunger, tiredness, etc. So, you can take care of your dog’s gut bacteria by promoting their mental health and vice versa.
Stress management also plays a big role in your dog’s mental health, and therefore your dog’s gut health. Social and intellectual stimulation are great ways to boost your dog’s mental health. Minimizing stress in your dog’s environment, such as loud sounds, extreme temperatures, and certain triggers (bikes, cars, other dogs, etc) are also beneficial.
Exercise is so important for your dog’s healthy bacteria, even if they aren’t doing the running. Weight management plays a big role in your dog’s gut health; dozens of studies have found a correlation between obesity and imbalanced gut microbiomes. Additionally, exercise releases feel-good hormones in your dog’s body. These positive impacts apply to humans too - so take your dog with you on your next run or hike. Not a runner? You can practice recall with your dog so he or she can cover more ground off-leash, play fetch, and be a regular at your local dog park.
Some medications can change your dog’s bacterial communities. For example, antibiotics are the most harmful medication to your dog’s gut bacteria because they are designed to kill both bad bacteria and good bacteria, but sometimes they are necessary. On the other hand, some medications can actually be avoided with an improved gut microbiome. Learn more about how an imbalance in your dog’s microbiome may be the cause of your dog’s allergies and skin conditions.
Nearly every inch of your dog’s environment is covered in bacteria and can be important in improving the diversity of your dog’s gut microbiome. The more diverse the bacterial communities are in and on your dog, the better they will be at protecting your dog against disease.
7. Your Dog's Environment
Exposing your dog to different kinds of environments is a great way to also expose them to different kinds of bacteria. Taking your dog swimming in a local body of water, letting your dog roll in mud, allowing your dog to play with other dogs, and letting lots of people pet them are all great ways to improve bacterial diversity on your dog.
Even more relevant to your dog’s gut microbiome are the environments your dog explores with his or her mouth. Think of all the surfaces your dog’s mouth interacts with - carrying toys, licking humans, eating poop, vacuuming spilled food off the floor, etc. While most of the bacteria on these surfaces won’t survive past your dog’s stomach acid when ingested, some do make it to your dog’s gut, find a nice place to set up camp, and can become part of your dog’s gut bacterial community. Remember that most bacteria aren’t harmful to your dog, some can be beneficial, and only a very tiny portion can make your dog sick.
If you are unsure about the state of your dog’s gut health, a simple, DoggyBiome Gut Health Test can detect bacterial imbalances or determine if your dog is missing key beneficial bacteria for a healthy dog microbiome. Our test report also includes personalized dietary recommendations based on the bacteria composition of your dog’s microbiome.
For dogs with chronic digestive or skin issues or that are recovering from a disturbance to their gut bacterial communities (such as taking a course of antibiotics), our Gut Restore Supplements are an effective and safe way to introduce an entire community of beneficial, dog-specific bacteria to help bring balance to your dog’s gut and relieve symptoms. We encourage you to further discuss your dog’s gut health with your veterinarian to learn how to safely make positive changes to their diet.
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