What Is Your Pet’s Microbiome And Why Is It Important To Know About It?

The microbiome of a pet is the sum total of the bacterial and fungal population that normally resides in the gut of a dog or cat that is necessary for proper digestion and promoting immunity from infectious disease at the level of the gut.  The microbiome of a person has actually been measured and found to have a mass on average of 2 kg or roughly 4 1/2 pounds.  If one can picture how tiny the microscopic bacteria and fungi that comprise the human microbiome, the sheer numbers of these organisms to add up to over 4 pounds is astounding.

Proportionally, we have found the microbiome of dogs and cats to be equivocal, so it is reasonable to conclude that maintaining a healthy microbiome is as important in dogs and cats for maintenance of a healthy GI system as it is in people.  There are countless circumstances that can negatively influence the microbiome of dogs and cats beginning with diet.  For example, studies have found that dogs fed a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet had decreases in the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes bacteria.   Interestingly, the same is not true in most cats, as it seems at least anecdotally, that the opposite may actually be true.

Any metabolic, infectious, autoimmune, or parasitic disease that throws off the homeostasis (metabolic balance) of the body can negatively impact the microbiome of pets.  Thus, when veterinarians are presented with chronic gastrointestinal disease in pets, we are commonly recommending general blood work to rule out that the GI disturbance actually be a secondary manifestation of systemic disease elsewhere in the body.  Sometimes the microbiome of a pet is negatively affected simply by advancing age.

The importance of a healthy microbiome cannot be overstated.  From a primary standpoint, it maintains healthy digestion and a healthy local digestive immune system.  This make the pet’s ability to process and absorb food, as well as the ability to fight infection largely dependent on a healthy balance of beneficial gut bacteria and fungi.

Subsequently in any case of chronic disease, whether primary at the level of the gut or elsewhere, a pet should be maintained on a veterinary grade, high quality probiotic supplement, which gives the gut a regular, healthy inoculation of beneficial gut microbes to maintain a healthy microbiome.  Since age alone can negatively impact the integrity of the microbiome, I also recommend that any pet over the age of 5 be maintained on a probiotic supplement.

I wrote earlier about the magnitude of the microbiome in terms of shear numbers of microbes that comprise a healthy microbiome.  It should subsequently come as no surprise that we have observed that typical probiotic supplements that offer gut microbes in the millions per dose are largely ineffective in significantly boosting the microbiome and positively affecting health.  More realistically, in order to effectively promote a healthy microbiome in pets, it is necessary to choose probiotic supplements that offer gut microbes in the billions per dose.

The microbiome may not be the sole answer to every pet’s optimal healthy, but it should be among the first considerations in promoting the overall wellness and health of dogs and cats.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.

Holistic And Nutritional Management Of Chronic Diarrhea In Dogs And Cats

Natural Treatment For Chronic Diarrhea In Dogs And CatsDiarrhea describes loose or watery stool. All cats and dogs will have bouts of diarrhea in their lifetime, at least a few times per year. The most common causes for these isolated cases of diarrhea are from infection with a virus or bacteria, infestation with a gastrointestinal parasite, or dietary indiscretion. In cases of chronic diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or malabsorption (body cannot properly break down and absorb dietary nutrients). The focus of this article is managing dogs and cats that suffer from chronic or recurring diarrhea.

Diarrhea can be broken down into three different physiological processes.

Osmotic diarrhea means that some substance is drawing water from the body into the bowel, liquefying the stool. Certain medications, food, or poorly absorbed nutrients that have osmotic properties can lead to this type of diarrhea.

Secretory diarrhea occurs when the body is actively releasing water into the bowel. This is the most common type of diarrhea noted with infections or parasites, but can also be seen when a dog or cat is under treatment with certain medications.

Exudative diarrhea refers to the presence of mucus, blood, or even pus in the bowel, and most commonly results from IBS, IBD, and food allergy.

Since malabsorption, IBS, IBD, and food allergy are the most common causes for chronic and recurring diarrhea in dogs and cats, our focus in this article is managing osmotic and exudative diarrhea through diet and supplementation. Success with nutritional and natural supplementation alone varies, depending on the severity of disease and the type of chronic disease that is causing the diarrhea. However, even if prescription medication is necessary to adequately control diarrhea, the nutritional strategies and supplementation outlined in this article, will minimize drug doses and increase the overall safety of the canine or feline patient.

Diet

Diets should be free of grassy grains (wheat, corn, barley, and oats) and contain a novel protein source, that is, a protein source the dog or cat has never before consumed. This covers the patient for possible food allergy, as food allergy sensitivities build over time from prolonged, repeated consumption of a protein, most commonly, and animal source protein. For most dogs and cats, that rules out chicken and beef, as these are the most common protein sources found in commercial pet food diets. Good novel protein sources include: rabbit, venison, and duck, as well as an array of less common sources. Another option is to select a prescription hypoallergenic hydrolyzed diet. Hydrolyzed diets cut large chain proteins into smaller, maximally absorbable chains that are unlikely to react with the gut.

For a carbohydrate source for patients with chronic diarrhea, I advise white rice, technically a grain, but unlikely to cause adverse reaction in the gut. Rice is not only a minimally reactive carbohydrate source, but it is also binding, as it is low residue. White rice is not fibrous, so it will not irritate the gut. While still trying to get the diarrhea under control, it is not advisable to feed dogs and cats fiber, as it can further irritate an already inflamed bowel. Fiber in the form of brown rice can be gradually added once the diarrhea is well regulated.

Ideally, you should select preservative free diets to take as much unwholesome ingredients out of the diet as possible. If you have the time, home cooking for the pet is a very good idea, as that gives you 100% control of what the pet consumes. For dogs, I advise 70% rice and 30% meat protein. For cats, I advise 40% rice, 60% meat protein. For cats, once diarrhea is regulated, I would try to gradually raise the protein percentage to 20% rice, 80% meat protein. For both dogs and cats, after the diarrhea is regulated, try gradually transitioning from white rice to brown rice.

The one concerning limitation of home prepared diets with no vegetables, is that they lack well rounded nutrient requirements, especially for dogs. Thus, if you go this route, I would advise maintenance on a high quality pet multivitamin. Your veterinarian should be able to recommend several options.

In order to maximize absorption, I advise maintenance on digestive enzyme therapy. Digestive enzymes breakdown food nutrients into smaller, more absorbable, less reactive forms. This is helpful for all causes of diarrhea, especially malabsorptive syndromes.

Feeding probiotics is another helpful tool for the canine and feline patient with chronic or recurring diarrhea. Naturally occurring bacteria in the gut are essential for proper digestions. This group of “good” bacteria is known as gastrointestinal flora, and can be supplemented in the form of probiotic. Gastrointestinal flora are often crowded out by bad bacteria in cases of IBS, IBD, and malabsorption. Thus, a regular dose of probiotics can be very beneficial in maximizing digestion by helping to maintain a healthy GI flora.

Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms.  In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport.  He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health  blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.