You may think that keeping your dog’s gut healthy will just promote better digestion — which is no small thing anyway. However, gut health also does so much more. In fact, it plays a role in your dog’s overall health. Why is this?
The gut (small and large intestines) are home to 70 percent of all the good bacteria that live in your dog’s body. In addition to helping your dog digest nutrients, these bacteria create vitamins, assist in metabolism, and prevent your dog from suffering from infections.
Unfortunately, bad bacteria also reside in the gut. When the amount of good and bad bacteria becomes unbalanced, your dog will suffer from a number of digestive problems and other health conditions, including:
For these reasons, it is critical to promote and maintain good gut health. There are a number of ways to do so.
Probiotics are a type of good bacteria. By providing your dog with plenty of probiotics, you can create a colony in his gut. However, you will need to replenish his source of probiotics often, as most don’t survive for long.
This means feeding your dog plenty of foods that are rich in probiotics on a daily basis. Top choices include raw goat milk or buttermilk, fermented vegetables, and kefir — there are non-dairy options of kefir available; just make sure whatever your pick is unsweetened.
To thrive, probiotics need their own source of food, which is what prebiotics are for. Many everyday foods act as prebiotics, including asparagus, apples, and bananas. Make sure your dog receives a few prebiotics every day, as well.
If your dog ever needs to take a course of antibiotics, make sure to increase his intake of probiotics and prebiotics. Antibiotics are often unable to distinguish between good and bad bacteria; rather, they kill everything indiscriminately. This is especially true for broad-spectrum antibiotics, which leave the gut completed destitute of good bacteria. Feeding your dog plenty of probiotics and prebiotics will replenish the colony after antibiotic treatment.
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Another way to encourage good bacteria to live in your dog’s gut is to expose him to microbes in nature. Whenever you take your dog for a walk, he is exposed to good bacteria in the air and dirt and on plants. To increase his exposure, leave the window open when you are at home or allow him to spend more time in the yard.
If your dog is sick from a severe lack of gut microbes, the two above options are unlikely to be sufficient. In such a case, you may like to consider a fecal microbiota transplant. This involves directly implanting gut microbes taken from a healthy dog into your dog. It’s best to seek a treatment that uses oral capsules, as enema transplants require putting your dog under sedation. This is stressful for your dog — and stress only worsens gut health. Your dog can also share microbes with his playmates. In other words, plenty of socialization is good for both his mental and physical health.
Just because dogs can digest grains doesn’t mean that grains are good for their gut health. A far better source of protein for dogs is meat. This has the advantage of not causing inflammation; plus, it often contains fewer calories — especially lean meat.
Once you’ve cut grains out of your dog’s diet entirely, it is important not to reintroduce them. It will be more difficult for your dog to digest grains after he has received none for a long time, meaning inflammation may be much worse than before. This is particularly important if you’ve noticed your dog is already sensitive to grains.
If your dog is overweight, you can improve his gut health by cutting down on fat and increasing his intake of protein. Make sure you are providing him with plenty of digestible protein — many commercial pet foods claim to be high in protein, but much of it is actually indigestible.
You don’t eat the same foods every day and neither should your dog. However, if you never vary your dog’s diet and then one day give him something different, he will find it hard to digest the new food. This can lead to discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea.
A better option is to get your dog used to eating a variety of foods by introducing them one at a time. Diversifying his diet in this way will provide him with more nutrients and increase the likelihood that he receives everything he needs to stay healthy.
Two foods you should give your dog every now and again are gelatin and bone broth. If your dog has ever suffered from inflammation, the chances are he has some gaps between the cells that line the walls of his gut. These gaps allow toxins and pathogens that enter the gut to escape into your dog’s body in a condition called a leaky gut syndrome.
The leaky gut syndrome causes numerous health issues that extend beyond problems with digestion. The condition can lead to inflammation elsewhere in the body and, in turn, cause rashes, asthma, joint pain, and thyroid problems. How do gelatin and bone broth help? Both are excellent for repairing damage to the gut.
Even if your dog hasn’t suffered from inflammation for a long time, the two foods will be beneficial. For instance, they improve fur and strengthen claws.
Whether you’re noticing signs of poor gut health or not, you need to make changes to your dog’s diet now, before it’s too late. Many of the above tips for maintaining gut health are impossible if you are feeding your dog kibble. For instance, kibble contains minimal (if any) probiotics and prebiotics. It is also full of grains and low in digestible protein. You can make sure that your dog is receiving all the nutrients he needs, however, by putting him on a balanced raw diet.