While pretty disgusting on the surface to most of us, there is an entire world that we are just starting to learn about that may change the entire face of nutrition as we know it. Without getting too far into the weeds here, we will be taking a look at good bacteria, bad bacteria, the microbiome, prebiotics, dysbiosis (bacterial in-balance), and probiotics in this section.
One of the most confusing things that a pet parent will ever observe is their dog eating the stool of another dog, another animal (rabbit, horse, cow, chicken, etc), or their own. We just can’t bring ourselves to understand why our precious pooches would involve themselves in such a repulsive behavior. However, our canine companions may be far more evolved in their understanding of the gut microbiome and the benefits of friendly, beneficial bacteria than we are.
It might sound like I’m making light ofthis But,the truth is, that research is finally showing the vital importance of a healthy gut and how much of the chronic diseases we experience as humans, including mental illness, is directly linked to gut health. Additionally, digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic or life-threatening diseases like cancer and autoimmune diseases (including skin disease and hypothyroidism) can all be linked to an unhealthy gut.
Over 80 percent of the immune system comes from the gut, and the vast majority of microorganisms exist within the digestive tract. A normal digestive tract contains both “good” and “bad” (pathogenic) bacteria. Digestive or intestinal upsets, as well as a wide variety of diseases or conditions, can cause the digestive tract to become “unbalanced.”
When “unbalanced,” pathogenic bacteria can then take over the environment, overwhelming the “good guys” and creating poor gut health. Poor gut health can negatively impact food digestion, vitamin production, and can lead to serious malnutrition.
It’s estimated that bacteria account for 0.5 to 1 percent of our (or our pet’s) body weight. This means that bacteria outnumber yourpet’s own cells 95 to 1! In human terms, for a 150 lb person, that means ¾ to 1.5 pounds of bacteria. For a 20 lb dog, the estimate is 0.1 to 0.2 pounds. One-tenth of a pound of bacteria equals billions and billions of organisms!
Feeding your dog “good” or beneficial bacteria (also known as probiotics) can have the following positive impacts:
There are many things that damage the gut environment and create much of the chronic disease we see in our dogs today. This includes:
There’s been a lot of buzz on the human side surrounding the benefits of probiotics for humans. For years, we’ve observed positive changes in our gastrointestinal tracts, energy, and skin. As such, much of this has spilled over into the pet world.
Unfortunately, much of this spill over has just been duplication of the strains that are beneficial forushumans, and not necessarily our dogs. This is why you will see probiotics on the market for dogs with high CFUs (Colony Forming Units) and dozens of strains that will be familiar to you and backed with substantial marketing claims.
But, as you can probably guess, the canine digestive tract is quite different than our own. In particular,it’smuch more acidic and subject to higher activity levels. While there may be some commonality of intestinal bacteria between species, each species of animal has it’s own specific microflora that requires tending.
Fortunately, there are groups of people out there that have invested substantial time and research into developing biologically species appropriate probiotics for our canine companions. The strains that they have identified have been replicated and grown in human grade fermentation facilities for quality control and assurance. Additionally, some of them have been subjected to feeding trials for efficacy. Combine these probiotics with prebiotics, and there is the potential to maximize the opportunity to positively colonize and stabilize in thegut of your dog.
Think of prebiotics as insoluble and indigestible fuel for the good bacteria (probiotics). Your dog can’t do much with prebiotics. But, his/her gut can! Without fuel, probiotics are less active, less effective, and will eventually just die off. But, if they are well-fed, they will grow and encourage new colonies of friendly bacteria to form. When this happens, the good start to crowd out the bad-harmful bacteria.
When purchasing probiotics from the store, make sure that they contain a prebiotic as well. Otherwise, you can add small amounts of the following items to yourdog’s diet/ a few times a week to help fuel his/her good bacteria:
Probiotics can be an important addition to your dog’sdiet, especially if he/she has ever had antibiotics or drugs, or if you’ve been feeding cooked or processed food. Dogs that suffer from allergies, digestive upset or many other common immune-related health issues will also benefit greatly. You can easily bolster his health with easy-to-use probiotics. And, now you know how to protect that investment by adding prebiotics too!
Check out the Benefits of Tumeric for Dogs.