What is Gut Health?
Your dog has a unique collection of hundreds of different types of beneficial bacterium and other microbes (such as viruses, fungi, etc) in its gastrointestinal tract (GI Tract), referred to collectively as the gut microbiome.
A healthy microbiome and gastrointestinal health are crucial for your dog’s overall health, from nutrient absorption to mental health. When bacteria become out of balance, disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), digestive issues, immune system reactions, diabetes, and even depression can result.
Modern society is seeing a rise in microbiome-associated disorders in our dogs and ourselves. This is due to modern pet food diets, medications (particularly antibiotics), and lifestyle choices (ie. being mostly indoors, antimicrobial cleaners, etc). Luckily, it is possible to restore and maintain a healthy gut microbiome for your pup without using medications with adverse side effects.
Inside every animal, including dogs and humans, the intestinal or GI tract are bacteria that regulate digestion, the immune system, and overall health.
A healthy gut contains a wide variety of bacteria that work together for optimal strength and prevent disease. However, a dog’s gut can become overrun with inflammation and bad bacteria, which causes disease.
How Dog Gut Microbiome Effect Your Dogs Overall Health
Your dog’s gut microbes contribute to metabolism, protect against deadly pathogens, educates their immune system, and, through these basic functions, affect directly or indirectly the most physiologic functions of your dog.
Inside every intestinal tract are bacteria that regulate digestion, the immune system, and overall health. A healthy gut contains a wide variety of bacteria that work together for optimal strength. However, a dog’s gut can become overrun with inflammation and bad bacteria, which causes disease and obesity.
Numerous studies have shown that the gut microbiota is closely linked with a dog’s health and disease status, including maintenance of the GI health, stimulation of the immune system, development of obesity, and various GI disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease.
Age, diet and many other environmental factors may play a significant role in the maintenance of gut-healthy microbes.
GI dysfunctions are the most obvious association with gut distress from diarrhea, nausea, and more.
In dogs, intestinal inflammation, whether chronic or acute, is associated with significant differences in the composition of the intestinal microbes.
When gut bacterial colonies are out of balance this results in functional changes in the microbe balance in the GI tract. This includes, transcriptome, proteome, or metabolome in the gut and commonly affected metabolites include short-chain fatty acids, and amino acids, including tryptophan and its catabolites.
Alterations or imbalances in GI tract microbes affect immune function, and strategies to manipulate the gut microbes may be useful for GI-related diseases.
The Impact of Diet
Dogs are carnivorous scavengers, meaning that they thrive on a diet that is rich in meat but most will eat any available food.
In dogs, most gut microbe studies have relied on kibble as the food source, which represents up to 95% of the dry dog food market.
Traditionally, the extrusion process of kibble requires a high load of carbohydrates, which is achieved with the inclusion of vegetable ingredients. Thankfully, manufacturing processes are available and a percentage of the pet food market now includes kibble with reduced carbohydrate content and increased protein content.
Also increasingly popular are raw diets, frozen or freeze-dried, which are typically meat-based and include low to negligible carbohydrates.
Several studies in different species have shown that diet composition especially large macronutrient differences like those found in carnivore vs. herbivore (plant-based) diets is reflected in different gut microbe profiles.
In herbivore (plant-eating) species, including humans, who can tolerate and thrive on either end of the food spectrum, the short-term consumption of diets composed entirely of animal or plant products is enough to alter the microbial gut structure and overwhelm inter-individual differences in microbial gene expression.
In dogs, similar to humans, increases in vegetable fiber content in kibble diets lead to increases in the overall abundance of Firmicutes (gram-positive bacteria and makes up the largest portion of the human gut microbiome) and decreases in microbiome composition of Fusobacteria and Proteobacteria (Escherichia, Salmonella, Vibrio, Helicobacter, Yersinia, Legionellales, and many others).
Kibble diets with similar macronutrient contents, but prepared exclusively with vegetable sources of protein, do not seem to significantly alter the gut microbes of dogs when compared to traditional (mixed animal and vegetable) kibble diets.
Meat Based Diets
A few studies have evaluated the impact of meat-based raw diets in the gut microbiome of healthy dogs in comparison with kibble-fed dogs. In one study, dogs were fed home-prepared Bones and Raw Food (BARF) diets consisting of a combination of raw meat, organs, meaty bones, and vegetables.
Overall, compared to the kibble-fed control group, BARF diets included more protein and fat, and less fiber and carbohydrates. Another study evaluated a red meat diet, containing exclusively beef meat, organs, bones, and a mineral supplement to meet the guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The red meat diet contained more protein, but less fat, fiber, and carbohydrates than the kibble control.
Both diets differed significantly in macronutrient content compared to commercial kibble diets, including less fiber and carbohydrate, and more protein, and resulted in similar microbial population shifts when compared with the kibble-fed control groups.
In both dog studies, dogs fed raw diets had an overall decrease in the abundance of Firmicutes, including genera Peptostreptococcus and Faecalibacterium, and of genera Bacteroides and Prevotella (phylum Bacteroidetes).
Most of those genera are associated with digestion of dietary fiber and SCFA production, indicating a decrease in the fermentation of fiber and carbohydrates due to their decreased intake.
In contrast, other bacterial taxa were found to increase in abundance, including Proteobacteria and Fusobacteria (genus Fusobacterium), and two genera from phylum Firmicutes (Lactobacillus and Clostridium) ( In those studies, dogs were fed the BARF diet for at least 4 weeks (4 weeks−9 years), and the red meat diet for 3–9 weeks.
One study in dogs receiving a raw diet for at least 1 year has found them to have a richer and more even microbiome compared to kibble-fed controls. Several studies have suggested that in dogs fed a natural diet, the potential risk of opportunistic infection could be higher, than in dogs fed a commercial feed. The type of diet might therefore play a key role in animal health by affecting the gut microbiota.
Collectively, these results indicate that diet likely affects the microbiota, thereby playing a key role in animal health.
Tips for Restoring Gut and Intestinal Health in Dogs
Researchers have recently gained a better understanding of the vital role gut health has for the wellbeing of humans and animals. In fact, many common health problems in dogs such as excessive shedding, diarrhea, and nausea can be attributed to poor gut health. Fortunately, there are simple steps dog owners can take to restore gut health in dogs, which are described here.
If your dog suffers from chronic nausea or diarrhea, poor gut health is likely to blame.
The lining of the intestines can become irritated and damaged, resulting in “leaky gut syndrome.”
Leaky gut syndrome results in the cells lining the gut separating, allowing toxins to enter the intestines. These toxins are recognized by the immune system as bad, which triggers inflammation, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The presence of bad bacteria in the gut can wreak havoc on your dog’s skin. Frequent yeast infections and itchiness, particularly in your dog’s ears, are a classic sign of poor gut health.
Dull, Shedding Coat
A universal sign of health is the presence of a full, shiny coat (or fur). If your dog is frequently shedding, scratching excessively, or continually licking his or her paws, you should consider whether your dog’s gut health is to blame.
Tips for Improved Gut Health
In many instances, improved gut health is as simple as making simple changes to your dog’s routine and adding prebiotics and bone broth to their diet.
Diet: Are you feeding all of your dog’s microbes?
Diversity in your dog’s diet is a good thing.
When it comes to your dog’s microbiome (GI Tract), bacterial diversity comes from the food your dog eats. From live bacteria to nutrients that allow good bacteria to flourish, there are many great ways to supplement your dog’s diet to improve their digestive health:
Your dog’s intestines are pretty miraculous organs.
The intestines break down food so the body can absorb needed nutrients. At the same time, the junk waits inside the gut to be passed as waste material. The walls of the intestines ensure that good things (water and nutrients) are used by the body. The bad things (toxins and pathogens) get stuck in the intestines until they’re tossed.
However, inflammation creates gaps between the individual cells lining the walls. This is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. These gaps allow toxins and pathogens to leak and escape the intestines. There, they cause inflammation in other parts of the body. This can lead to problems such as asthma and skin rashes, joint pain, thyroid conditions, and more.
Along with helping boost fur and nail strength, gelatin in the bone broth can help heal some of those gaps. This creates a healthier gut system. When the system works the way it’s meant to, the health of your pup’s whole body is improved.
Bone Broth provides collagen through its easily digestible liquid gelatin. The collagen contains antioxidants, mainly glutathione, which help to detoxify the liver and restore the gut lining.
Adding bone broth to your pet’s meals increases the absorption of nutrients and creates the perfect environment for gut flora to thrive. Active Dawg USDA Certified Organic Bone Broth is rich in glycosaminoglycans because it’s made by slow simmering whole bones including the cartilage and joints. It’s also rich in amino acids, including glycine, which is known for anti-aging benefits.
Bone broth helps your pet obtain the daily need for fluids.
As your pet ages, instead of harsh medications, this gentle broth can provide the healing Collagen peptides and minerals your pet needs. Fortified with undenatured type II collagen to repair joints and cartilageActive Dawg bone broth is loaded with Type II collagen and glucosamine.
Clinical studies demonstrated that the Active Dawg Bone Broth can reduce COX-2 activity reducing joint pain and inflammation by at least 20% while not significantly inhibiting COX-1 activity, which protects the stomach and intestinal lining.
Not only does our bone broth contain a high amount of glucosamine, but it’s also packed with other joint-protecting compounds like chondroitin and hyaluronic acid.
You can help ease your dog’s discomfort by learning about and giving them the proper nutrition and support to minimize the damage and turn on the immune system to lessen the effect of arthritis.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in our bodies, keeping our guts healthy. Inflammation kills these bacteria and leads to problems such as diarrhea and constipation.
Prebiotics are substances, such as inulin, mannan oligosaccharide, and other sources of fiber that are consumed with the intent to promote the growth of healthy gut microbes.
Human studies have linked gut health to things such as skin health and obesity.
These bacteria are responsible for so much more than good poop. They keep the rest of our bodies healthy as well.
Bone broth is an all-natural prebiotic with natural digestive enzymes and amino acids. The enzymes and amino acids help dogs digest their food and add to the good bacteria balance in the GI tract.
Although many pet foods naturally contain these ingredients, some people supplement their dogs’ diets with extra prebiotics.
Studies have shown that the microbiome shift induced by prebiotics can counteract the inflammatory nature of a high-fat diet.
Getting fresh air and being out in nature comes with numerous health benefits, including some lesser-known positive impacts on pet health.
Bacteria that are potentially good for your dog are everywhere in nature: in the dirt, on plants, and even in the air. Take your dog for a walk in nature or crack open a window and let in some fresh air.
Your dog gets microbes elsewhere too. Research shows that humans and their dogs share skin bacteria. Your dog’s furry playmates probably share their microbes as well. Your dog may even be coprophagic (poop-eater). All of this exposure to a diversity of microflora accumulate to strong intestinal health and immune health.
Bacteria that are potentially good for your dog are everywhere in nature.
Restoring Gut Health Takes Time
If your dog has ongoing problems, it might be time to speak to a veterinarian.
Next, remember, these problems have usually been going on for a while. Therefore, it takes time to improve. The longer the problem has been going on, the longer it will take to heal. Weeks to months, sometimes more. These tips work, but you CANNOT expect overnight results!
You want to keep your pup as healthy as possible throughout the course of his hopefully very long life. You want him to be able to thrive despite everything life throws at him. And so much of health starts at the gut level. The healthier you can keep his gut, the healthier you can keep his entire body.
Things To Avoid for Optimal Gut Health
There are several other things that we know directly impact gut health aside from food. One of the best ways to protect and restore gut health is to avoid the things that cause problems.
Antibiotics kill off bad bacteria throughout the body; they also kill much of the good bacteria in the gut (and everywhere else). Topical antibiotics used on the skin are absorbed and metabolized in the gut or kidney; the health of the bacteria in the gut directly impacts the health of the bacteria on the skin. Therefore, if you have to give your dog an antibiotic, make sure you give a prebiotic at the same time.
It’s well known that many of the medications given for pain and inflammation can affect the gut. For example, the most common side effects of most (NSAIDs) are diarrhea and vomiting.
However, the effect on the gut is more dramatic than that. NSAIDs can actually contribute to Leaky Gut Syndrome. So, it’s worth considering other options for long-term pain control.
Stress affects the gut, no matter the source. Unfortunately, stress control is tricky in dogs since they don’t understand what’s going causing your dog stress.
Anxiety can be frustrating, if your dog is stressed enough to show signs of intestinal upset and acute diarrhea, then you have to address the cause of the anxiety and minimize it.
Bad bacterium can enter your dog’s GI tract from eating garbage, moldy mulch, and similar; you want to teach your dog, and if not possible to teach them, avoid their ability to eat harmful garbage and moldy mulch.