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The Importance of Good Gut Health for your Dog

        
          

Increasing research has shown that good gut health is vitally important for all mammals.  Not only is the immune system housed in a dog’s gut, but healthy bacteria are responsible for emotional response, nutrient absorption, and digestion.  Here, everything a pet owner needs to know about a healthy gut and your pet will be discussed. 

What Does Good Gut Health Mean?

What does it mean to have a healthy gut in a dog?  The digestive system is filled with good and bad bacteria.  There are specific colonies of good bacteria, each with a specific job.  When those bacterial colonies are well-populated and balanced, the dog’s digestive and immune systems function properly.  However, when the bad bacteria outnumber the good, the dog can suffer many health consequences.  

dog won't eat

Signs of Poor Gut Health

There are numerous signs that your dog’s gut health is not in tip-top shape.  These symptoms include:

  • Allergies/itchy skin
  • Dull coat
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Lethargy
  • Joint pain
  • Arthritis
  • Inflammation

When a dog’s gut health is poor, inflammation is likely – particularly when leaky gut is to blame for the bad digestive health.  Gut inflammation is often chronic, which prevents the immune system from functioning properly.  This chronic inflammation is largely to blame for the aforementioned symptoms.

Factors that Destroy Gut Health

There are many things that dog owners do that negatively affect their pet’s gut health.  Some are necessary – like antibiotics – while others can be avoided, such as poor diet.  Listed here are some of the most common factors that pet owners can control.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics play a negative role on gut health because they work to kill all bacteria in the intestines, both good and bad.  Dogs require colonies of certain bacteria strains for good health.  When all bacteria is destroyed, dogs will have a difficult time digesting food, absorbing nutrients, and thriving.  While pet owners should never refuse antibiotic treatment for their pets, but they should provide supportive care.

Food Quality

Foods that are low in quality also negatively affect gut health.  In general, all dogs will have colonies of “bad” bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts.  Certain ingredients, artificial colors, preservatives, and low-quality grains can not only deprive good bacteria of nurtients, but also feed the bad bacteria.  Additionally, food sensitivities and allergies can cause or exacerbate poor gut health by increasing gut inflammation. 

Body Mass

A dog that is overweight is significantly more likely to suffer from poor gut health.  Excess fat changes the way that a dog’s body functions, particularly the immune system.  The microbiome in an overweight dog looks different from a dog with a healthy weight.  There is lack of diversity, which can inhibit how the dog’s body functions. 

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Stress

Constant stress (even good stress) has a negative effect on a dog’s gut.  Stress leads to inflammation, which can settle in the gut and manifest as chronic vomiting or diarrhea.  Dogs that are regularly under stress are also more likely to suffer from leaky gut syndrome, which can lead to serious food sensitivities, vomiting, diarrhea and a compromised immune system.

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Exercise

Too much exercise can be almost as bad for dogs as too little exercise.  When a dog exercises vigorously every day without rest, chronic inflammation is the result.  Dogs – like humans – require a balance of exercise and recovery in order to thrive.  Every time a dog exercises to the point of exhaustion, the immune system is triggered to repair the damage.  When the immune system becomes overworked, havoc is wreaked on the dog’s sensitive gut microbiome, leading to deficiencies. 

How to Improve Gut Health in Dogs

There are a handful of ways to improve your dog’s gut microbiome.  These include:

Special Attention to Diet

Read the label on your dog’s food.  Ensure that your dog’s diet is high in healthy sources of protein (i.e. deboned chicken versus chicken by-product), and that the formula is free from preservatives, artificial colors, and fillers.  Low-quality foods can affect a dog’s microbiome by providing fuel for bad bacteria and starving good bacteria, preventing them from doing their job. 

Additionally, studies have shown that pesticide residues can kill the good bacteria in a mammal’s stomach, leading to digestive issues.

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Probiotics

If your dog is undergoing antibiotic treatment, providing probiotics is a simple way to replenish beneficial bacteria in your dog’s digestive system.  Adding plain yogurt or cottage cheese to your dog’s diet is a great place to start.  There are also commercially available probiotic blends in powder form that can be added to your dog’s food.

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Sufficient Rest

Even though your dog would love to go the dog park every day and run around for hours, doing so can have a negative impact on his or her health.  Make sure your dog has sufficient time for recovery by taking a day off from exhaustive physical activity every 1 – 3 days, depending on your dog’s age.  Intermittent periods of reduced exercise duration, quiet time, or crate rest is beneficial for most canine athletes. 

Healthy Weight

Finally, maintaining a healthy weight is important.  Studies have shown that overweight/obese and healthy dogs have dramatically different gut microbiomes.  When dogs begin to lose weight, their microbiomes naturally begin to resemble that of dogs at a healthy weight.  Control your dog’s portion sizes, limit high-calorie treats, and engage in moderate exercise with your pet.

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Overall, gut health should be viewed an important factor in your dog’s wellness.  Taking steps to support your dog’s gut health, such as by providing probiotics, limiting stress, and maintaining a healthy weight are all important

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Anna Weber

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