How to Improve Your Dog's Gut Health

little dog running with a metal bowl in its mouth

Supporting your pet's nutritional needs is based on finding the best mix of foods to optimize their quality of life.The interaction between a dog and its food actually has two distinct parts: The input, or consumption, and the way the dog’s body utilizes the food source to promote a healthy life for energy, immune support and more. A dog's gut microbiome is a major factor in their overall health; this plethora of microscopic organisms living in their digestive tract help your pet to thrive. This post will examine what dog gut health entails, common concerns and how to achieve optimal gut health for dogs.   

What Exactly is a Dog's Gut Microbiome?

Referring to the trillions of microscopic organisms living in a dog's intestinal tract, the dog microbiome spans from its mouth to the end of the large intestine. The amazingly complex metabolic function — transforming food into energy — that occurs in the microbiome is important to overall health. And don’t worry; although the microorganisms comprising the gut microbiome are bacteria, in a healthy microbiome, the beneficial bacteria rule the roost!

Why Owners Should Care About Their Dog's Gut Health

It goes without saying that, just as with humans, the food a dog eats is extremely important for overall well being. An optimally functioning gut microbiome not only provides energy and tissue growth through metabolization of food, but contributes significantly to a dog’s immune system. Dr. Susan Wynn, an American College of Veterinary Nutrition diplomate, explains that “the gut contains about 70% of your immune system.”

Signs and Symptoms of Poor Gut Health in Dogs

A telltale sign of gut health problems in dogs is irregular bowel movements, such as diarrhea or constipation. Dogs may also experience vomiting due to any number of conditions related to gut health. Issues like gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), enteritis (chronic inflammation of the small intestine), parasites (i.e. roundworm, tapeworm), IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease or chronic inflammation of the gut) or leaky gut syndrome are various manifestations of poor gut health. Itchy or  yeasty skin (Atopic dermatitis) are indicators of dysbiosis of gut and skin, microbiome. Additionally, bad breath can also be an indicator for poor gut health. Oral health is integral for managing gut health and vice versa.

Causes of a Damaged Gut

So, what exactly causes damage to canine gut health? Not surprisingly, considering the complexity of canine gut microbiomes, the most common causes of bacterial imbalances in dogs have varied initiators. Both food allergies and chronic malnutrition often result in a damaged gut, as does extended use of some anti-inflammatory medications. Food
intolerances can also damage dog's guts. This often happens when dogs are fed the same processed foods over long
periods of time. 

How to Improve Your Dog's Gut Health

After identifying an imbalance in a dog’s gut microbiome through either gastrointestinal issues or a vet checkup, the following can restore a healthy digestive system:

  1. Incorporate pre- and probiotics. These supplements can encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria, depending on your pet's core diet. If your dog is getting foods high in starches then, the addition of a pre-biotic and pro-biotic can further disrupt the microbiome balance. Pet owners should consider incorporating moisture rich whole foods into their pets diet.
  2. Investigate grain-free feeding. While present in many commercial dog foods, grains can be a common cause of inflammation in dogs; they are often identified as a source of allergies/intolerances and can also lead to weight gain. After consulting your dog’s veterinarian, he or she may suggest a diet that is free of grains while still providing complete nutrition.
  3. Try bone broth. Containing many nutrients beneficial to gut health — collagen perhaps the most helpful — adding a quality bone broth to a dog’s diet can be a good idea.
  4. Pay attention to ingredients. Although a food may be considered complete and balanced, the recipe may include ingredients that do not enhance or foster gut health. Specifically, food additives such as artificial colors and antioxidants can create bacterial imbalance.
  5. Reduce stress. Just like when we get stressed, a dog's digestion can be similarly impacted, causing an increase in cortisol release. By taking care of ourselves — yes, stress can be contagious — and limiting changes in routine or environment, we can mitigate a dog’s stress levels.
  6. Implement or continue an exercise routine. Exercise serves as both a healthy stress release and a huge benefit to your dog’s physical health.
  7. Plan routine vet checkups. It is vital for even a healthy dog to receive, at minimum, a yearly physical examination. A qualified veterinarian will keep up with testing that can identify digestive issues that may worsen without treatment.


Foods to Help Level Your Dog's Gut Bacteria

Experts say these foods can help level out your dog's gut bacteria:

  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage (run through a food processor)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Whitefish
  • Lean turkey and chicken (avoid processed meats)

 Dr. Laurie Coger, a holistic veterinarian and owner of The Healthy Dog Workshop, points out that vegetable and legume starches, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and lentils, are not as acidifying and inflammatory as starchy grains. Be sure to check whether a food is safe for dogs before feeding it to them. Consider the benefits of raw or raw-adjusted diets as well.


Can vaccines and antibiotics damage a dog’s gut microbiome?

Similar to observations in humans, the overuse of vaccines and antibiotics can cause harm to a dog’s microbiome. Some vaccines can damage gut health by changing the gut's bacterial makeup. Antibiotics commonly given to pets cannot differentiate between good and bad bacteria, and end up attacking both. These negative side effects can be mitigated with certain supplements, like pre- and probiotics.

What are considered the worst ingredients for dog gut health?

Heavily processed ingredients are widely considered harmful to a dog’s gut microbiome. Specifically corn, wheat and soy are known to be very inflammatory and throw off the balance of gut bacteria.