In our last My Pet Nutritionist article we explored the range of factors that can contribute to a less than happy gut including:
- Overuse of certain medications like proton pump inhibitors and antihistamines,
- Poor liver function,
- Poor motility,
- Digestive disorders,
- Poor pancreatic function,
- Inflammation in the gut,
- Environmental toxins,
- Dietary choices.
The microbiome plays an immense role in both health and disease. It has been seen to affect how food it utilised and absorbed – and in actual fact, you aren’t what you eat, you are what you absorb and utilise! This goes for pets too. The microbiome has also been implicated in obesity.
The microbiome can produce metabolites which can support immune function, modulate inflammation, and influence behaviour. A happy microbiome also forms a defence barrier so is an important part of gut healing if dealing with pets who suffer with sensitivities.
So, if we know what can result in gut dysbiosis, is it something we can prevent? And is it something we can reverse?
Let’s take a look.
First of all, we are looking at puppyhood to prevent dysbiosis. Until recently, it was believed that foetus development occurred within a sterile uterus, however increasing evidence indicates that the foetus develops in an environment that is not entirely germ-free. Many microbial species have been detected in the umbilical cord, the amniotic fluid and the foetal membranes in apparently normal pregnancies without any indication of inflammation or disease. After birth, the new-born acquires microbes from the environment, food, and nearby animals and humans. In the first month of life, gut microbiota is less stable, and its biodiversity will increase over time.
Alongside this microbial colonisation, the immune system must learn to tolerate antigens present in the environment. Colonisation in the early life stages occurs in conjunction with the development, expansion, and education of the immune system. This suggests that during the first colonisation steps, factors with a negative impact on microbiota composition could pave the way for disease in subsequent years.
At this point, delivery mode, along with maternal nutrition and environmental exposure are key factors to consider in promoting a healthy gut in your puppy.
As your puppy is growing it is essential to:
- Avoid the overuse of antibiotics – we are not denying that antibiotics are lifesavers, but they can often be prescribed inappropriately.
- Avoid the overuse of medications – again, some medications are beneficial in acute disease episodes, but the long-term use of many medications often serves as a band-aid – if you are using chronic proton pump inhibitors or antihistamines for your pet, please check out our services to see if we can help.
- Support normal motility – avoid stressful triggers and work in conjunction with a behaviourist if your dog struggles with stress resilience.
- Limit exposure to environmental toxins – cleaning and grooming products, pesticides, plastics, contaminated water etc.
The other factors on our list need a little further discussion.
The liver is an essential organ of the body that performs hundreds of vital functions. We often call it the powerhouse of the body here at My Pet Nutritionist.
Some of its main roles include removing waste products and foreign substances from the bloodstream, regulating blood sugar levels, and creating essential nutrients. In addition, it is involved in:
Albumin Production: Albumin is a protein that keeps fluids in the bloodstream from leaking into surrounding tissue. It also carries hormones, vitamins, and enzymes through the body.
Filters Blood: All the blood leaving the stomach and intestines passes through the liver, which removes toxins, by-products, and other harmful substances.
Regulates Amino Acids: The production of proteins depends on amino acids. The liver makes sure amino acid levels in the bloodstream remain healthy and it also plays a role in rearranging amino acids into new proteins.
Regulates Blood Clotting: Blood clotting coagulants are created using vitamin K, which can only be absorbed with the help of bile, a fluid the liver produces.
Resists Infections: As part of the filtering process, the liver also removes bacteria from the bloodstream.
Stores Vitamins and Minerals: The liver stores significant amounts of vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12, as well as iron and copper.
Processes Glucose: The liver removes excess glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and stores it as glycogen. As needed, it can convert glycogen back into glucose.
Bile Production: Bile is a fluid that is critical to the digestion and absorption of fats in the small intestine. Bile acids also affect the balance of flora and gut motility, which ultimately affects microbiota composition. But of further interest, there seems to be a bi-directional relationship here as gut dysbiosis is also then implicated in poor liver function and subsequent liver disease. We’re not kidding when we say we need to consider a whole-body approach to health (and disease).
And so, if you are looking to support the microbiome, we also need to be supporting the liver (and more – but one step at a time!).
Poor Diet – as the liver plays a role in metabolism and detoxification, the less burden we place on it, the better. Bioavailable, nutrient dense foods are best – which is why we advocate a whole-food, fresh diet.
Stress – again, the liver plays a role in detoxification, so if the body has plenty of stress hormones to break-down and excrete, the burden on the liver will be increased. Avoid stressful triggers as much as possible.
Endocrine disease/disorder – vet checks can establish if this is a consideration that needs to be made but underlying endocrine issues can contribute to impaired liver function.
Infectious agents – many infections may affect the liver, and so testing for this is beneficial. Immune support can then be useful in a liver healing plan.
Vaccinosis – here we are looking at the burden placed on the body, we advocate for responsible vaccination in line with WSAVA guidance.
Pharmaceuticals – chronic use of NSAID’s and many other medications can increase the burden on the liver – it’s important to consider the implications of this.
If you would like to learn more about supporting your dog’s liver, then check out our blogs here:
The pancreas is a small organ that sits behind the small intestine and the stomach. The pancreas digests food and regulates a cat and dog’s blood sugar. Most of the pancreas is composed of cells that produce digestive enzymes. These cells are arranged in clusters that are connected to a series of small ducts. Pancreatic enzymes and juices flow from the cells and minor ducts into the main pancreatic duct, leading to the duodenum. The pancreas also contains small “islands” of hormone-producing cells called the islets of Langerhans, which secrete insulin and glucagon, along with somatostatin, hormones that mostly regulate blood sugar metabolism.
Pancreatitis occurs when there is inflammation and swelling of the pancreas – it can be acute or chronic. But you will also have heard of pancreatic insufficiency whereby the pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the digestive enzymes it needs to, to aid digestion. As a result, food remains under digested and heads it’s way further down the digestive system – ready to run amok with the microbiota.
There are a number of factors which are implicated in poor pancreatic function:
- Inflammation (from leaky gut/intestinal permeability),
- Imbalanced immunity responses,
- Pharmaceutical usage – drug induced pancreatitis,
- Rancid fats – found in processed foods,
- Endocrine disease,
- Genetics – polymorphisms found in certain breeds can be “switched on” by certain lifestyle choices,
If you would like to know more about supporting pancreatic function, then check out our blog here:
If your dog has suffered gut dysbiosis, it’s normal to wonder if we can rebuild it. First, we need to support the whole body, and ensure we’ve done our best to help the rest of the digestive system function as best it can.
The most common strategy to rebuild the intestinal ecosystem is the use of prebiotics and probiotics.
Probiotics are live organisms which confer a health benefit to the host.
Prebiotics, confer benefits by helping bacteria. Prebiotics are considered a fuel that help bacteria to grow.
That said, most of us find the pre and probiotic market a little daunting as many strains have many different functions. So, can we use something else to help support a robust intestinal ecosystem?
Nutrients are a good place to start!
Micronutrient (zinc, vitamins D and A, folate) deficiency in early life is seen to influence the maturation of the gut microbiota and its interaction with the host, so ensuring adequate levels is beneficial. A study using chickens as an animal model demonstrated that zinc deficiency provokes changes in the microbial ecosystem composition and a decrease in short-chain-fatty acids.
In addition, epigenetic processes influence microbiota/host communications and folate is an essential donor of the methyl group in methylation reactions that are associated with epigenetic changes.
Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate, and it boasts a range of health benefits, for us, and our dogs. As it makes its way through the digestive tract, it can slow glucose absorption, which helps modulate blood sugar levels, it can also form a gel like substance which can trap potentially harmful pathogens.
Fermentable fibres produce SCFAs which have unique roles throughout the body. Not only do they contribute to maintaining a healthy and tight gut barrier, but they are also precursors to many neurotransmitters, which directly affect mood and behaviour.
Fibre is seen to modulate insulin production, blood pressure and thought to affect cholesterol and fatty acid absorption.
Fibre can support bowel health by maintaining regularity and improving stool bulk which is key in anal gland health in the dog.
As most sources of fibre are plant material, you may prefer to consider a supplement if approaching in a therapeutic manner. Cooked fibre is always an option too.
For more information on fibre in your dog’s diet, check out our blog here:
We hope this has given you some pointers to consider in rebuilding your dog’s intestinal ecosystem, but as always, we are available to support you and your pet on your healing journey so please check out our services.
Thanks for reading,