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June 2, 2018
Dysbiosis or having a “leaky gut” are two names for a linked disorder.
Causes and Treatment
Dysbiosis in pets is absolutely more often acknowledged by holistic veterinarians than by the traditional veterinary community. Holistic and integrative vets believe the consequences of dysbiosis in the pet population are just as significant and devastating as in humans.
The most common but certainly not the only cause of dysbiosis in veterinary medicine is absolutely the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics kill both the good bacteria and the bad bacteria, which upsets the natural balance of bugs and depletes the supply of friendly bacteria that keeps the GI immune defenses strong and resilient. Other drugs also known to have the same effect are corticosteroids and the NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Additional factors include highly processed diets; biologically inappropriate foods containing a large amount of grains; food additives such as dyes, preservatives, surfactants, emulsifiers and flavor enhancers; certainly stress; ingestion of toxins; vaccines (vaccines actually stimulate gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT); parasite infections, even an emotional event can send a sensitive dog into a state of dysbiosis.
Signs and Symptoms
Typical symptoms of a leaky gut are gas, bloating, and diarrhea. But dysbiosis can also cause or exacerbate a wide variety of other diseases, many of which actually appear to have nothing to do with digestion. These include things like hyperactivity, immune system disorders such as autoimmune disease, behavioral abnormalities, joint pain, nutritional deficiencies, allergies, seizure disorders, respiratory difficulties including asthma, certain types of cancers, liver/gallbladder/pancreatic disorders, heart disease, bladder inflammation (also called cystitis), dry eye, weight fluctuations, gum disease, and bad breath.
Food Digestion in Pets
The food your pet eats begins to be digested in the mouth as it’s chewed. When the food gets to the stomach, it mixes with very acidic hydrochloric acid and gastric juices. And then, this mixture enters into the small intestine, where the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes and the gallbladder also secretes
bile to further assist in the process of digestion. The chemical digestive process continues down the small intestine, where bacterial degradation also takes place. Once the food is adequately broken down, the membranes of the intestinal mucosa absorb the smaller simpler nutrients. And the remaining food is either further digested and absorbed, or moves into the large intestine where it’s ultimately passed out of your pet as poop.
In order for this complex process to work efficiently, the environment of the GI tract must be healthy and functioning well.
The entire length of your pet’s digestive tract, when healthy, is coated with a really good balance of bacteria that protects against foreign invaders, undigested food particles, toxins, as well as parasites. If gut bacteria is out of balance, the environment of the GI tract becomes very unhealthy, which alters the process of digestion. The intestinal mucosa becomes inflamed and begins to leak the larger partially digested substances from the food particles into the bloodstream.
These large complex substances are antigenic and allergenic, meaning they stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against them. This is what sets the stage for the occurrence of one or more of the disorders that I previously listed.
Culprits Behind Dysbiosis
Many, many pets these days – very early in life – are unfortunately given antibiotics. These could be topical or oral antibiotics for really minor and insignificant things. Veterinarians just want to send you home with something and unfortunately, many traditional vets will pick antibiotics.
Most of these conditions could be resolved with natural substances. But even additional medications like corticosteroids such as prednisone or NSAIDs can also be administered short-term along with these antibiotics, which also exacerbate these underlying problems.
These same pets are typically, on average, fed highly processed commercial diets containing a long list of preservatives and other additives. The simple meat proteins in most of these diets have been altered by the extreme processing that pet food undergoes. They usually have been combined with plant proteins and grains. So, the resulting mix is a brew of chemically altered proteins that are very difficult to digest, process, and assimilate.
Combine these “high-stress” foods with environmental stressors such as poor water quality, excessive chemical or drug exposure, and really, this sets the entire stage for many of the diseases that we see in veterinary medicine today.
Any holistic vet will certainly tell you that they see animals every day in their practice suffering from chronic debilitating diseases that have been caused or made worse by diet and digestive dysfunction. This is why holistic veterinarians like me always start with the diet when it comes to setting up a treatment protocol for most of the sick pets that we see.
Each case of dysbiosis is unique, so a customized healing protocol must be designed for each patient based on his or her own specific set of conditions by the holistic veterinarian that they’re seeing. It is important to note that there is no one cookie-cutter or step-by-step approach to healing all dysbiotic pets in the same manner. Most importantly, owners should recognize that these pets have very fragile
immune systems and digestive systems. A sudden change in diet or a harsh gastrointestinal detox protocol could cause these pets to become even worse.
Sometimes veterinarians choose to address diet first, and then begin working on healing the gut. Sometimes a better approach for some of these patients is to provide GI support before any changes in their diet occur. And actually, some pets require a leaky gut protocol and a dietary change simultaneously.
An overview of dysbiosis treatment involves addressing food allergies and intolerances, as well as any underlying nutritional deficiencies from malabsorption or digestion. Appropriate probiotics, enzymes, and nutraceuticals must be prescribed to help reduce inflammation in the GI tract.
Gut-Friendly Pet Probiotics
Probiotics are an extremely important part in the treatment of dysbiosis. They reseed your pet’s gut with good bacteria and prevent an overgrowth of bad bacteria, which, of course, returns the intestine and mucosal lining to good health.
However, there are many different types of probiotics, each having its own merit and benefit. Some animals can’t tolerate milk-based probiotics. Some animals can’t tolerate probiotics derived from yeast cultures or even certain strains of non-dairy organisms, hence the importance of working with a veterinarian that understands all of these different facets of dysbiosis.
In general, removing highly processed, high-stress foods from a sick pet’s diet in favor of a balanced species-appropriate, low-stress diet, plus appropriate supplements to address inflammation and yeast, if necessary, and support of other organ systems including the liver and pancreas, can relieve symptoms, address the root cause of the leaky gut, and get the pet on the road to recovery.