Gut health is having a moment lately. For humans and for our animal companions. Science is pointing to all sorts of interesting things connected to the health of our gut microbiomes; from behavioral issues, to inflammation issues, and immunity. What about your dog’s gut health? Here are some signs of gut imbalances in your dog and 5 ways to support your dog’s gut health.
Signs of Gut Imbalances in Your Dog
- Itchy, flaky skin
- excessive tears and gunky eyes
- Paw licking
- Weight loss
- Excessive gas or flatulance
- Diarrhea or constipation
Your dog’s gut is processes his food, therefore if there are issues with this processing, there will be issues with skin and coat health or digestive distress. This may result in your dog not absorbing all of the nutrients from food properly. Itchy, infected skin, yeast infections, or itchy, smelly paws may follow.
Many commercially prepared pet foods are made with sub-par, inflammatory and rendered ingredients. While commercially prepared pet foods are complete and balanced, contain all the necessary nutrients your dog needs, the ingredients are often processed several times over.
This causes them to lose nutritional value that has to be re-supplemented with synthetic vitamins and minerals to create that balance. All of this means your dog may not be getting enough of the nutrients he needs to support a healthy gut.
Immense Benefits of Fresh Food
I hear this all the time, “Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That’s where the fresh, unprocessed food lives! All of the processed food is in the middle isles of the grocery store. Most of your food shouldn’t come from there.”
Why is this not the same for our pets? Dry pet food is highly-processed and typically located in the center isles of the supermarket. Dry pet food is made to have a long shelf life. Most vets even recommend this processed diet because it is backed by science and tends to work for the masses.
But, if our dogs could live longer, healthier lives (not just the handful that you hear about living to 17 on Ol’ Roy), from feeding fresh foods and strengthening our dog’s gut health wouldn’t it be worth a try? Why aren’t there more studies into how fresh food might affect or benefit our pets?
It’s no secret for humans; fresh food benefits our gut health and overall health. Personally, I’m not right when I eat lots of processed food or meals from restaurants on a regular basis. What if we fed our dogs on that same premise?
7 Tips to Support Your Dog’s Gut Health
1. Incorporate Fresh Foods
By far, this is one of the simplest things you can do for your dog’s gut health. Incorpoate some fresh foods! It is perfectly acceptable to share small amounts of cooked (unseasoned) dog-friendly greens to your dog’s dish. Some of our favorites are broccoli, squash, green beans, spinach, kale, and beets.
Your dog’s gut health also benefits immensely from fresh protein with meals. Protein can be raw or lightly cooked, depending on your comfort levels feeding raw meat. I am personally not a fan of feeding raw grocery store meat, but I will share raw meats from my local farms. Some or our favorite protein additions are small amounts of cooked oragan meats, fish like sardines or mackarel, and even small amounts of cooked chicken or beef from our meals.
Just make sure that meal additions are no more than 25% of the diet to keep your dog from gaining weight or disrupting vitamin and mineral balance.
2. Support the Gut After Antibiotic Treatments
While antibiotics do have a place in treating pet illnesses, some believe they are overused. Additionally, antibiotics kill off a majority of gut bacteria; good and bad. It takes a bit of effort to rebuild your dog’s gut bacteria after a round of antibiotics.
This is where probiotics come in. Not just probiotics in food, but canine-specific probiotic supplements to add to food. Probiotics and probiotic foods that work for humans just won’t cut it for dogs. If giving probiotics during antibiotic treatments, it’s important to give the probiotic at least 2 hours after the antibiotic. When administered at the same time, antibiotics may cancel out probiotic benefits.
Additionally, you should continue probiotic treatments after a round of antibiotics to help your dog’s gut health heal. *Most healthy dogs do not need probiotics all the time, but can benefit from them after antibiotic treatment.
Here are some of our picks for probiotics. Be sure to ask your vet any questions you have about probiotics.
3. Pair Those Probiotics with Prebiotics
Your dog’s gut health benefits from a healthy, flourishing microbiome. That microbiome blossoms on healthy prebiotic fibers. Prebiotics are soluble fibers that travel through your dog’s colon and provide nutrition for the good bacteria living there.
Prebiotics can also help reduce inflammation, restore issues like leaky-gut syndrome, strengthen the immune system, and reduce food allergies. Some prebiotic foods you can include in your dog’s dish are cooked mushrooms (dogs can eat the same mushrooms that we can) and dandelion root.
4. Share Fermented Foods
Just like fermented foods benefit our gut microbiome, they can benefit your dog’s gut health too. Fermented foods have already begun the process of breaking down during fermentation, therefore it’s less work for your dog’s digestive system to process them.
Fermented foods are chock-full of good bacteria. Some even have more beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements. The fermentation process can even make nutrients in the food more bioavailable. There are a wide variety of pet-specific fermented foods like goat’s milk and fish broth available. Following are some products you can find at your grocery store.
- Kefir, plain Greek yogurt, or buttermilk
Make sure that dairy products are made from whole, unpasteurized milk and contain no thickening agents (like carageenan). Fermented vegetable products should be traditionally fermented and not preserved in vinegar. You can start with 1 teaspoon of fermented food mixed in with your dog’s food each day, then work your way up to 1/4 cup a day for larger dogs.
5. Add Bone Broth to Meals
Bone broth is a simple, nutritous meal addition that just may heal leaky-gut syndrome. Your dog’s small intestines have millions of microscopic holes that allow nutrients to pass to the bloodstream. Leaky gut happens when those holes get bigger; from overgrowth of bacteria, stress, or poor nutrition. When this happens, things that aren’t supposed to pass through the intestinal lining do-toxins or undigested food. This leads to itching and food allergies.
The gelatinous goodness of bone broth actually helps to plug up those holes, only allowing the good nutrients to pass through. Bone broth also has great benefits to joint health, can ease arthritis in older pets, and is easy to digest.
Here are some more instructions for making your own bone broth.
6. Include Regular Movement and De-Stressing Exercise
Stressors from being bored, sedentary, or cooped up in the house all day affect your dog’s gut health.
Regular movement and healthy eating benefits us. It does a world of good for our dogs too. Dogs were made to move! Romp, run, sniff, and play; they’re ready for all of it.
Those regular walks and sniffaris do so much more than keep your dog’s body lean. Just as exercise is a destressor for us, walking, playing a game of fetch or rowdy play time help relieve boredom and tension in your dog.
Plus, when you get your dog out for her mental health, that walk, that hike-it will probably boost your mental health, mood and energy. A win-win!
7. Be Mindful of Pet Food Ingredients
Finally, your dog’s gut health will flourish if you’re feeding her quality food with quality ingredients. So many pet foods are made with sub-par, inflammatory, and harmful ingredients. There are A LOT of options out there in regards to pet foods.
Our top rules of thumb are to look for pet foods with a shorter ingredient list and named meat in the first 3 ingredients. (preferably at least 2 of the 3). Furthermore, make your pet’s food part of your budget. While you don’t have to spend a fortune on dog food, if it’s possible for your family and budget, don’t feed your dog the cheapest food you can.
70% of the immune system is in the gut. By providing your dog’s gut health opportunities to flourish; either with pro/prebiotics, fresh or fermented foods, and by supporting a healthy, stress-free lifestyle you may just be prolonging your Best Friend’s life. Who doesn’t want that?