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Good Guts: Why Your Dog’s Gut Health Matters

How to Improve Your Dog's Gut Health

By: Julie Anne Lee

Last Updated:

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Chronic disease and canine cancer are at epidemic levels. Why? In the 20 years of practice at my veterinary hospital, it became clear there was a very close relationship between these issues and the breakdown of gut health. This makes sense, since as much as 80 percent of your dog’s immune system resides in the gastro-intestinal tract.

Signs of Gut Health Problems in Dogs

If your dog has vomiting, diarrhea or loss of appetite, those are pretty clear signs that’s something is up. But sometimes the signs can be much harder to detect.

What is Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky gut syndrome (gut trauma), for example, can be more difficult to spot. It can be behind everything from food allergies to digestive problems, ear infections, and, really, any common health condition that stems from an inflammatory disorder.

Leaky gut is when the junctions (microscopic openings that absorb nutrients) in the lining of the mucous membrane become larger than they should, allowing undigested food and other particles (disease-causing pathogens, chemicals, allergens, and other toxins) to “leak” through the intestinal wall and enter into the blood stream, leading to disease.

There are many things that damage the gut environment, causing dysbiosis (the decline of friendly, beneficial gut bacteria) and creating much of the chronic disease we see in our dogs today.

These canine gut-damagers include:

  • antibiotics
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and steroids
  • over-vaccination
  • processed food
  • stress
  • grains or beans (anything with lectins)
  • yeast (candida)

So, what can we do to support our dogs’ gut health?

How to Improve Your Dog’s Gut Health

1. Probiotics

The vast majority of microorganisms exist within the digestive tract. A normal digestive tract contains both “good” and “bad” (pathogenic) bacteria. However, when a gut is traumatized, pathogenic bacteria can then take over the environment, overwhelming the “good guys” and creating poor gut health.

Probiotics encourage those helpful communities to flourish in the gut, working to crowd out the harmful bacteria and keep the system in homeostasis.

Species-specific probiotics are even better. Each species of animal has its own specific microflora, so finding probiotics that have those host-specific traits means they’re at home in your animal’s gut and therefore even more effective.

2. Prebiotics

Without prebiotics, those vital probiotics would just starve and die. Prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria colonies in your animal’s gut. My favourite prebiotics are arabinogalactans, which are found in abundance in the larch tree.

3. Digestive Enzymes

Digestive enzymes are paramount in digestion, helping to break down food into absorbable nutrients and supporting the synergistic process of the digestive tract.

Digestive enzymes can be found in supplements. I always recommend finding ones that have a combination that comes from fruit and animal sources, such as pineapples, papaya, kefir, kiwifruit, ox bile, and pancreas. Follow the directions provided on the packaging.

4. Species-Appropriate Diet

Highly processed foods are particularly hard to digest, and those with a high starch content can be an even bigger problem. Carbs turn into sugar in the body, and yeast feeds on sugar, therefore unbalancing the microbiome of the gut.

A species-appropriate diet consisting of fresh, whole foods (rather than processed high-carb foods) helps provide the gut—and, in fact, the whole body—with everything it needs to thrive.

Especially good additions for canine gut health are:

  • Kefir Or Raw Live Yogurt – Look for products from Jersey cows, goats or use coconut kefir. Give 2 Tbsp daily for an average (30 to 50 pound) size dog.
  • Fermented Vegetables – Make your own or buy for dogs (cabbage, carrots, beets, other root vegetables; no salt, spice or onions). Work up slowly to 1 to 3 tsp a day for every 20 pounds of body weight.
  • Bone broth – 1 ounce per 20 pounds of body weight.
  • Pumpkin (make sure you’re buying pure pumpkin NOT pumpkin pie filling!) – 1 tsp per 10 pounds of body weight.

You can add any of these to food a few times a week. Rotation here is key.

5. Herbs

There are several different herbs that can help improve gut health:

  • Slippery Elm is a large, deciduous tree native to Eastern North America known for its mucilaginous, strengthening, and nutritive properties. It exerts a soothing effect on mucous membranes of digestive tract and can also discourage stomach and duodenal ulcers, colitis, diverticulitis, GI inflammation, and acidity. Give ¼ tsp of powder for every 10 pounds of body weight. If using capsules: small dog – ¼ capsule twice daily; medium dog – ½ capsule twice daily; large dog – 1 capsule once or twice daily.
  • Aloe Vera is known for its healing effects on the skin and intestinal tract. Its primary internal use is for constipation or soothing the GI. In humans, it has been shown to help with several digestion-related issues. Dosage: 1 tsp of per 10 pounds of body weight daily.
  • Licorice root, which is considered one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies, comes from the root of the licorice plant. It benefits gastric mucosa by improving circulation, secretion of protective layer, and supporting growth of new mucosal cells. If using a licorice root tincture made for dogs, follow the dosing instructions.

For the last 25 years I’ve been immersed in the study of the microbiome. What I’ve discovered is that gut health and bacterial organisms are the foundation of a healthy body. Helping to prevent and derail chronic canine conditions starts with a healthy diet, a diverse gut ecosystem, and love.


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Last Updated:

By: Julie Anne Lee
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