Living inside of your dog’s gut are around 1,000 different kinds of bacteria. Paired with other tiny organisms like viruses and fungi, they make what’s known as the microbiota, or the microbiome.
Like a fingerprint, each dog’s microbiota is unique and is determined by their mothers’ microbiota, their environment, diet and lifestyle. It affects everything from the metabolism, cognition, pain, mood, and around 70% of their immune system.
Ensuring your dog gets support to create the best possible composition of gut bacteria is key to both their physical health and also to their behaviour, due to the gut-brain connection, and you can do that with yoghurt!
The gut-brain connection
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach before a big interview? The brain–gut connection is the likely culprit as both organs are intimately linked.
The Enteric Nervous System sometimes called the ‘second brain’ comprises hundreds of millions of neurons that extend along the length of the digestive tract and communicates subtle changes within the gastrointestinal tract to the brain, and back again, via the vagus nerve.
Research has shown many links between gut bacteria and conditions such as anxiety which important because up to 70% of behavioural disorders in dogs can be attributed to some form of anxiety. Anxiety can result in physiological and behavioural effects, such as increased susceptibility to illness, higher heart rates, gastrointestinal disturbances, and can also affect the pet’s mental and social well-being, leading to the development of chronic frustration and social phobias.
A controlled study involving 24 anxious Labrador Retrievers showed that 90 percent of dogs who received a probiotic supplement showed a measurable reduction in overall anxiety.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help maintain or boost the ‘good’ bacteria, living in the gut. Offering your dog probiotic dietary foods can help to repopulate the intestine with healthy bacteria and supports your dog in lots of ways:
- Aids digestion of food and assimilation of vitamins and minerals
- Inhibits the growth and activity of harmful bacteria
- Boosts the immune system
- Helps recovery from illnesses and infections
- Helps with flatulence, digestive upsets and intestinal inflammation
- Supports cell and DNA repair
- Prevents urinary tract infections
- Reduces pain and swelling due to anti-inflammatory properties
- Reduces allergic reactions
- Improves stress tolerance – useful for boarding, travelling, agility trials, weaning etc
- Synthesises hormones including serotonin, the happy hormone
Dietary sources of probiotics
Live natural yoghurt is an easy source of probiotics however, like humans, some dogs don’t tolerate dairy very well and there are some lovely non-dairy probiotic options including water kefir and microalgae including spirulina and chlorella.
These microalgae are offered as part of a Herbal Self-Medication session.
Prebiotics are a special form of insoluble dietary fibre that acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in the gut. Feeding your dog prebiotic foods helps the probiotics stay active and do their job.
By supporting the good bacteria, prebiotics help to prevent disease, improve digestion and nutrient absorption (especially minerals), and enhance the immune system. Dogs fed prebiotics are less likely to get diarrhoea caused by the overgrowth of bad bacteria, and soluble fibre also helps to prevent or treat diarrhoea by absorbing water and slowing intestinal transit.
Prebiotics may be especially beneficial for dogs with immunosuppression or digestive disorders, and for all dogs following antibiotic therapy.
Dietary sources of probiotics
Offering your dog some of the following prebiotic foods will help to support the benefits of the probiotics but start out slowly to avoid digestive upsets if your dog isn’t used to these fibrous foods.
- Green leafy veggies (savoy cabbage and dandelion leaves are good)
- Garlic (fresh organic, up to 1 tsp per 30 lbs of your dog’s weight per day)
If you choose to move on from yogurt and offer probiotics via a supplement be careful to avoid human probiotics, as they are designed specifically to fortify the bacterial species found in the human GI tract. Pets have specific strains of bacteria unique to them, so they do best with a customised probiotic
Probiotics are strain-specific which means that while one type may help with immunity, another might be better for gut health.
- Bifidobacterium animalis AHC7 helps to improve overall intestinal health, prevent inflammatory activity and infection and resolve canine diarrhoea.
- Enterococcus faecium aids in digestion, helps inhibit the effects of shigella, E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens, boosts immune function.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus helps to promote antibacterial and antifungal properties, prevent diarrhoea associated with antibiotic use, reduce cholesterol levels and improve weight gain/growth in puppies and younger dogs.
- Lactobacillus fermantum, L. rhamnosus, L. saluvarius, L. reuteri, L. plantarum and L. casei all provide strong anti-microbial activity in the GI tract, are able to modify and improve inferior intestinal health.
- Pediococcus acidilactici is used to treat constipation and diarrhoea, relieve stress and enhance immune response.
- Bifidobacterium longum (B. longum) has been shown to help dogs maintain calm behaviour and offers anxiety-reducing effects.
Antibiotics are the enemy of good gut health. If your dog ever has to take antibiotics, be sure to give prebiotics and probiotics as well to keep good bacteria present but give the them at a different time of day than the antibiotic. Continue giving the pre- and probiotics after the course of antibiotics has finished to help with the rebalancing of gut bacteria.
It’s also important to make sure that your dog’s current diet is giving him what he needs to begin with. Boosting a diet that is already missing any vital nutrition isn’t really boosting at all. This article on the link between behaviour problems and gut health makes interesting reading.
If you would like help finding a suitable, beneficial food for your dog please get in touch.