Most people think that when it comes to canine nutrition, all they have to do is put a bowl of “high quality” food down, make sure their dog eats, and that is the end. They might be surprised to learn that the digestive system of both their dog and themselves is a unique world made up of complex processes and millions of bacteria and microorganisms that all work together. Not only is digestion affected by this world but the immune system and the overall health and happiness of the person or dog as well. Current studies are looking at the relationship between the gut and the brain in relation to emotions. Science is discovering that gut health is far more important than we ever thought.
What is a Microbiome?
The microbiome is the little world of each type of bacteria or microorganism. There are millions of these little worlds everywhere, inside and out. The microbiome affects many things in both humans and animals. Studies are revealing how many ways these little worlds actually have an impact on including surprising things like happiness and emotions.
In the digestive system, the microbiome is both a protector and a creator. First, the good bacteria work to protect the dog from viruses, toxins, and allergens. They secrete a special chemical that destroys these dangerous substances before they enter the bloodstream and start attacking.
Second, the colony releases enzymes that help to digest food. The digestive system breaks down food at several stages along the way. The more the food is broken down, the easier the nutrients are to absorb and the more energy the dog will be able to produce. Because more nutrients are taken from the food, there will be less waste and the dog will need to "go out" less often. His bowel movements will be smaller and easier to pass and should have far less odor as well.
Finally, the digestive system is also responsible for helping to produce certain vitamins. While there are many that can be absorbed from food the body makes additional vitamins for optimal health. One, Vitamin B12, is only created by a specific bacteria that is found in the digestive tract.
The Digestive System and the Immune System
Most people are shocked to learn that the overall health of their dogs or themselves can be directly related to the health of their digestive systems. Any imbalance there can lead to a weakened immune system. If the harmful bacteria is allowed to overwhelm the good, the immune system will be exhausted trying to fight all of the time. Engaged in a struggle in the gut, the immune system may not be available to fight other illness or injury.
Balancing the Gut Flora
For both humans and dogs, the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut can be tricky at first. Using supplements such as pre and probiotics can be helpful but should be approached with advice from a doctor or vet. Proper nutrition is key, especially for young dogs. Starting off with healthy gut flora is easier than trying to rescue an imbalanced gut after a problem becomes obvious. The suggested diet is one that is high in lean, high-quality protein and low in simple carbohydrates that provide empty calories but little real nutrition.
Dog food labels should be examined carefully. Foods that list fillers, grains or unnecessary ingredients should be avoided. The first thing listed should be a protein source. Good digestive health is why so many pet owners have switched to the raw or all-natural diets where they feed their dogs foods that are similar to what they are eating themselves. It is important to discuss this option with your vet and to remember the ingredients and spices that could be dangerous to your pets.
You can have your dog's gut health tested at the vet and get an idea of what he might need. Most vets are happy to help you find the right food for your vet's best health. He can also give you suggestions for supplements and in some cases additional treatments to get your dog's gut health to where it needs to be.
Most of the things that you find out about your dog's gut health applies to yours as well as the dog and human microbiomes are remarkably similar to one another. While this means that some suggestions will work for both of you, there are many things that you should never give to your dog as they may be very harmful to him. Work with your vet to give your dog the best and happiest life.