Dog and pills

Most pet owners know that antibiotics kill off both the harmful and the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Those beneficial bacteria are a crucial part of the immune system, protecting our pets against viruses, bacterial and fungal infections, as well as parasites.

Intestinal bacteria also manufacture essential vitamins (including vitamin K as well as several B vitamins) and a great many other compounds scientists are only just beginning to recognize.

Because we want to restore those good bugs after antibiotic use it’s common to follow a course of antibiotics with a round of probiotics to restore the colony of beneficial bacteria and bring the body back to balance.

What if this didn’t happen?

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Recent research shows this is just the case.

Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center argues that antibiotics’ impact on gut bacteria is permanent  and so serious in their long term consequences that medicine should consider whether to restrict antibiotic prescribing to pregnant women and young children.

Early evidence from my lab and others hints that, sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover. These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease. Overuse of antibiotics could be fuelling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations.

Like their human counterparts, dogs are often subjected to more than a few rounds of antibiotics in their lives.

Now that researchers are actively investigating antibiotics and understanding their long term impact not just on the intestinal flora, but in creating antibiotic resistant superbugs, it’s a good time to look back to more natural antibacterial solutions that are kinder to the beneficial bacteria.

Here are five natural antibiotics you can consider for your dog:

Goldenseal 

Native Americans used this herb for centuries for infections, venereal disease, and ulcers. That’s probably because goldenseal prevents bacteria from adhering to cell walls so it can’t grow. It works particularly well for diarrhea and respiratory infections.

Garlic

A natural antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral agent, garlic is best known for its sulphur compounds, particularly allicin. These are the main phytochemicals that boost immunity and act as natural antibiotics.

Oregano Oil

Researcher Paul Belaiche conducted exhaustive studies of aromatherapy oils in his three volume work, “Treatise on Phytotherapy and Aromatherapy”. He reported that oregano oil killed 96% of all pneumococcus bacteria. Oregano oil was also shown to eliminate 83% of streptococcus, which is linked with strep throat, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, toxic shock syndrome, cystitis, and wound infections.

Oregano oil has also been successfully used to replace antibiotics for poultry producers.

Olive Leaf Extract

Professors at the Department of Biomedical Science at CHA University in Korea found that olive leaf extract was potent against various bacterial microbes. Bonus: Their research showed olive leaf exhibited free radical scavenging abilities. Free radicals are linked with aging and disease.

Honey

In third world countries, wild honey is spread over wounds and burns. These heal with minimal scarring and few infections. Tea with lemon and honey is a time honored drink when a human cold or the flu has hit. Munaka honey sold in health food stores, has a higher concentration of antibiotics than other honeys.

There are many more natural antibiotics, including Oregon grape and coconut oil.

What you feed your dog is also crucial to his intestinal health and bacterial balance. The processed, heated and extruded foods we feed our dogs are devoid not just of harmful bacteria, but also those good bugs the body needs to stay in healthy balance.

The big problem with the Western diet,’ Stephen O’Keefe, a gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh, told me, ‘is that it doesn’t feed the gut, only the upper GI [gastrointestinal tract]. All the food has been processed to be readily absorbed, leaving nothing for the lower GI.

The beneficial bacteria found in foods (especially fermented foods like kefir), have been shown to calm the immune system and reduce inflammation, shorten the duration and severity of colds, relieve diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, reduce allergic responses, stimulate the immune response, possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers; and improve the health and function of the gut.

Sometimes antibiotics can’t be avoided and they can absolutely save lives. Given recent research, it might be best to save them as a last resort, rather than a first line of attack. Better yet, their use can often be avoided altogether with a fresh, whole food diet and natural herbs and foods.