I adopted Boomer towards the end of vet school. I fed him all the suggested foods and thought he was perfectly healthy. Then, when he was two years old, he developed diarrhea.
He had diarrhea for TWO YEARS!
I worked with seven other vets at the time. Nothing helped. I tried antibiotics, diet changes (including grain free), steroids and more. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I switched him to a raw diet. His diarrhea was gone in two days.
It took two more years to restore his gut health and heal him completely. In that time frame, he flared easily and it would sometimes take some time to get under control again. But we saw
He taught me a lot of lessons about diet and how to restore gut health … lessons that I use on many patients today.
And I want to share them with you.
5 Steps To Restore Dog Gut Health
#1 No Grains
I’ll be blunt – there are many vets out there who disagree with me on this. Many argue that dogs and cats can process grains just fine. However, just because they can digest them, does that mean they should?
It’s true that you can find studies out there showing that corn is a good source of protein for dogs. But is it really a better protein source than meat? There are also lots of human studies
In my own experience, in every case where I’ve cut the grains out of a dog’s diet I’ve seen at least some level of improvement. Often, just like in Boomer’s case, I see a lot of improvement.
So, cut out those grains.
But don’t cut out grains just by switching to grain-free kibble. Grain-free kibbles just use different starches like legumes or potatoes, which also harm gut health. The best diet for your dog’s gut health is a fresh, whole-food raw diet.
#2 Add Pre And Probiotics
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in our bodies, keeping our guts healthy. Inflammation kills these bacteria and leads to problems such as diarrhea and constipation.
Studies in the human world have also linked gut health to problems like skin health. These bacteria are responsible for so much more than good poop. They keep the rest of our bodies healthy as well. And it’s the same for dogs. Dog gut health affects many other aspects of your dog’s body.
- Saccharomyces boulardii: This is a probiotic yeast that’s especially effective in antibiotic-associated and viral diarrhea (2).
- Bacillus subtilis: B subtilis help the colon absorb more water and reduce diarrhea (3). It especially helps with chronic diarrhea when combined with Enterococcus faecium.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: This tried and tested probiotic is another staple for treating diarrhea in dogs.
Make sure your dog’s probiotics contain at least two of these strains. S boulardii and B subtilis should be at least 1 billion CFU (colony forming units). L acidophilus and Bifidobacterium probiotics should be at least 30 billion CFU.
RELATED: Which probiotics for dogs are best?
Dog Gut Health Foods
These are some other ideas for probiotic foods you can try:
- Fermented vegetables – buy organic or make your own. Start out slowly and work up to 1 tsp per 15 lbs of body weight. Add them to your dog’s food daily or feed as a snack.
- Kefir – buy organic (make sure it’s
unsweetened) or make your own. You can use water to make kefir, so you avoid dairy intolerances. Give 1/4 cup per 25 lbs of body weight daily.
Along with adding probiotics to your pup’s diet, should give prebiotics. Prebiotics are a source of food for those beneficial bacteria. My favorite sources are bananas and dandelion greens.
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#3 Feed Bone Broth
You dog’s intestines are pretty miraculous organs that have massive implications on the health of the entire body.
The intestines break down food so the body can absorb needed nutrients. At the same time, the junk waits inside the gut to be passed as waste material. The walls of the intestines ensure that good things (water and nutrients) are used by the body. The bad things (toxins and pathogens) get stuck in the intestines until they’re tossed.
However, inflammation creates gaps between the individual cells lining the walls. This is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. These gaps allow toxins and pathogens to leak and escape the intestines and get into the blood stream. There, they cause inflammation in other parts of the body. This can lead to problems such as asthma and skin rashes, joint pain, thyroid conditions and more.
Along with helping boost fur and nail strength, gelatin can help heal some of those gaps. This creates a healthier gut system … and when the system works the way it’s meant to, the health of your pup’s whole body is improved. You can also use bone broth to give your dog gelatin, and it’s easy to make.
#4 Give Your Dog Variety
What happens to humans if we eat nothing but vegetables all the time, but then go and eat a huge greasy burger? Talk about a stomach ache!
The same thing happens to our pups. They eat the same food every single day and then get into something different. And the gut pays the price. It’s not surprising. And it’s even worse when the same food each and every day is kibble. Diarrhea and vomiting are common results.
What if we fed them a variety of foods instead? If your dog is used to variety, then those random bites of mystery meat are not likely to upset him as much.
There is another advantage to variety as well. It provides your dog’s body with the widest range of nutrients and reduces the risk of an imbalanced diet.
I add variety in several ways. First, I recommend feeding real food to dogs, instead of kibble. You can add variety by feeding vegetables and fruit … and by regularly switching up the protein sources. And don’t forget to add in different organ meats to ensure that your dog is getting an even wider variety of nutrients.
I avoid grains no matter what I’m feeding. If there are other ingredients your dog’s sensitive or allergic to, obviously avoid those as well. The more variety your dog is eating, the less those unusual snacks will cause problems.
Remember: an animal has to be exposed to something to be allergic to it. Allergies usually come from something they’ve been eating for a long time. So just because you haven’t changed their food doesn’t mean they don’t have a food allergy! In fact, they may be more likely to have one!
#5 Stay Away From These
There are several other things that directly impact gut health aside from food. Here are some things to avoid, to minimize dog gut health problems.
Antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria that make your dog sick. But they also kill the good bacteria in the gut (and everywhere else). And that’s true even if they’re just used on the skin. Remember, the health of the bacteria in the gut directly impacts the health of the bacteria on the skin. Therefore, avoid antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary. And if you have to use them, make sure you give a probiotic at the same time.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
Many of the medications given for pain and inflammation can affect the gut. The most common side effects of most NSAIDs are diarrhea and vomiting. In fact, NSAIDs can actually contribute to Leaky Gut Syndrome. So, it’s worth considering other options for long-term pain control. Options I like and use regularly include acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal care, and diet changes to reduce inflammation (like cutting those grains!).
Stress also affects the gut, no matter the source. Try to minimize stressful situations for your dog as much as possible … and that includes reducing your own stress, since your dog picks up on that.
- Try frankincense or lavender essential oil in a diffuser (but make sure your dog can leave the room if he doesn’t like it).
- Calming supplements contain melatonin, chamomile, and tryptophan, as well as other soothing ingredients.
- Some dogs respond well to anxiety vests.
- Pheromones are natural hormones dogs secrete that can help to reduce anxiety.
- CBD oil for dogs is also an excellent option for reducing stress (but make sure it doesn’t contain THC, the component that makes people high).
Anxiety can be frustrating, without a doubt. But if your pup is stressed enough to show signs of intestinal upset, then you have to address it.
What dog food is good for gut health?
The best food for dog gut health is a whole food, raw-meat based diet. Many dogs experience immediate improvements in dog gut health symptoms just by making this simple change.
What is a natural probiotic for dogs?
Natural probiotics for dogs include foods like fermented vegetables. You can try foods like kefir, but if you do, it’s best to use water kefir to avoid potential dairy intolerances.
How can I improve my dog’s gut health?
You can improve your dog’s gut health by feeding a fresh, whole-food raw diet, adding probiotics, and avoiding pharmaceutical drugs and other chemicals in your dog’s environment.
Restoring Dog Gut Health Takes Time
You need to be patient as you take steps to restore gut health in dogs.
First, remember, these problems have usually been going on for a while .. so they take time to improve. The longer your dog has had gut health symptoms, the longer he will take to heal … weeks to months, sometimes more. Boomer took two years to recover completely. These tips work, but you can’t expect overnight results.
If your dog has long-term gut health problems, it might be time to speak to a holistic vet. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website has a directory at ahvma.org.
Dog gut health is something you need to focus on to keep your pup as healthy as possible throughout the course of his hopefully very long life. The healthier you can keep his gut, the healthier you can keep his entire body. Healthy pups start with healthy guts!
- Vojdani A. Lectins, agglutinins, and their roles in autoimmune reactivities. Altern Ther Health Med. 2015;21 Suppl 1:46-51. PMID: 25599185.
- Blaabjerg S, Artzi DM, Aabenhus R. Probiotics for the Prevention of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea in Outpatients-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Antibiotics (Basel). 2017;6(4):21. Published 2017 Oct 12.
- B Mounika et al. Effect of probiotic formulation containing Bacillus spp. on diarrhoea in dogs. Research Opinions in Animal and Veterinary Sciences. 2016 November;6(8):256-260.