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 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 slow improvement and his monthly ear infections and constant licking also began to disappear.
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 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 many studies in the human world (with more coming out all the time) showing that grains cause inflammation throughout the body.
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.
The one other thing I’d like to mention is simple but not obvious. When we eat grains, we have a constant level of inflammation in our gut. That inflammation goes away when we eliminate them. The result is that your pup will be MORE reactive to grains, not less. The reaction from one single bite is amplified since the inflammation isn’t there to mute it. This means that once when you’ve pulled grains, if your pup is at all sensitive to them, the reaction may be even MORE dramatic if they sneak the kid’s food, not less.
#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.
But did you know that studies in the human world have also linked gut health to things such as skin health? These bacteria are responsible for so much more than good poop. They keep the rest of our bodies healthy as well.
Probiotics in general are becoming more well known and used. However, there are different types of probiotic bacteria and they come in different forms. For example, I originally started Boomer on a powdered probiotic, which immediately made the diarrhea worse. Apparently he was allergic to something in that brand. So I switched to whole fat plain yogurt which worked a little bit (yogurt works very well for dogs with more mild issues). I tried a gel probiotic that didn’t work at all. I finally settled on a brand of probiotics with digestive enzymes (which help digest his food) that made a huge difference and didn’t cause any other problems. I’ve since started many dogs on that brand with good results.
So get your pup on probiotics, and don’t be afraid to try different ones.
Here are some other ideas for natural probiotics 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.
- Raw goat milk – buy organic and feed it daily according to body weight:
- Up to 20 lbs – 2 oz
- 20 to 50 lbs – 4 oz
- Over 50 lbs – 6 oz
- Kefir – buy organic (make sure its unsweetend) or make your own. You can use water or even coconut milk. Give 1/4 cup per 25 lbs of body weight daily.
Along with adding probiotics to your pup’s diet, you also want to consider adding prebiotics. Prebiotics are a source of food for those beneficial bacteria. My favorite sources are bananas and dandelion greens.
#3 Gelatin and Bone Broth
You dog’s intestines are pretty miraculous organs. Well, really, his entire body is pretty amazing, but let’s focus right now on the intestines as they have massive implications on the health of the entire body.
The intestines break down food so that the body can absorb needed nutrients while leaving the junk inside the gut to be passed as waste material. Simply put, the walls of the intestines ensure that good things (water and nutrients) are used by the body, while bad things (toxins and pathogens) get stuck inside the intestines until they are passed out.
However, inflammation in the intestines 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, where they cause inflammation in other parts of the body and can lead to problems such as asthma and skin rashes, joint pain, thyroid conditions and more.[Related: Leaky Gut may be causing allergies. Find out more about it here]
Along with helping boost fur and nail strength, gelatin can help to heal up some of those leaky gaps in the intestines, creating a healthier gut system. 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 for this same purpose, and it’s easy to make.
What happens to humans if we eat nothing but organic vegetables all the time, and then we suddenly go and eat a huge greasy burger with fries? Talk about a stomach ache!
The same thing happens to our pups when they eat nothing but the same thing every day and then get into something different. Which, let’s face it, is going to happen.
This is made even worse when the same food each and every day is kibble. Diarrhea and vomiting are the common results.
What if we fed them a variety of foods instead? If pups are used to variety, then those random bites of mystery meat are not likely to upset them as much.
There is another advantage to variety as well, for both humans and pups: it provides our bodies with the widest possible 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, rather than kibble. You can add variety by feeding vegetables and fruit as well as switching up the protein sources on a regular basis. And don’t forget to add in different organs meats to ensure that your dog is getting a wide variety of nutrients too.
I avoid grains no matter what I’m feeding, and if there are other ingredients to which they are allergic, obviously avoid those as well. The more variety your dog is eating, the less those unusual bites will cause problems.
Remember: An animal has to be exposed to something to be allergic to it, and 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 we know directly impact gut health beyond the actual foods we feed our dogs. One of the best ways to protect and restore gut health is making sure you’re avoiding the things that can cause problems.
- Avoid antibiotics whenever possible. When taken by mouth, antibiotics kill off many of the good bacteria in the gut (and everywhere else), as well as the bad bacteria. Even if they’re just used on the skin, we already talked about how the health of the bacteria in the gut directly impacts the health of the bacteria on the skin. Therefore, if you have to give your pup an antibiotic, make sure you give a probiotic at the same time.
- Skip the NSAIDs. We also know that many of the medications given for pain and inflammation can affect the gut. For example, the most common side effects of most non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are diarrhea and vomiting. However, we’ve learned that the effect on the gut is more dramatic than that. NSAIDs can actually contribute to Leaky Gut Syndrome. Therefore, it’s worth considering other options to replace or, at minimum, supplement 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!).
- Reduce The Stress. Stress also affects the gut, whether your dog gets stressed from being alone or from fireworks. Unfortunately, stress control is tricky in dogs, since they don’t understand what’s happening.
Luckily, there are some products that can help. Frankincense and lavender essential oils are relaxing for some dogs and you can either diffuse or dilute them. 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 is also an excellent option for reducing stress (but make sure to get the dog versions that don’t contain THC).
Anxiety can be frustrating, but if your pup is stressed enough to show signs of intestinal upset (and therefore inflammation!), then it’s absolutely necessary to address it.
Restoring Gut Health Takes Time
First of all, if your pup has ongoing problems, it might be time to speak to a veterinary professional. You can see is there’s a holistic veterinarian in your area at the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website here.
Next, remember, these problems have usually been going on for a while. Therefore, it takes time to improve. Boomer took two years to recover completely. The longer the problem has been going on, the longer it will take to heal. Weeks to months, sometimes more. These tips work, but you CANNOT expect overnight results!
You want to keep your pup as healthy as possible throughout the course of his hopefully very long life. You want him to be able to thrive despite everything life throws at him. And so much of health starts at the gut level. The healthier you can keep his gut, the healthier you can keep his entire body.
Healthy pups start with healthy guts.