Your dog’s intestinal tract is a fascinating place.
It can digest large pieces of food, defeat pathogens like salmonella and e-coli, and convert food to nutrients the body can use. Much of this work is performed by enzymes and microflora in the gut. The microflora, known as beneficial or “good” bacteria, help with digestion, absorption, and the production of B vitamins and enzymes.
Most importantly, beneficial bacteria are a primary defense against foreign invaders and an important part of a healthy immune system. As much as 80% of your dog’s immune system is based in his gut, so a healthy gut is vital to your dog’s overall health.
There are over 100 trillion microorganisms from about 400 different species in a healthy digestive tract. Many researchers believe that declining levels of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract may mark the onset of chronic degenerative disease and a suppressed immune system.
Poor diet and other environmental stresses can be extremely damaging to the beneficial bacteria colonies. Although there isn’t much research done on dogs, in humans the beneficial bacteria count can often be as low as 4 to 5 per milliliter whereas a healthy colon would have at least 100 billion per milliliter.
Beneficial bacteria prevent disease-causing organisms from latching onto the gut lining. In a process known as competitive exclusion, they can also crowd out harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. They can help with digestion and absorption of important nutrients from foods, improving overall health. Mounting evidence suggests they also have anti-inflammatory effects on the cells and tissues of the body, and can even support healthy brain function.
7 Factors That Cause Beneficial Bacteria To Decline
There are many reasons for declining numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They include:
Over time, beneficial bacteria lose their vitality.
#2 Changes In The Acid-Alkaline Balance Of The Bowels
This is especially true of dogs who eat grains and a lot of vegetable content. These foods change the pH in the gut and slow down digestion, promoting the growth of the harmful, putrefying bacteria.
Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs such as Rimadyl, Metacam and Deramaxx are destructive to intestinal flora.
This chemical in your dog’s drinking water not only kills bacteria in the water; it is equally devastating to the colonies of beneficial bacteria living in your dog’s intestines.
Radiation from cellphones, cordless phones and WiFi is devastating to the inner bacterial environment.
#6 Meat, Chicken And Dairy Diets (if non-organic)
Factory farmed meats are loaded with antibiotics, which destroy all of the beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
#7 Antibiotic herbs
Herbs such as goldenseal (if taken in large quantities) can have a negative impact. Antibiotics of any kind – even natural ones – indiscriminately destroy both bad and GOOD bacteria. This allows virulent, mutant strains of harmful microorganisms to emerge and run rampant inside the body. In fact, antibiotics (both medicinal and in our food supply) are the #1 culprit in the overgrowth of harmful pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract (a condition called dysbiosis) that may be at the root of many autoimmune disorders and certain cancers.
Giving your dog a good probiotic supplement is an important step in managing his gut health. There are many types of probiotics on the market but there are two important types of good bacteria for dogs. These are:
L. acidophilus resides mainly in the small intestine and produces a number of powerful antimicrobial compounds in the gut (including: acidolin, acidolphilin, lactocidin, and bacteriocin). These compounds can inhibit the growth and toxin producing capabilities of some 23 known disease-causing pathogens (including: campylobacter, listeria, and staphylococci), as well as reduce tumor growth and effectively neutralize or inhibit carcinogenic substances. L. acidophilus is also the primary beneficial bacteria in the vaginal tract, so when puppies are born, they get a first dose of healthy bacteria as they pass through the birth canal.
Many researchers believe that declining levels of bifidobacteria in the large intestine actually mark the eventual onset of chronic degenerative disease. Bifidobacteria benefit the body in a number of ways. They consume old fecal matter, have the ability to remove cancer-forming elements (or the enzymes which lead to their formation), and protect against the formation of liver, colon, and mammary gland tumors.
When starting your dog on probiotics, you might want to start slowly. The probiotics will cause a die-off of the harmful bacteria in the gut and this may cause gas, loose stools and stomach rumblings.
Giving probiotic supplements isn’t the only way to get these beneficial bacteria into your dog. There are many foods that can provide the same benefits and save you a lot of money compared to supplements.
Feed Probiotic Foods
There are many easily available probiotic foods you can give your dog to help maintain beneficial bacteria. These include various types of fermented foods.
You can buy fermented veggies (like kimchi) or make them yourself following many recipes available online.
Start out slowly and work up to 1 tsp a day for dogs up to 15 pounds, 2 tsp for dogs 16-30 pounds and increase 1 tsp for each additional 30 pounds. Add it to food or feed as a snack.
(Would you like to know what vegetables are best for your dog? Click here )
Raw Goat Milk
Raw goat milk is abundant in natural probiotics. It has very little lactose (the sugar that’s in cow’s milk) so doesn’t cause the same digestive issues as regular dairy.
Give goat milk to your dog daily according to his weight:
- Up to 20 lbs – 2 oz
- 20 to 50 lbs – 4 oz
- Over 50 lbs – 6 oz
To find a local source of raw goat milk, go to localharvest.com
This fermented milk product is full of natural probiotics and most dogs love it as a topping on their food or as a separate snack. You can buy kefir at the grocery store but be careful it’s unsweetened. Again, goat milk is a better option for dogs than cow’s milk.
You can also make your own kefir: buy kefir grains (they look like tiny pearls!) at a website like Cultures for Health and follow the instructions to make water or milk based kefir. You can also make kefir from other “milks” like coconut, cashew or hemp.
Give your dog ¼ cup of kefir per 25 lbs daily
Give Your Dog Prebiotics Too!
Probiotics need to be fed too, and what they need is prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that contain insoluble fiber and they nourish the probiotics in the colon, helping the probiotics stay active and do their job.
Add some of the following prebiotic foods to your dog’s diet to nourish and support the probiotics you’re giving him. Except for garlic (which is very safe in moderation), the amount isn’t important – it’s just food! But start out slowly to avoid digestive upsets if your dog isn’t used to these fibrous foods.
- Green leafy veggies (dandelion leaves are especially good)
- Garlic (feed fresh, organic US-grown garlic, up to 1 tsp per 30 lbs of your dog’s weight per day)
These are just a few of many ways to keep your dog’s gut bacteria healthy and support his immune system and overall health.