Article at a Glance
- Let your dog be a dog! This means allowing them regular access to real nature – get them in the woods, allow them to inhale fresh air, lick the mud, sniff faeces from other animals. Variety is key – dogs need exposure to a huge variety of microbes that they can only get from being in nature. The more time they spend in nature the healthier they will be.
- Allow your dogs to play with other dogs – physical activity is great for gut health – it gets things moving and also exposes the dogs to microRNA transfer from other dogs – we are exchanging our microbiomes, good and bad, all the time so increase these positive interactions!
- Clean up their food – diversity of food fed and a species appropriate diet is key. Dogs cannot thrive on processed food, neither can we. They need real foods. This will ensure the right proteins and fibres to encourage a healthy environment for the gut microbes to thrive. Ensuring your dog’s food are as free from additives and chemicals as possible, where possible feed organic – dogs can’t tolerate the heavily chemically laden foods in most commercial dog foods.
- Reduce or eliminate other chemicals in the environment – chemical wormers, flea and tick controls, pain killers, antibiotics will all have a devastating effect on the microbiome. If you absolutely have to use any of these, e.g. quality of life pain management, then seek expert advice on how to repair the gut and microbiome.
- Reduce chemical usage in your homes and gardens – anything microbiological and most chemical cleaners or weed controls kill the microbiome quickly. Use only natural alternatives. Remember dogs are far more vulnerable to this than us humans, as e.g. floor cleaners get on paws which are then licked. Having loads more smell receptors than humans also means that dogs inhale chemicals more potently than humans.
- Do not use probiotics – these are now being shown to disrupt the healthy gut microbiome as much as many of the chemicals used above – flooding the body with narrow range of bacteria will push the microflora out of balance very quickly.
- Probiotics are NOT the same as fermented Soil Based Effective Microorganisms – these will be explained in more detail in a subsequent post but can be extremely useful. Also feeding your dog fermented products such as sauerkraut, Kefir etc. can be very beneficial.
- Beware of products that dog groomers are using – the biome is also on the skin and fur and this should be maintained. Dogs should not need regular baths – their fur is generally self-cleaning unless they have rolled in soothing undesirable!
The great news is that all of these tips are equally applicable to us humans – so looking after your dog’s microbiome will have huge benefits on all the family’s health!
The microbiome / gut microflora is now a well-used term, and something that fascinates me intensely. As a Biologist, how each species fits into the intricate web of nature, and how science is now showing that all species are connected at a biological level is simply fascinating, and one of the largest scientific growth areas. We are only now really appreciating just how important this is to health and wellness.
This subject is so complex we could write a book on it, but here is a quick summary!
The Gut Brain
Scientists are now calling the gut ‘the first brain’ – why? Because we now know that communication between the gut and the brain is continuous, and surprisingly 9 times more information flows from the gut to the brain than from the brain to the gut! This backs up that the gut is influencing far more than was every thought possible, in all aspects of health and behaviour.
So, what do We Mean by Gut Microflora / the Microbiome?
Most studies have been done on the human microbiome, which has been shown to consist of billions of bacteria, fungi and viruses, that have a greater complexity than the human genome itself.
One of the leading human pioneers in gut health is Triple Board-Certified Dr Zach Bush MD. Zach Bush MD has recently defined health as ‘being fully connected to nature’. ‘If a cell is fully connected to nature with unfettered access to information it will forever be healthy. It will repair at a remarkable rate and if it can’t repair it will end its life through a process called apoptosis (cell suicide) and it will signal a stem cell to replace it’. We will see below how this connectivity to nature, and between every cell in the body, is highly linked to the microbiome  and .
We now know that a healthy gut plays a crucial role in the health of our whole body and mind. New studies are showing the surprising effects of antibiotics and the even more shocking effects of probiotics, despite what many medical companies would have us believe. Zach Bush MD is studying how a diverse gut microbiome is best supported by lifestyle choices including eating local, organic foods and exposing ourselves (and our animals) to a variety of the microbiomes existing in nature. The gut microbiome is influenced by everything we put into our body and everything around us. Although we don’t yet have all the answers to what makes a healthy gut, Zach Bush MD provides unique insights that bring us closer to healing our guts and our bodies.
All of this knowledge can be transferred to our pet health. Pets are designed to live even closer to nature than us humans – in modern evolutionary history. Alas the lifestyle that many now lead, when living with us humans, is far removed from what they need to thrive.
Good overall health is highly-dependent on gut health because a lot more than digestion happens in the gut. It’s also where proper immune system function begins and the majority of our neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, are created.
Studies are showing that gut health, and hence overall health, is largely dependent on two main areas:
- The strength of the tight junctions (the seals between cells) in our gut lining – as this gut lining plays a crucial role in protecting the body from toxic substances entering the blood stream , and also allowing full nutrient absorption and
- Allowing a vibrant and species appropriate microbiome to flourish.
This post will deal with the microbiome, and we will cover how to maintain the integrity of the gut lining in a separate post.
What is Dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis simply means a disturbance in the gut microflora. A diagnosis of dysbiosis highlights that changes need to be made to the dog’s lifestyle to bring the microbiome back into balance.
Research on the Microbiome – Human
The microbiome has received increasing attention over the last 15 years. Although gut microbes have been explored for several decades, investigations of the role of microorganisms that reside in the human gut has attracted much attention beyond classical infectious diseases. For example, numerous studies have reported changes in the gut microbiota during not only obesity, diabetes, and liver diseases but also cancer and even neurodegenerative diseases. The human gut microbiota is viewed as a potential source of novel therapeutics. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of publications focusing on the gut microbiota was, remarkably, 12 900, which represents four-fifths of the total number of publications over the last 40 years that investigated this topic. 
What this actually means is that in numbers we, and our dogs, are way more our microbiome than human / canine! That really is food for thought and may make us respect our and our pet’s microbiome in a new way.
Research into Canine Microbiome
Several research studies have been undertaken, but these are still limited and many date back 10 years. We expect to see many more studies over the next few years. 
How do you know if your dog’s microbiome is healthy, balanced and well populated?
Basically, ANY health or behavioural condition will be impacted by the health of your dog’s microbiome. From digestive issues, skin and coat condition, breath, weight, any diseases present and even aggression can all be impacted by the microbiome health. Cancer research in humans is showing that each organ, e.g. the breast, have their own microbiome, and that recent cancer research suggests that the microbiota of women with breast cancer differs from that of healthy women, indicating that certain bacteria may be associated with cancer development and with different responses to therapy .
Many factors influence the microbiome health including:
- Diet (Food & Water): Many foods are now highly processed. Processed food not only have denatured (heat or pH destroyed) enzymes, which basically renders them unable to perform their job in the body, but also the presence of large quantities of chemicals, such as herbicides (the best-known being glyphosate which alas is prevalent in our food chain) plays havoc with the microbiome. We will write a separate post on Glyphosate and it’s devastating health effects, but suffice to say, it, and other chemicals in and on the food and water, can quickly destroy the beneficial diversity of the microbiome. In addition, feeding inappropriate protein and fibre sources for a dog can lead to the ‘wrong’ microflora thriving which will quickly lead to physical and behavioural symptoms.
- Other chemicals – antibiotics, pain killers like NSAIDS (Metacam, Meloxicam, Carprofen etc.), flea and tick treatments, chemical wormers, household cleaners, garden chemicals – alas the list is endless into what our poor dogs and ourselves are exposed to in today’s modern living environments. All of these destroy beneficial gut flora quickly.
- Stress – can come in many forms e.g. chemical, psychological e.g. living environment, EMF etc. Dogs’ bodies are evolved to use stress hormones when they are produced over a short timespan e.g. when the dog is in immediate danger. Like many humans, many dogs are now exposed to long term stress hormones which can have a detrimental effect on the microbiome.
- And much more!
The link between the Soil and Gut
We think of every organ within our body as ‘internal’ yet the gut and respiratory systems are clearly open to the environment through the mouth and nose.
We now know that all animals inhale and ingest the microbiome. Soil health is the subject of much research at present, with the widespread knowledge that in the ‘developed’ world soil health has fallen dramatically over the last 50 years due to intensive agriculture and the substantial use of chemicals in our food production. This has had a devastating effect on the soil microflora. This destruction in the soil microflora in turn means that less nutrients enter our food; hence this is a vicious circle that is only recently being recognised.
This is one of the many reasons why organic and biodynamic no-till farming is receiving such praise, for the known effect on environment and health.