Find out why supporting your dog or cat’s gut health is one of the most important things you can do for his overall well-being.
Integrative and holistic practitioners have long understood that gut health is the foundation of whole-body health for people and their dogs and cats. Mainstream medicine now also recognizes that the health status of the GI tract truly affects everything else in the body. This is why supporting your dog or cat’s gut health is so important to his overall well-being.
“ALL DISEASE STARTS IN THE GUT”
This concept dates back thousands of years to traditional Eastern and Chinese medicine as well as ancient Greek philosophy. In fact, Hippocrates (also known as the “father of medicine”) stated that: “All disease starts in the gut”. Today, our current understanding of leaky gut syndrome, gut microbiome status, and the gut-brain axis all provide modern scientific evidence that this ancient philosophy is true.
LEAKY GUT — WHY IT’S A PROBLEM
“Leaky gut” describes the condition that occurs when the lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes hyperpermeable, allowing toxins, bacteria, and other foreign substances to leak into the bloodstream. This concept is gaining lots of interest because of its application to numerous health conditions, including digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, and systemic issues like chronic skin conditions, joint inflammation, and autoimmune diseases.
The lining of the intestinal tract is made up of epithelial cells that form an inside barrier separating the lumen (tube) of the gut from systemic circulation (bloodstream). This intestinal barrier allows the passage and absorption of beneficial nutrients into the body to be used as daily fuel; but it also works to protect the body from absorbing unwanted toxic substances and foreign particles. The intestinal barrier is designed to do these essential jobs via a system of connections between the epithelial cells, called tight junctions. Additionally, the intestinal epithelial barrier protects the underlying immune system tissue and is critically necessary for supporting a healthy and balanced gut microbiome.
In our modern-day world, many factors can cause intestinal inflammation that can lead to a breakdown of the tight junctions in the gut lining barrier. This results in leakage through the cell connections, allowing unwanted particles into all systems of the body.
THE IMMUNE SYSTEM IS ALSO IMPACTED
It is important to understand that once the gut barrier has been penetrated, much of the immune system is exposed. That’s because the gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) is just behind the thin layer of epithelial cells. The GALT is a layer of immune cells that compromises 60% to 70% of your dog or cat’s immune system, and is where 80% of their antibodies originate.
When this tract of immune system tissue experiences constant direct exposure to incoming foreign agents, toxins, and unwanted particles, it puts the immune system in “overdrive” and starts a cascade of chronic inflammation. This is why leaky gut syndrome is implicated as the root cause of various metabolic disorders, immune mediated diseases, and all kinds of chronic inflammatory conditions.
Here are some things that can cause inflammation in the GI tract and compromise the gut lining:
Processed foods — high heat creates AGEs, which cause inflammation
Toxins — glyphosate (RoundUp) and other herbicides and pesticides; food preservatives BPA/BHA
Medications — NSAIDs, antacids, antibiotics, corticosteroids
Chronic stress — causes adrenal glands to release cortisol; if consistent, can damage gut lining
Furthermore, microbial communities in the gut are significantly affected by diet. Processed foods, a high carbohydrate ratio in the diet, not enough fiber (prebiotics), etc., have a direct impact on the composition and function of gut microbiota.
ADDRESSING GI INFLAMMATION AND LEAKY GUT
Now for the good news! The intestinal epithelium possesses a great capacity for self-renewal and regeneration after being damaged. In fact, the intestinal lining is one of the most rapidly regenerating tissues in the body, with the ability to renew every five to seven days. These renewal and regenerative processes are driven by intestinal stem cells (ISCs), which reside at the base of crypts in the epithelial cells.
Numerous medicinal foods and supplements can help support and repair the GI tract and aid in reducing or resolving inflammation.
11 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR DOG OR CAT’S GUT HEALTH
Diet is crucial. Gut health is supported by high quality, species-appropriate foods made with fresh or minimally-processed ingredients. Limited or novel ingredient diets can be used initially to help reduce inflammatory response.
Avoid potential allergens. Work with your vet to identify and avoid food allergens or intolerances. Ideally, food sensitivity testing can be done, or trials with limited ingredient diets.
Stress can exacerbate digestive issues, so stress management is helpful. Support a calm environment and stress-reducing activities, with regular exercise and mental stimulation
Incorporating prebiotics and probiotics can help promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and support overall digestive function. I suggest rotating probiotics, or using them intermittently and incorporating fermented foods.
Fecal Microbiota Transfer can help replace and rebuild the gut microbiome, thus improving gut health and immune response.
Digestive enzymes are essential for effectively breaking down foods to support the assimilation of nutrients. Proper levels of digestive enzymes can reduce inflammation and reactivity to poorly digested food particles.
Studies show that glutamine helps maintain the health and length of the intestinal villi, preserve the mucosal lining, and prevent worsening of gut permeability.
Collagen contains amino acid building blocks, such as proline and glycine, that help repair the intestinal lining. Bone broth contains collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine.
Fermented foods are helpful and include kefir, fermented veggies, etc.
Colostrum provides immune factors and growth factors to protect and repair gut tissue, while its proline-rich peptides help intracellular signaling modulate the immune system.
Numerous herbs and medicinal mushrooms have been evaluated for their positive effects on maintaining intestinal barrier function. Useful medicinal mushrooms include Chaga, Cordyceps, Lions Mane, Shiitake and Maitake. Herbs commonly used to support gut health and repair include slippery elm, marshmallow root, licorice root and plantain.
Always work with your veterinarian when making any changes to your dog or cat’s diet, or introducing any new supplements or remedies. Every animal is unique, and requires individual care. Having said that, maintaining optimal gut health is important to every one of our canine and feline friends, so it’s never too soon to start.
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