Companion Animal Digestion

Date: April 19, 2018

You are what you eat, but more importantly, you are what you digest. What does this difference really mean?

Poor digestion is evidenced by loose stool, occasional or daily vomiting, excessive gas, low energy, poor quality coat and chronic itching. In speaking with dog (and cat) owners who struggle daily with their companion animals' digestive issues, it is evident that the sheer number of supplements, diets and medications available is overwhelming and often confusing. The process of constant trial and error to determine the offending food, find the right probiotic, include the most beneficial omega fatty acid support and address joint and skin issues is enough to exhaust the most dedicated pet owner.

As our understanding grows in the science of human health, we now know that the state of the microbiome of the gut is the foundation of wellness. The second brain if you will. The gastrointestinal microbiota (bacterial cells) has an important role in nutrition, energy metabolism, host defense, and immune system development. The term "mucosal barrier" highlights the pivotal role of the gut in its interaction with microbiota; it is not a static shield but an active membrane with specialized components. It is this barrier that on one hand allows the coexistence of microorganisms necessary for the body and on the other hand prevents passage of macromolecules and pathogens into the blood stream¹

Dr. Axe Food is Medicine

Source: Dr. Axe

Our companion animals’ digestive systems are no different in that regard. Inflammation in the gut which may result in a compromised mucosal barrier thereby allowing macromolecules to breach its barrier functions, can lead to inflammation throughout the body.

According to Dr. John B Smith, DVM, holistic veterinarian practicing in Ann Arbor, Michigan Leaky gut syndrome consists of four stages:

  1. Hypersensitivity (allergy) such as skin and ear infections
  2. Malnutrition evident in poor coat quality and/or weight loss
  3. Liver stress demonstrated by elevated enzymes on routine blood work
  4. Intestinal bacterial overgrowth

Conditions which may be related are many: bowel disorders, arthritis, pancreatitis, dermatitis, otitis, rhinitis, and seizure disorders to name a few.An increase in gut wall permeability can result in hypersensitivity to certain foods and even lead to liver issues due to the excessive load in dealing with the toxic insult.

In 2017, a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine found that chronic inflammatory enteropathies and, in particular, food responsive enteropathies were the most frequent causes of chronic diarrhea in dogs²

Another study linked leaky gut as a trigger for autoimmune disease in those individuals with a genetic predispostion³

So how do you, the pet owner help your dog or cat if you are concerned that their digestive complaints and other difficult to solve health issues are in part due to gut inflammation?

First and foremost is to feed your pet a balanced diet as close to what nature intended as possible. You can refer to part 3 of Inna Shekhtman article in Pet Connection Feb-March 2018 Pet Life Balance for a good summary of a healthy companion animal diet.There are many options ranging from raw, home-cooked, frozen fresh and dry diets depending on your personal choice and what your dog or cat does best on.

Secondly, you can add some important real food ingredients that have been proven to have a positive effect on gastrointestinal issues.

1. Organic Cabbage: cabbage provides a great source of L-Glutamine which is a known anti-inflammatory. It has been shown in human studies to support the cells of the gut lining and contains significant levels of Vitamin C which is important for its anti-oxidant properties. Cabbage also contains S-Methylmethionine (SMM) also known as Vitamin U which has been shown to significantly speed up ulcer healing⁴

2. Organic Steel Milled Oat Groats: oats are a very high source of Beta Glucans which aid in maintaining a regular rate of food passage, preventing undigested starch from reaching the colon where it can create an acidic environment encouraging harmful bacteria to flourish. Beta glucans are also key in activating the immune system's first line of defense⁵

Contrary to common thought, organic oats are a very low glycemic index source of carbohydrate and are gluten free. They do not have the same detrimental effects as wheat & corn gluten and other high glycemic index carbohydrates.

3. Organic Hemp: hemp meal is a rich source of Omega 3 &6 Fatty Acids in the desirable 3:1 ratio as well as GLA (gamma linoleic acid). They are important for a multitude of functions within the body including cell wall integrity, anti-inflammatory effects, hormonal health and are an excellent source of protein and fibre.

4. Organic Carrot: carrot adds beneficial vitamins including Beta Carotene, fiber, and powerful anti-oxidant effects to combat free radical damage including inflammation.

5. Diatomaceous Earth: a natural detoxifying agent killing parasites and viruses while cleansing the digestive tract. In addition to boosting liver function it is beneficial in absorbing harmful toxins from the blood. It retains its traits as a stable particle even when suspended in liquid medium. It carries an electrical charge allowing it to act as an anti-oxidant and attracting free radicals, neutralizing them and carrying them from the body.

Currently, ground breaking research to study the natural gastrointestinal benefits of these ingredients in combination is underway. It is showing exciting results in the lab and as more information becomes available, there will be scientific evidence showing the effects on a cellular level. Anecdotal evidence is extremely positive and will fuel further research to validate its efficacy in our companion animals. What we do know is that many dogs suffering for months and even years are exhibiting significantly improved digestion.

¹ Intestinal Permeability in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Pathogenesis, Clinical Evaluation, and Therapy of Leaky Gut

² Andrea Michielan and Renata D’IncàDepartment of Surgical, Oncological and Gastroenterological Sciences, University of Padua, 35128 Padova, Italy. Received 24 April 2015; Accepted 21 September 2015

³ Volkmann, M., Steiner, J.M., Fosgate, G.T., Zentek, J., Hartmann, S. and Kohn, B. (2017), Chronic Diarrhea in Dogs – Retrospective Study in 136 Cases. J Vet Intern Med, 31: 1043–1055. doi:10.1111/jvim.14739

⁴ Mu, Qinghui et al.. “Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases” Frontiers in Immunology 8 (2017): 598. PMC. Web. 9 Feb. 2018.

⁵ Cheney, Garnett. “RAPID HEALING OF PEPTIC ULCERS IN PATIENTS RECEIVING FRESH CABBAGE JUICE.” California Medicine 70.1 (1949): 10–15. Print. in human studies.

Oatmeal porridge: impact on microflora-associated characteristics in healthy subjects. Valeur J, Puaschitz NG, Midtvedt T, BerstadA Br J Nutr 2016 Jan 14; 115 (1) 62-7

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