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Science & Technology: Gut Microbiota’s Impact on Overall Pet Health

Glenn Polyn//April 1, 2023//

Science & Technology: Gut Microbiota’s Impact on Overall Pet Health

Glenn Polyn //April 1, 2023//

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Like humans, cats and dogs have a complex community of trillions of microorganisms living in their gut. Collectively called the gut microbiome, this community supports almost every aspect of your pet’s health — helping with digestion, protecting against disease, maintaining healthy GI function, and so much more. Disruption of the gut microbiome — due to factors like diet, age, disease, and certain medications — can cause some of these functions to stop working. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms for your pet, like itchy skin, diarrhea, constipation, obesity, and even behavioral issues. Pet Age recently spoke with Mika Wheelwright, owner of Fidobiotics, to learn more about gut health in pets.


What is the microbiota, and why is it important for our dog’s health?  

The microbiota refers to the trillions of microorganisms that include bacteria, fungi, viruses and yeast that are on or within the tissues, of the human or animal, such as the gastrointestinal tracts (GI), skin, oral mucosa, lung, and the urogenital. This ‘living ecosystem’ of the microbiota and its genes in a given environment is known as the microbiome. This mutually beneficial relationship with these microbes is important because our bodies are the host, we can’t live without them and they cannot live without us. A ‘healthy gut’ is microbially diverse with a variety of healthy bacteria and immune cells that help the body’s normal ability to fight off infectious agents such as pathogenic bacteria, viruses and fungi along with aid in digestion. The microbiota is constantly influencing our enteric nervous system (ENS) and the other parts of our body such as the communication with the brain. The communication between the GI tract and the nervous systems may affect things like cognition, stress, behavior, mood and more.  Thus, a healthy gut is correlated with healthy neurobehavior and is essential for proper enteric nervous system function. 


What influences a dog’s microbiota, and how does it impact their life?  

It is important to realize each gut microbiota is specific to that individual, and many factors influence our dog’s microbiota during their life. To understand these impacts, we need to start with a baseline. This begins with early life stages when the microbiota is established.   

Birth delivery: A pivotal factor that establishes an animal’s microbiome is did they go through the birth canal or was it a C-section delivery? Going through the birth canal is extremely important as the newborn is in contact with microbes from the mother’s vagina, exposure to the amniotic fluid (water breaking), contact with mother’s stool and skin. These microbes begin colonizing the newborns gut and microbiota. Human studies have correlated not going through the birth canal, C-section deliveries, can have a negative effect on the immune system and can influence autoimmune diseases.  

Breastfeeding: Suckling breast milk provides the animal not only with its own microbiota but also rich microbial-shaping compounds such as prebiotics that affect the intestinal microbiota and future growth of oligosaccharides. These immunological compounds and bacterial diversity from breast milk help develop strong immune response, healthy digestion and psychological and respiratory functions.  

Environment: Have they been around and or exposed to other animals/ mammals? Other pets and humans contribute to the microbial content of their home environment, which can alter the maturing gut microbiome of their developing immune systems during infancy.  

All of these factors and more affect the microbiota in early life stages in developing a healthy ecosystem which is generally dominated by Bifidobacteria. Once that baseline of your microbiome has been established and after the first two years of life, other factors begin to have key influences. Although the microbiota is relatively stable during adulthood, as it is dominated by two bacterial groups of Firmicuets and Bacteriodetes, age does play a role in decreasing microbial diversity along with these other elements.  

Diet: Diet plays a significant role in our microbiome and what types of microbiota lives in the colon. When prebiotics are digested, the bacteria in the system ferments the fiber into Short Chain Fatty Acids (SFAs) and metabolites that provide energy to the microbiota in the intestinal epithelium and other tissues in the colon. SFAs improve gut health through bacterial diversity which affect the immune system and more.  

Antibiotics: Not all but lots of antibiotics can kill off a lot of the natural probiotics and prebiotics inside of the system. This dysbiosis changes the diversity of the microbiome ecosystem and can affect the strength of immune system.  

Stress: Depression and psychological stress can alter the gut bacteria, in doing so it releases metabolites, toxins and neurohormones that affect mood and sometimes eating behaviors. In turn, imbalances in the gut bacteria can generate a greater risk with depression and increase cell receptors to stress response which leads to dysbiosis.  

A dog’s microbiota is influenced by multiple factors that reflect their overall health and well-being throughout their life. Transformative health for our animals starts in the early stages but continues throughout life by the decisions we make for them.  By providing extra support to their body’s normal ability to discourage pathogens and encouraging microbial richness and diversity through diet, supplementation, exercise, and stress management is how we can expect to succeed in achieving optimized gut immunity for our fur babes.