Your Dog's Gut Health: the key to long-term health for your pup

two brown and white dogs running dirt road during daytime: your dog's gut health is essential for their wellbeing
your dog's gut health is essential for their wellbeing

Keeping your dog's gut healthy is the key to their overall health. Whether or not you are aware of dog digestive health or if you are actively looking for the best food for gut health, you need first to know what to look for on the label. Plenty of commercial dog foods advertise digestive health. Some of the most popular is Wellness Core Digestive Health, Instinct Raw Boost Gut Health, or the Hill's Science Plan options for sensitive stomachs.

However, it's essential not to be fooled by pet company marketing. In a previous article, we discussed optimizing a diet to prevent chronic inflammation. However, optimizing a healthy diet for your dog's gastrointestinal tract is just as important. So let's look at what you need to know to keep your dog's gut healthy.

Diet and nutrition to keep your dog's gut healthy

white and brown english bulldog on brown wooden table: a healthy diet is essential to keep a dog's gut healthy
a healthy diet is essential to keep a dog's gut healthy

Today we are increasingly recognizing the importance of the gastrointestinal health of the dog's immune system. The gut may be about 70% of the dog's defense against disease. So keeping your dog's gut healthy is a vital part of being a responsible pet parent.

You can read this article for more information on boosting your puppy's immune system against pathogens like parvovirus.

Very often, the first way a pathogen finds its way into your dog's body is via the GI tract. For this reason, keeping a healthy mucosa gut lining and epithelial wall (the GALT intestinal barrier) is one of the first steps to keeping your dog healthy.

The second step to keeping your dog's gut healthy is to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

To maintain the vital cells of the GALT intestinal barrier, one needs several nutrients:

  1. arginine, which is often added in the ingredients list as L-arginine
  2. glutamine (GLN), and a full range of amino acids such as glutamate, threonine, methionine, serine, proline,
  3. omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA & DHA
  4. and fiber.

Some ingredients such as Slippery Elm, N-Acetyl Glucosamine, De-Glycerated Licorice can help repair the gut lining. Remember, ruptures in the gut-lining can allow allergenic proteins through or cause leaky gut syndrome. In fact, leaky gut syndrome is one reason not to feed your dog coconut oil or other saturated fats.

It's also good to be aware that some common pet food additives, such as Polysorbate 80 and CMC, can strip away that crucial gut lining.

To maintain a healthy gut microbiome, one needs the right balance of pre and probiotics. So, let's start with probiotics:

Probiotics for a dog's gut health:

Dogs do not use the same probiotics as humans. However, a quality probiotic supplement can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Many tested probiotics promote both the immune system and the GI tract. Some good bacteria strains include:

  • Bifidobacterium (B. Longum, B. Lactis, B. Breve)
  • B. Coagulans
  • Bacillis Subtilis
  • L. Acidophilus.
  • L. Plantarum
  • L. fermentum,
  • L. rhamnosus,
  • Enterrococcus Faecium

All of these strains of probiotics have had good results in treating diarrhea, maintaining a dog's gut health, and supporting their immune system.

But to help these good bacteria colonize the gut, they must be fed. And this is where prebiotics and fiber are important.

Keep in mind, that certain medications can cause massive disturbances in the gut biome. We discuss this a little more in this article about whether dogs can have human antibiotics.

Prebiotics for a dog's gut health

B. glucans and mannan-oligosaccharides (MOS) are found in the cell walls of brewer's yeast or Saccharomyces cerevisiae. They serve as valuable prebiotics that supports both gut health and the immune system. They even help stop some pathogens from colonizing the intestine.

MOS works best when fed with fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Together, FOS and MOS increase the levels of good bacteria in the gut. Dogs on this diet also have increased white blood cells lymphocytes, and so it can cause a shift in the immune system.

Some essential prebiotics are in foods like bananas, asparagus, chicory, or flaxseeds. Sometimes, the active ingredients are extracted to create helpful supplements like inulin, FOS, and arabinogalactans.

Limited oligosaccharides such as those found in barley, spelt, and wheat pasta can also help the gut.

Tip: Make sure to test for food intolerances or allergies, as these can disrupt a healthy gut and have long-term consequences.

About fiber and a dog's gut health

The critical thing to remember is that gut health can differ between dogs, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

The important place to start is to remember two types of fiber. These are insoluble and soluble fibers, and the exact amount a dog needs is disputed.

Soluble and insoluble fiber

fiber is an essential part of keeping a dog's gut healthy
isSource: Unsplash

Soluble fiber is water-soluble and it helps control blood sugar. It is good for treating diarrhea. By fermenting, soluble fibers create short-chain fatty acids (called SCFAs).

These fatty acids provide fuel for healthy bacteria in the gut but restrict food for bad bactera. SCFAs also restore the gut lining.

Familiar sources of soluble fiber include:

  • Beet pulp (mix of soluble and insoluble fiber)
  • Oats/oat bran (exceptionally high in beta-glucans)
  • Plant gums
  • Psyllium husk
  • Pectin (fruit fiber)
  • Rice bran
  • Rye ( mixed fibers with arabinoxylans, also suitable for gut health)
  • Chicory (Inulin)
  • FOS (fructooligosaccharides)
  • Barley
  • Flaxseed

Conversely, insoluble fiber do not dissolve in water but rather absorb it. It can lower the caloric density or food and make a dog feel full. It also encourages gut motility, which is the best way to prevent constipation. Standard insoluble fiber includes:

  • Cellulose
  • Hemicellulose
  • Lignins

To be clear, lignins are most common in cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cabbage, and lignans are the most to blame for stopping iron being absorbed in the body.

Fiber and dog size

Large dogs and small dogs have different fiber needs.

You can read more about the nutrition for giant breed puppies in this article and the nutrition for small breed puppies in this article.

Large breeds tend to have watery stool if food ferments in the hindgut. Therefore, it is recommended to choose highly digestible proteins and starches and to limit soluble fibers like FOS. Therefore, large breed dogs do better with more insoluble fiber in their gut.

On the other hand, small breed dogs need far more soluble fibers. In addition, cereal flours, as well as non-fermentable fiber from cereals or psyllium, are a better choice for their gut health.

How much fiber should your dog have?

There are no standard rules for fiber. It is simply a subject that needs far more research.

A dog's fiber requirements depend on the dog in question.

For most commercial foods, fiber is between 2 and 5%, as there is no universal agreement on a dog's ideal fiber needs. Dogs on a high-fiber diet for weight loss, diabetes, or other problems such as anal sac impactions could have as much as 8-10% fiber in their diets. Gastrointestinal problems often mean a short-term high-fiber diet.

Overweight dogs, or dogs who have gut issues, diabetes, diarrhea, constipaction, anal sac impactions or even exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, can benefit from high-fiber diets. However, there is no research to support ideas like adding pumpkin to the diet as a beneficial source of fiber or helps settle a dogs stomach.

In rare cases, the husks and hulls around whole grains can be harsh on the gut and even cause silica kidney stones. Some dogs are more sensitive to fiber than others. Thus, stool quality is essential. Gastrointestinal upsets such as gassiness, diarrhea, and even constipation can be linked to fiber intake and the type of fiber.

After all, one drawback is that different types of fiber can affect if certain nutrients are properly absorbed, even if they have other nutritional benefits. For example, rice bran and fibers from pulses and legumes have been linked to critical taurine deficiencies. This means that dogs on a high-fiber or novel-fiber diet must be carefully watched for signs of a deficiency.

For most dogs, stick to around 4 or 5% crude fiber. If you have a large breed, favor ingredients with insoluble fiber; if you have a small breed, favor ingredients with soluble fiber. But it is still beneficial to have both in your dog's diet. Stay away or limit ingredients that are linked to deficiencies, such as beans, legumes, pulses, potatoes, and rice bran. And we also look for chelated minerals that may be easier to absorb.

Final thoughts

Your dog's gut health is one of the essential components of its immune system and longevity. An unhealthy gut can not only make a dog vulnerable to infection and malnutrition, but it can even affect their mental health and sense of well-being. Pet parents can go a long way by understanding what kind of probiotics their pups should get and the role of fiber, nutrients, and prebiotics in protecting their dog's intestinal walls.