Leaky Gut in Pets and Why It Matters More than Ever
Updated: Mar 26
Have you ever had your pet decide they didn't like their food anymore? They're not gaining weight, so you know you're not feeding them too much, but you start to wonder why aren't they as interested in their diet. Usually they are on a dry kibble diet when it happens. What is going on?
Leaky gut or dysbiosis is when the balance of good bacteria in the GI tract is out numbered by the bad bacteria leading to inflammation in the intestinal lining or mucosa. This inflammation allows bacteria and toxins to leak through into the blood stream. Your pet's immune system reacts, because it sees them as foreign. Over time this leads to chronic inflammation and other symptoms and diseases. Food allergies can be seen suddenly because food is now seen as an invader by the body. Dysbiosis is more commmonly recognized by holistic or integrative veterinarians than the traditional veterinary community. The consequences of not treating dysbiosis can be devastating for our pet's health.
Signs Your Pet May Have Leaky Gut
The main reason leaky gut is not diagnosed is because the symptoms can be attributed to many other diseases. Because of this, veterinarians are only treating the symptoms versus treating the root cause of the issue, allowing the inflammation to continue to rage through the body. If you continue to see flare-ups of ear infections, skin infections, gassiness, then it is time to question whether your pet has a leaky gut.
Some of the common symptoms of leaky gut include:
Allergies (itchy skin, ear infections, chewing at the feet, hot spots)
Digestive issues (diarrhea, gassiness, vomiting, bloating)
Behavior issues (anxiety, aggression, separation anxiety)
There are a lot of symptoms, and many of these diseases can be prevented or lessened by improving our pet's microbiome.
What causes leaky gut?
There are many causes for leaky gut. A few of the most common causes include a highly processed diet, medications, stress, toxins, and vaccines.
Diet is an important part to healing the GI tract. Many pets are fed highly processed kibble that contains artificial ingredients, antibiotic-ridden, poor quality meat ingredients, and many contain poorly absorbed, cheaper protein fillers. Our pets also do not respond well to genetically modified foods, like wheat, corn and soy, which fills many of the pet foods. GMO foods are cheaper and can tolerate being sprayed with pesticides like glyphosate, which has major repercussions for our pet's health.
Let's talk about glyphosate and GMO foods for a minute since 90% of pet foods contain GMO products. Between 85-95% of genetically modified crops worldwide are engineered to be grown with herbicides based on glyphosate (roundup). How does glyphosate work? It kills plants by inhibiting certain enzymes in the shikimate pathway. Humans and animals do not contain these pathways, however the microbes in our GI tract do. Essentially, by eating plants that have been sprayed, we are killing our beneficial bacteria in our GI tract which then leads to leaky gut. This then leads to chronic inflammation and many of the diseases we see in our pets today. Imbalances in the gut bacteria have been linked with many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and depression in people.
These facts show why it's important to know what's in your pets food!
Medications also affect the GI health of our pet's health, just like it does for us. Overuse of medications, especially antibiotics, steroids and anti-inflammatories, can reduce the beneficial bacteria. We need to be assessing whether antibiotics are necessary for minor conditions or if there are other options to help heal whatever is happening.
3 Ways to Help Heal Leaky Gut Now
1. Feed your pets a biologically appropriate diet
Many of these pets that are suffering from leaky gut have fragile GI systems and immune systems, which means we sometimes cannot transition straight over to a new diet. A sudden change in diet could make your pet worse.
Holistic veterinarians will start by usually looking at the diet of the pet and assessing if simple tweaks should be made before a massive overhaul of the diet is done. Probiotics are very beneficial to the gut health, because they put good bacteria back into the GI tract. There are many types of probiotics, which have their benefits. Because of these differences and the individuality of your pet, make sure you are working with a veterinarian who understands these differences.
You can start adding real food nutrition into your pet's food. Grass-fed, organic meats are a great addition and pets love them! Also, adding in organic leafy greens and brightly colored vegetables can add beneficial nutrients into the food. Organic labelled food is non-GMO! However, you want to ensure you are partnering with a practitioner who can help you balance the diet to guarantee your pet is receiving the vitamins and nutrients they need to thrive.
2. Avoid toxins
We live in a toxic world. Unfortunately, this is truth. We can control the cleaning products we use though and if we use pesticides in our yards. Make sure you wipe your pet down with a wet washcloth when you come in from walks, and make sure to wipe their paws, so they are not ingesting chemicals they may have come into contact with from outside.
If your pet needs medications, make sure they truly need them. Conventional medications have their place, but for a lot of conditions, especially skin disease, it is recommended to use topical treatments first which have less side effects for your pet's microbiome. Also, ensure that you are optimizing your pet's gut health which improves their immune health. Use supplements that can help support your pet's health.
3. Minimize stress
When dysbiosis is present, our pet's tend to be more anxious or have other behavioral issues. However, extra stress puts more burden on their microbiome. Thus, it is really important to reduce stress for your pets to protect their precious microbiome. Probiotics can help. Appropriate diet is essential. Make sure your pet is getting enough physical activity. Going for a walk every day is essential for their health and mental well-being. Many dogs develop anxiety issues, because they are not able to get out their excess energy. Click here for a FREE resource on how to manage your pet's anxiety.
Ignoring leaky gut is not an option anymore. If we want our pets to live a long, healthy and vibrant life, we need to address the root cause of disease, not just the symptoms. By addressing leaky gut, you can help your pet live their best life.
*Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Dr. Katie Woodley cannot answer specific questions about your pet's medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.