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You may have seen us use "leaky gut" numerous times now. Particularly when explaining the cause of common health issues in dogs.
It may come across as alarmist, but it's a condition that we believe needs more awareness among dog parents because it has become prevalent in dogs and can lead to severe complications later on in life.
The majority of dog owners that take our quiz have reported at least one health issue in their dogs. At least half of the respondents said their dog had more than one!
It's easy to dismiss a bout of diarrhea and an allergic flare-up, but it can often signify a deeper problem, particularly if they frequently happen.
But what exactly is leaky gut, and what causes it? And most importantly, does your dog have it?
The medical term for leaky gut syndrome is intestinal permeability.
It is when the lining in the intestinal tube is damaged and cannot filter undigested food particles, toxins, and pathogens. It stops these foreign bodies from entering the bloodstream when it works properly.
And because the immune system resides in the gut, there is an inflammatory response when the intestinal tube can no longer filter. This reaction leads to a wide range of symptoms, including diarrhea, allergies, infections, etc.
You will be astounded by the number of issues caused by leaky gut. How the body responds to inflammation can vary due to the cause and the tissues affected.
But what causes the damage to the intestinal tube lining in the first place? The answer to this is dysbiosis — the imbalance of having more bad bacteria than good in the gut.
The following environmental factors cause this imbalance of bacteria:
Processed dog food and medication can contain ingredients that allow harmful bacteria to overgrow. This change in the intestinal tube happens gradually with every dose of medicine and feeding of processed dog food.
Before you know it, one bout can turn into multiple episodes and one symptom into several.
If left untreated, dogs can develop a life-threatening autoimmune disease.
Diagnosis of leaky gut can be difficult because no two dogs react the same way, and other diseases can cause many of the same symptoms.
These symptoms include but are not limited to:
When determining the likelihood of leaky gut in your dog, there are several things to look for: the number of symptoms, their reoccurrence, and their stubbornness to go away.
If your dog only has one symptom, is it persistent no matter what you try or what the veterinarian has prescribed to relieve it? Medicine typically treats the symptom and not the root cause.
A reoccurring and untreatable symptom is a good indicator of leaky gut. And one issue can turn into several over time.
The chronic inflammation that accompanies leaky gut can cause additional unrelated symptoms, but that reoccur.
Also, take a look at environmental factors: processed dog food, antibiotics, and stress.
Does your dog's food contain processed ingredients, gluten, or dairy? Read the ingredients list and research them online.
Has your dog ever been given antibiotics, and how recently if they were? Were they given healthy bacteria to counteract the decrease caused by antibiotics?
Are there things in your dog's everyday life that cause them stress? Science research has shown a link between stress and the immune system.
Consider all the above: If your dog has a reoccurring and stubborn symptom, eats processed dog food, or has taken antibiotics, there is a strong possibility that they may have leaky gut.
The good news is that preventing and healing canine leaky gut is the same!
And it first begins with making changes to the environmental factors mentioned above.
Processed dog food contains an overabundance of carbohydrates that harmful bacteria feed on and grow, leading to the imbalance of bacteria that causes leaky gut.
The issue is not carbohydrates themselves but the amount and quality. Processed dog food replaces human-grade ingredients with feed-grade ones such as corn, soy, wheat, etc.
These ingredients go through a refinement process that turns them into filler, removing the nutrients and benefits.
Although this step is the most impactful, it is also the most painful for dog parents because of time and money.
Every dog is unique, and understanding what ingredients they negatively react to from a wide selection of choices can be time-consuming. And the costs add up for products that are grain-free, raw, or have minimally processed ingredients.
We're here to tell you that it does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Start with increasing the quality of food and reducing the number of carbohydrates.
You do not have to put your dog on a low-carb diet but consider how much carbohydrates they consume against their activity level.
Start slow, and pay attention to how your dog's body reacts. You may begin to notice a gradual improvement.
Stress is one of the leading causes of leaky gut in our pups. Stress releases cortisol which can further throw their gut and microbiome off balance adding more inflammation to their immune system.
Keeping a close eye on what makes our furry friends anxious and removing it from their routine can help minimize their stress.
A great way to lessen the stress in our friends' lives includes going for walks daily. They need to burn off the excess energy that they feel. Taking them for a walk helps them burn off their energy and get their daily exercise. It also helps with their mental well-being.
Noise is another factor. Keeping loud noises to a minimum can help them feel at ease and relieve some anxiety. If your pup tends to get bored, it helps to give them toys or dog puzzles to keep their mind stimulated and ease the boredom.
Since things like anxiety can produce stress, supplements like melatonin can help your pup during these times. Whether you are away for too long (separation anxiety) or there are bright and loud fireworks in the sky (fear anxiety), melatonin can help ease their nerves and calm them — overall, reducing their stress.
Antibiotics can be helpful for some ailments but can cause dysbiosis. It is, in fact, the most common cause of leaky gut syndrome.
When our pets take antibiotics, it eliminates both the good and bacteria in their bodies.
Furthermore, antibiotics lead to the imbalance of the bacteria in the gut. In combination with stress and an overabundance of low-quality food, the harmful bacteria outgrow the good, possibly leading to ailments.
The best way to prevent this is to keep their gut flora balanced with beneficial bacteria — something dog probiotics can do.
From food or supplements, probiotics counteract antibiotic medication's effects and reduce leaky gut.
Research has shown a reduction in leaky gut markers from taking probiotics because they maintain a healthy and robust gut barrier, promoting filtration of foreign bodies.
This ultimately helps build up dogs' immune systems, keeping them strong and inflammation low.
And of course, probiotics also have digestive benefits such as improved nutrient absorption and decreasing food irritation.
As you can see, leaky gut can be a "sneaky" condition because many of its symptoms can be mistaken for something else, and it can be challenging to diagnose.
We think it's why dogs can go a long time with the same issues despite various treatments — they do not address the root of the problem.
But because we love and care for them, we research further to try and understand how best we can help our dogs.
Hopefully, this article gives you a good starting point and some practical advice you can implement immediately.