Big Dog Ailments
- Chin acne
- Ear Infections
No, I am not referring to the common maladies of young children. As it turns out, dogs suffer from these conditions as well. Sometimes more than once.
And with each trip to the veterinarian, a new round of antibiotics begin.
Junior and the Battle Within
As I mentioned in The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Pet Medications, Junior has a painful lump on his shoulder which my vet theorizes is an abscess caused by a vaccine he was given several months ago. Because abscesses are usually infections filled with bacteria, we are attempting to “kill” this abscess using a very strong antibiotic called Clindamycin. Junior will continue taking three large 300 mg capsules twice a day for another month before we determine whether surgery will be necessary.
Given the severity of Junior’s condition and the length (and strength) of antibiotic treatment he is on, my primary focus right now is boosting his immune system.
On behalf of my poor Junior’s embattled immune system, I sought answers.
Big Dog Mom to the rescue!
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What is Gut Health?
Gut is another word for the gastrointestinal system, gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, or digestive tract. It is a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, colon, and rectum.
Within the gut, according to Dog’s Naturally Magazine, is what is referred to as “gut associated lymphoid tissue” or GALT, which is the largest immune organ in the body. This lymphoid tissue lining the gut wall combines with other immune components within the gut including the mucosal lining, the probiotics (good bacteria) and microbiome (a mini ecosystem in the gut), and a wealth of antigens that have been produced by specialized cells lining the gut.
It is believed that GALT and its associated entities may contribute up to a whopping 70 percent of your dog’s total immune capability.
A logical analogy seems appropriate here:
Man’s Heart : His Stomach :: Dog’s Immune System : His Gut.
Gut Health on Antibiotics
“Am I a dog, that you should come at me with sticks?” ~ Goliath
So, what happens to your dog’s gut health when he is on an antibiotic?
Antibiotics are medicines that inhibit or stop the growth of microorganisms (bacteria). But, unfortunately, antibiotics are indiscriminate. They don’t play favorites. They not only kill the bad bacteria, like those potentially inside Junior’s lump, but they also kill the good bacteria in his gut. The technical term for this microbial imbalance is dysbiosis.
This is the caricature going on in my head:
Maintaining gut health while taking antibiotics is like a tug of war between David and Goliath in the Valley of Elah.
Clindamycin and the lump requiring it (aka Goliath) take one look at the tiny pee wee microbes (David) in Junior’s gut and laugh. “Am I a dog that you should come at me with sticks?” Goliath chastises.
(You know you have small children when brilliant analogies come in the form of animations.)
Like David, against serious illness and a powerful antibiotic, Junior’s gut bacteria are the clear underdogs (no pun intended).
Please follow this list of DO’s and DON’Ts when it comes to preserving gut health while your dog is taking antibiotics. Doing so will ensure David walks away the victor.Maintaining gut health while taking antibiotics is like a tug of war between David and Goliath in the Valley of Elah.
Gut Health Do’s
1. Supplement with Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms (i.e. good bacteria) that, when fed in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit to your dog.
With trillions and trillions of microorganisms in his body, from over 1,000 different strains of bacteria, researchers believe as much as 70% of your dog’s immune system is based in his gut. The ratio of “good” bacteria to “bad” bacteria existing in the intestines has a direct impact on how well your dog’s immune system fights off infections and diseases.
Because antibiotics are doing their best to wipe out these friendly flora, it is critical that we add them back in through supplementation.
Variety is best. I use and have used several probiotic supplements over the last year which I will provide here as options for you to consider.
Among these are NWC Naturals Total-Biotics, which delivers 1 billion CFU’s (colony forming units) of 14 different strains of bacteria per scoop, TummyWorks™, Nusentia Probiotic Miracle, kefir and plain yogurt. Fermented vegetables, bone broth, and raw goat’s milk are also great options as well.
[READ: All Natural Pet Supplements for Big Dogs – A Review of Finest For Pets for a full review of TummyWorks™]
I give Junior and Sulley probiotics on a daily basis. When they are on an antibiotic though, I increase not only the amount I give but the variety and frequency as well. In addition to the Nusentia Probiotic Miracle that I am giving now, I also give Junior and Sulley a complementary enzyme supplement (NWC Naturals Total-Zymes) which provides 16 different enzymes including digestive enzymes and prebiotics.
For a comprehensive dive into probiotics for dogs, read Probiotics for Dogs: The Facts and Strains that Matter Most.
2. Don’t Forget Your Prebiotics
These are the food for the probiotics.
Prebiotic fiber is the non-digestible part of foods like certain vegetables and fruits. Prebiotics move through the small intestine undigested and are fermented when they reach the colon.
This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies (including probiotic bacteria) and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in your dog’s gut that are associated with better health, a stronger immune system, and reduced disease risk.
Many probiotic supplements include some prebiotics in them. All three of the supplements I mentioned earlier include one or more prebiotics to feed the growth of the accompanying probiotics.
I also feed Junior and Sulley fruits like bananas and apples in small amounts which serve as a whole food prebiotic.
3. Refrigerate Your Probiotic Supplement
Refrigeration, and in some cases freezing, will extend the shelf life of your probiotic. Bacteria are naturally sensitive to heat and moisture, so keeping them stored in a cool, dry place is key to maximizing the gut health benefit you get from them.
4. Inoculate Your Probiotic
In order to extend the life of your probiotic supplement, consider inoculating it into a medium like milk, raw goat’s milk preferably. The benefit of doing this is that just one or two scoops of your probiotic will grow and reproduce in the milk, effectively doubling or tripling (or more) the amount that you have to give.
5. Feed the Antibiotic with Food
While your probiotics will help with digestive upset, feeding an antibiotic on an empty stomach can cause your dog some gut distress.
Keep in mind this is a general rule, not specific to every antibiotic. You will want to check with your veterinarian or pharmacist for guidance.
Gut Health Don’ts
1. Feed Probiotics and Antibiotics Together!
Let me illustrate why.
Goliath steps up to the battle line and snatches the 5 smooth stones in David’s bag before David has the opportunity to clock Goliath in the head with them.
If given together, the antibiotic will essentially wipe out the bacteria in your probiotic before this friendly flora has a chance to benefit your dog’s gut health.
A good general rule is to SEPARATE the antibiotic from your probiotic supplementation by about TWO HOURS.If given together, the antibiotic will essentially wipe out the bacteria in your probiotic before this friendly flora has a chance to benefit your dog’s gut health.
2. Ignore the Importance of Your Dog’s Diet.
A diet of exclusively dry kibble is not doing your dog’s gut health any favors, particularly when he is on an antibiotic.
Let me explain.
If your dog has a serious illness, like one requiring an antibiotic, his immune system will be less able to fight it with grain-filled food.
The reason is simple and it has to do with carbohydrates.
Dogs’ digestive tracts are short and designed for quickly digesting animal protein and fat, but not carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates like those found in grains and starches are very difficult to digest and absorb. And as your dog’s body tries to digest them, his metabolism becomes less efficient and his immune system is similarly weakened.
Watch this video entitled The Unknown Sugar In Pet Food produced by Dr. Karen Becker, DVM and Rodney Habib of Planet Paws. They do a terrific job illustrating the extent to which carbohydrates make up a commercial kibble diet and how this excess sugar contributes to common health problems in dogs.
By contrast, the digestive enzymes and bacteria found in fresh (raw) food help dogs digest food better, and build stronger immune systems. These necessary nutrients are not found in processed foods, as the processing and cooking destroys them.
If you are interested in learning more about raw feeding, read:
- Raw Dog Food: The Myths, Facts, and Future of Raw Feeding for Dogs
- Raw Food: A Decision Every Big Dog Owner Should Weigh
- What To Do About Dog Food? First, Let Go Of The Guilt!
3. Waste Your Money
In addition to inoculating and refrigerating your probiotic, in my last post, The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Pet Medications, I outline numerous ways to save money on medications such as antibiotics.
I don’t know about you, but we live on a budget. As often as I say I would pay ANY amount of money to ensure my dogs are happy and healthy, I am not willing to OVERpay for it.
Gut Health Summary
Combining a raw, species appropriate diet with healthy, timely, supplementation of probiotics and prebiotics, give your dog’s gut health the boost it desperately needs to fight the battle within.
The immune system victory against an adversary like Goliath will require more than “sticks” or stones.
It will require the collective power of billions of microbes, the friendly flora, to bring the microbiome in your dog’s gut back into balance.
Gut Health Must Have Resources
Calculating Pet Food Dry Matter Basis This is a terrific article I found that illustrates exactly HOW to calculate the % of carbohydrates in your dog’s food.