Pet lovers occasionally find themselves wishing their pets could talk. It would make our lives much easier (and much more interesting). But since humans are still unable to figure out what the common bark stands for, we have to do our best in preventative care to ensure the comfort of our pets, starting with their tummy health.
There are options available for pet owners to maintain their animal’s digestive health. According to Dr. Chris Bessent, Wisconsin veterinarian and founder of Herbsmith, an herbal supplement company for animals, a daily digestive supplement is important for even your average every day dog.
“We live in such a toxic world,” Bessent said. They pick up toxins in their food, from the grass, from the ground, in their water source.”
These toxins, along with a dog’s diet and stress level, have a strong impact on its digestive system. Dogs are naturally scavenger carnivorous animals. Since they have been domesticated and brought into the house to eat dry food, their diets have changed.
Susie Bower, owner of End of the Leash, a dog supply store in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, said a daily digestive supplement is good for any dog to break down allergens and maintain good tummy flora (gut flora refers to the microorganisms that live in the digestive tract).
According to Bessent, a daily digestive supplement with a probiotic helps to keep gut health at its fullest and minimize the amount of challenge on the immune system from bad bacteria.
“We always want to keep good bacteria in their gut,” Bessent said. “Bad bacteria changes the bowel flora in the gut and can produce a lot of gas.”
Dogs are stressed in general from toxicity load, environmental stress or being fed high grain or high carbohydrate diets. Those sorts of things change the good to bad ratio of bacteria in the gut, Bessent said.
In addition to just the everyday need for a supplement, some dogs require a special need for a digestive boost. For example, a dog who is recovering from surgery or who is on an antibiotic or a daily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory will need a good probiotic and prebiotic to help keep the balance of bacteria in the gut healthy.
Dr. Gretchen Jaeger, owner of Prairie Animal Hospital in North Prairie, Wisconsin, said pets that have been on medication for a while especially need a probiotic in their diet because the antibiotics kill off the normal bacteria level.
Jaeger said a dog in need of a digestive supplement will exhibit signs such as soft stool, mild diarrhea, vomiting, chronic infection, and long-term antibiotic use.
According to Bessent, the best digestive supplement is one that is all-encompassing and includes probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes and herbs.
The key ingredient to a beneficial digestive supplement is a good probiotic. Probiotics are live microorganisms that project a health benefit on the host. In other words, probiotics are bacteria that are beneficial for the digestive system.
One example of a probiotic is lactobacillus acidophilus, which is able to create lactic acid from fermenting milk sugars. This aids in digestion and helps encourage the absorption of minerals and calcium. Lactobacillus also has immunity boosting attributes.
Prebiotics are also good for the digestive system. According to Bessent, a prebiotic is a long chain sugar that feeds good bacteria, encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
In addition to probiotics and prebiotics, key enzymes are a must in boosting your pet’s digestive system. Digestive enzymes break down the nutrients your pet eats.
“A dog that has any GI upset at all, by adding a digestive enzyme, it helps them to maximally utilize the food they take in,” Bessent said. “Doing that helps to maintain quality of life and support good health.”
“When the food is baked at anything over 120 degrees, the enzyme activity is no longer present in the dog food,” Bower said.
Examples of enzymes include protease which breaks down protein and amylase which breaks down carbohydrates. Protease digests proteins so amino acids can be absorbed by the intestinal wall. Lipase is another important enzyme that breaks down fats to be absorbed by the intestines. It also helps in reducing gas and bloating.
In addition, there are certain herbs that can be beneficial for the digestive system. According to Bessent, cinnamon, ginger, and licorice balance sugar metabolism and balance the gut while promoting bowel health.
Cinnamon is known to relieve nausea and vomiting. It also has been known to warm and stimulate the digestive system. Ginger is also helpful for discomfort after eating and has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues. Licorice is especially helpful in increasing the flow of bile. It can be used for heartburn and irritation in the digestive tract. Overall, these safe herbs are helpful to maintain G.I. health.
Another important factor to remember when choosing the right digestive supplement is the number of colony forming units (CFUs) per serving in the product. CFUs are determined by taking a sample of the powder and observing how many colonies of live bacteria are formed per gram in one day. Ideally, one serving of a supplement should contain at least ten billion CFUs.
The other thing to consider when shopping for a digestive supplement is the way it is stored. Moisture activates the growth of these good bacteria. According to Bessent, digestive supplements packaged in powder form in a container hold live bacteria when they are opened, but lose their affect by the time they are half gone. Digestive supplements containing microorganisms that are blister-packed in a capsule keep the formula safe and alive until it enters the pet’s system.
Even though our animals cannot tell us when their tummies are upset, pet owners can do their best to prevent discomfort. A dog’s stomachs can be upset just as often as a human’s, and it is important to pay attention to the warning signs to prevent a problem before it occurs. A good probiotic and prebiotic along with beneficial herbs and enzymes are essential to promoting digestive health.
Shannon Venegas- HerbSmith
University of Maryland Medical Center, www.umm.edu