Digestive health or gut health is intricately linked to the immune system. The two systems are highly complex and correlate directly, i.e., there is a cause-and-effect relationship that works in both directions. So, if you are looking for ways to support or improve your pet’s immune system, start with their gut health.
Two things we need to look at when thinking of gut health: microbiome diversity and the presence of chronic inflammation.
The gut microbiome is a mini-universe with billions of living organisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.), which all perform specific functions in exchange for shelter and nutrients. One of these crucial functions is regulating the immune response. Naturally, any breakdowns in how this complex universe operates will hurt the immune system. Poor diet, antibiotics, toxins, stress, and infections can devastate the gut microbial diversity and balance.
So, one thing we want to do for our beloved friends is to help them build a rich terrain in their gut, where the good bacteria will want to live, populate and flourish. We can’t eliminate the bad ones completely but can reduce them to a quiet minority.
The task of microbiome diversity comes into an even bigger focus with ageing pets as the microbial diversity tends to decrease with age, thus weakening your pet’s immune response to fight oxidative stress accumulated over their lifetime and the resulting chronic inflammation.
While the effects of short-term acute inflammation can be easily reversed, long-term or chronic inflammation is highly damaging, and it can lead to serious illnesses like diabetes, cancer, heart diseases, kidney disease, etc.
Chronic gut inflammation will reduce microbiome diversity, damage the gut lining, and reduce your pet’s ability to properly metabolise or absorb the nutrients, leading to dangerous nutrient deficiencies.
Thus, we want more biodiversity and less inflammation to improve gut health and support the immune system.
Ten things you can do to support the long-term gut health of your beloved fur babies
Talk to your vet about choosing the right food for your pet. We can’t emphasise enough the importance of this for senior pets, who often have a subdued metabolic function and a sluggish liver or pancreas. Feeding a high-quality diet tailored to your pet’s nutritional needs will make a world of difference in their overall health.
- Add organic, grass-fed bone broth to their diet
Bone broth is an incredible gut health supplement made by slowly simmering bones, cartilage and joints for 16 to 24 hours. You can find it in most health shops or make one at home. Always go for organic and grass-fed.
Bone broth is natural collagen that gut microbes love! Rich in amino acids and glutathione (the second most powerful antioxidant after melatonin), it is easily digestible and helps to restore the gut lining and increase nutrient absorption. Combined with a high fibre and anti-inflammatory diet, bone broth can help create the perfect terrain for your pet’s microbes to thrive in and support their immune system.
Curcumin, the flavonoid in the spice turmeric, offers many spectacular therapeutic properties, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral and neurotrophic. Turmeric can help cleanse the colon of parasites, remove toxins, reduce intestinal permeability, and treat inflammatory bowel disease. And the good news is that dogs don’t seem to have a problem with turmeric’s intense flavour and aromas, so adding it to their food or giving it to them as a dietary supplement is easy. At BUDDYPET, we recommend Milly – a delicious blend of turmeric and hemp seed oil – for dogs that need an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant boost.
- PUFAs (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids)
Fats are the second most important nutrient after protein, especially polyunsaturated fats - Omega-6 [linoleic acid and arachidonic acid] and Omega-3 [alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)].
The omega-6 fatty acids produce hormones that increase inflammation, which is a critical part of the immune response to defend your pooch from foreign invaders (viruses, parasites, infections, etc.) The omega-3 fatty acids produce hormones that reduce inflammation. Both are very important, and their balance is critical for your pet’s gut health.
Common fatty acids supplements are fish oil and hemp seed oil.
Fish oil is an excellent source of fats and is widely popular for its high content of Omega-3, the anti-inflammatory fatty acids. Fish oil does require, however, killing some fish.. not something we feel entirely comfortable with, so instead, we encourage our community of animal lovers to turn to hemp seed oil.
More sustainable and environmentally friendly than fish oil, hemp seed is also an excellent source of essential fatty acids, typically comprising 35% of the seed. One tablespoon of hemp seed oil typically contains 14 grams of fat, of which only 1 gram is saturated. This low saturated fat content is another great benefit of using hemp seed oil instead of animal fats. Hemp seed oil is also one of the few natural sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a key anti-inflammatory fatty acid. Furthermore, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in hemp seed oil is at a 3:1 level, ideal for a healthy diet. At BUDDYPET, we recommend Marley – 100% raw, cold-pressed hemp seed oil from Tasmania.
Read Hemp Seed Oil Benefits for more information about this incredible superfood.
- Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms (friendly bacteria) that can help increase the diversity of the gut microbiome, and prebiotics is the food those microorganisms like to eat.
Probiotics can be given to your dog in the form of tablets or pills, and it’s best to get it from your vet to ensure the product is from a reputable lab, rigorously tested and correctly stored. Some companies also offer probiotics as part of snacks and treats, but there is always a question of how the heat treatment may have impacted the survival of the bacteria, given its sensitivity to high temperatures.
Another simple way to get more probiotics into your pup’s diet is probiotic-rich foods like natural (Greek style) yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and some cheeses – foods that have gone through the process of fermentation that creates microbial growth.
Feeding the microbiome is equally important to ensure all those wonderful microbes can thrive. And the food they like is fibre! Aka, prebiotics. Fibre-rich foods are usually plants – leafy greens, root vegetables (beets, pumpkin, carrots), beans (chickpea, garbanzo) and seeds (hemp, flax).
Hemp seed offers a significant amount of soluble and insoluble fibre. The carbohydrate content of the seed (about 27%) is primarily fibre; as such, hemp seed-derived protein is an excellent source of dietary fibre to help promote healthy digestion.
If you are looking for a prebiotic-rich food supplement, try BUDDYPET Cooper, a blend of Tasmanian hemp seed protein and chickpea flour. It is a wonderful addition to your pet’s diet to support their gut health.
- Turkey Tail
A mushroom that grows on logs of wood, Turkey Tail helps boost the immune system and provides valuable plant fibre. Turkey Tail is famous for beta-glucan – a type of soluble fibre that can directly interact with and activate immune cells responsible for destroying foreign invaders like viruses and parasites. Additionally, Turkey Tail can help reduce inflammation in the gut. Do not feed your dog Turkey Tail mushroom in its raw form – this can cause liver damage and major stomach upset. Use the supplement form (capsules or powder).
- Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is an excellent digestive tonic and health elixir! The digestive enzymes amylase and lipase in aloe vera help metabolise sugars, starches and fats. Aloe vera also stimulates mucus secretions to protect and strengthen the lining of the digestive tract, soothing irritation and reducing inflammation.
- Slippery Elm
Slippery Elm is a safe and non-toxic herb from a tree found in the eastern regions of North America. Native Americans have traditionally used the tree’s inner bark as a remedy for IBS symptoms. With time, this wonderful plant made its way into natural pet care. Slippery Elm is now widely used to help manage the symptoms of inflammatory conditions like ulcers, colitis, gastritis and IBS. Give your pooch half a teaspoon for every 5kg of body weight twice a day, mixed with food. Do not combine it with other medications.
- Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are proteins mainly produced in the pancreas to break down food molecules to help absorb nutrients. Poor enzymatic activity resulting from sluggish pancreas function or pancreatitis that we commonly see in senior pets means challenges with processing food and extracting the nutrients. Enzyme supplementation could therefore help manage this issue.
It would help if you also asked your vet to recommend a vet specialist hypoallergenic diet that will be partially pre-digested to reduce the burden on your pet’s pancreas.
Digestive enzymes are also good for adult pets to replace live enzymes that have been destroyed through cooking, as most pets will eat cooked and processed food that’s undergone heat treatment (50° to 65°C) to become kibbles. Thus, given the highly processed diet of most of our pets, even healthy pets can benefit from digestive enzyme supplements to help break down and metabolise their food better.
Symptoms of digestive enzyme deficiency: undigested food in the stool or foul-smelling stool, bad mouth breath, burping, farting, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping.
Ask your vet to find the right enzyme supplement for your pet.
- Reduce Stress and Maintain Exercise Routine
Stress affects everything, including the gut. Cortisol (a hormone) produced in response to stress can weaken the immune system, leaving your pet defenceless against gut inflammation. Exercise like swimming or gentle walks is a great way to regulate cortisol production. If your furry friend shows severe anxiety symptoms, consider anxiety vests, pheromones sprays, hemp CBD oil, or calming supplements with passionflower, chamomile and tryptophan.
Read Signs Your Dog Has Anxiety and How to Treat It for more insights and helpful tips on managing stress and anxiety.