What is a Leaky Gut?
The gut is an ecosystem and is host to trillions of bacteria known as the Microbiome. In a healthy gut, these large and diverse colonies of beneficial bacteria keep the harmful bacteria, parasites, virus, protozoa and fungus in check and prevent them from getting a foothold by crowding them out while producing vitamins, brain chemicals, nutrition for the gut, maintaining the immune system, extracting and absorbing nutrients in food.
This is known as Homeostasis or the ability or tendency to maintain internal balance. So much of our health relies on it that dogs and humans simply cannot be healthy without a normally functioning gut.
What starts the fire?
The problem begins when the tight junctions (called Enterocytes) along the intestinal wall get weakened and begin to allow or “leak” the contents of the gut such as bacteria (both good and bad) as well as particles of undigested food into the bloodstream. It is then that the “walls of the castle” have been breached. The alarm bells go off and like soldiers that go to fight to protect their castle, the body’s T cells start to attack these normally harmless substances and begin to produce anti-bodies.
If the T cells mistakenly identifies a cell that belongs to its host to be an invader, it then results in an autoimmune disease where the immune system starts attacking its own cells. Bacteria and foreign substances are not supposed to be present in the bloodstream and the immune system will work hard to ensure that.
Symptoms will appear such as lethargy, swelling, skin allergies, food allergies, joint pain, gum disease and even behavioral changes like anxiety and many other symptoms so unrelated that you would never guess were connected to the gut.
The bloodstream runs throughout the body so a leaky gut can affect the entire body while “starting fires” or causing widespread inflammation.
What causes a leaky gut?
- By far the most common cause and the one that has the most impact is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics may kill its intended target but unintentionally decimate large numbers of beneficial bacteria along the way. When this happens, opportunistic bacteria like fungus and other pathogens will begin to overgrow because there is not enough beneficial bacteria to keep them in check. Imagine a city with a million people and only a dozen policemen. You can imagine how chaotic the city will get. This sets the stage for Dysbiosis or a state of bacterial imbalance. In fact, Dysbiosis is the root cause of many ailments in both dogs and humans.
- NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and Corticosteroids can also alter the microbiome
- Diet can play a huge role in the normal function of a gut. Sugar is the main energy source of fungus such as Candida Albicans. Feeding a dog a diet rich in carbohydrates and grains (which convert to sugar) will feed these pathogenic bacteria and allow them to thrive. ¹Dysbiosis can have an adverse effect on its host in both humans and dogs.² With over 40 species, Candida Albicans, an opportunistic fungus will quickly multiply and take up “real estate” and penetrate the intestinal wall. These pathogens will compete for nutrition from its host and produce toxic waste that ends up in the bloodsteam creating a burden to the immune system.
- Food additives, food dyes, preservatives, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and ingredients that are not found in nature.
- Chlorinated water is necessary to kill bacteria in the plumbing but it also kills beneficial bacteria in the body when ingested. It has also been linked to certain cancers, heart disease, brain defects and food allergies in humans.
- Vaccines have their uses but avoid over vaccinating your dog.
- Stress. It is now known that the gut acts as the second brain. The brain can influence the gut and the gut can influence the brain. Chronic and unrelenting stress can alter gut bacteria. Discover 15 ways to naturally calm your dog
- BPA in plastics, heavy metals and toxic chemicals can alter gut bacteria
- Flea treatments contain pesticides and are also harmful to humans and cats
Symptoms of a Leaky Gut in Dogs
- Heart disease
- Skin allergies
- Joint pain
- Gum disease
- Weight fluctuations
- Dry eye
- Autoimmune diseases
- Disorders of the pancreas, gallbladder and liver
- Certain cancers
- Nutritional deficiencies
How to heal a Leaky Gut
- According to Dr. Becker, every case of dysbiosis is different which is why it is so important to see a holistic veterinarian to fashion a healing program targeting a specific condition.
- One of the easiest and simplest things you can do to improve your pet’s long term health and your own is to invest in a quality water filter that removes chlorine and other contaminants. Ideally, choose a water filter that attaches to the main water inlet to filter water to the entire house. Humans and dogs can also absorb chlorine through the skin when we take a bath.
- Only use natural dewormer, flea and tick medication. Avoid exposure to unnecessary chemicals
- Avoid sugar. Avoid grains such as wheat, rice, oatmeal and corn. Also starches like potatoes and sweet potatoes as these are high glycemic foods. These foods will feed pathogenic bacteria as well as cause blood sugar fluctuations. Dogs fed a diet that is high in carbohydrates produce gas and smelly stools as well as cause cramps, intestinal inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and yeast growth.
- Calm the mind to calm the gut. Calm the gut to calm the mind. Here are some very useful tips for dogs that have separation anxiety.
- Bone broth is indispensable when it comes to leaky gut. It contains gelatin, collagen and lots of amino acids like proline, glucosamine, chrondroitin and glycine all of which help tighten and seal the lining of the gut. This also helps senior dogs with joint problems. Try to look for organic beef bones as much as possible and remember to skip the salt, onions and garlic. Try this great recipe. Speak to your vet if bone broth is right for your dog.
- Probiotics are necessary to restore the balance in the microbiome. This is essential to overall health. Fermented vegetables can also be given to dogs to boost beneficial bacteria in the gut. Make sure it doesn’t contain onions. You can gradually give 1-3 tsp a day per 20 pounds of weight. Unflavored yogurt can also be given. Read the label to make sure it doesn’t contain Xylitol.
- Coconut oil can help restore gut health by killing fungal overgrowth and other harmful organisms and do so without harming beneficial bacteria. Give 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of weight. Start gradually to give the body time to adapt. Always have a bowl of fresh water available so your pet can flush out toxins. Too much coconut oil may lead to greasy stools and diarrhea.
If your dog is constantly scratching and has scaly, irritated skin, give your dog a bath using Pet MD Benzoyl Peroxide Medicated Shampoo for Dogs. Lather entire body including groin, armpits and in-between toes. Avoid eyes and head. and leave it on for 10 minutes. It is an antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal shampoo that can remove waxy build-up on the skin. You can get this from Amazon. Avoid oatmeal-based shampoos. Oatmeal is a grain and will feed fungus on the skin. Mix an equal amount of water and apple cider vinegar and spray on your pet to kill what ever yeast is left after the antifungal shampoo. Avoid the head and eyes. No need to rinse or towel dry. Avoid spraying on irritated skin because this will sting. Apply coconut oil on skin that is affected with yeast including inside of ear flaps and in between toes.
Please consult your vet if you suspect your dog has a leaky gut. All information in this post is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarians’ advice