Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.
What in the world is dysbiosis and how did your dog get it? Dysbiosis, often called leaky gut, is an imbalance of the gut flora in your dog's intestines.
Left undiagnosed and untreated, dysbiosis can cause your pet serious health problems. Learn why Dr. Cathy Alinovi of Healthy PAWsibilities believes probiotics and proper nutrition are your dog's best defense against diseases like dysbiosis.
Q1: What is dysbiosis?
Dr. Cathy: Dys means ill or bad, biosis refers to form of life, in this case bacteria and fungi (flora and fauna, AKA microbials); therefore, it is bacterial and/or yeast overgrowth.
Q2: Are dysbiosis and leaky gut the same thing?
Dr. Cathy: One leads to the other. Bacterial and yeast overgrowth leads to inflammation. Inflammation interferes with intestinal cell function. Normal, healthy intestinal cells interlock with each other like a jigsaw puzzle to keep things in the intestines.
With inflammation due to dysbiosis, the intestinal cells do not grip each other, and things from the gut leak into the bloodstream unwanted - thus, leaky gut. Because leaky gut lets in unwanted intestinal products, there is more inflammation. It becomes a vicious cycle. While they are not the same thing, the terms dysbiosis and leaky gut are used interchangeably as one will lead to the other.
Q3: What is the root cause of dysbiosis?
Dr. Cathy: Anything that disrupts the normal fungal (yeast is a form of fungus) or bacterial levels in the intestines, but also the skin and anywhere else in the body where yeast and bacteria live. The most common causes of dysbiosis are high carbohydrate foods and antibiotic use.
Most people understand that taking antibiotics can lead to diarrhea. The diarrhea is due to the antibacterial action of the medications because all bacteria are killed, not just the ones at the site of the infection (like bladder or anal glands), but also the normal, helpful bacteria in the intestines and on the skin.
A less understood issue is that consumption of carbohydrates and indigestible fiber (fillers essentially) can lead to dysbiosis as well. Carbs ferment in the intestines into sugars, changing the body pH (acid balance), feeding harmful bacteria, and interfering with digestion and nutrient absorption.
Q4: What typical symptoms would pet parents observe?
Dr. Cathy: There is a long list of potential symptoms, which vary from patient to patient. See below for a shortlist of symptoms. Fundamentally, dysbiosis is the root of 80% of the illnesses that present to the veterinary clinic.
Common Dysbiosis Symptoms
Diarrhea alternating with constipation
Smelly, recurrent anal gland infections
Q5: How is dysbiosis diagnosed?
Dr. Cathy: Dysbiosis is formally diagnosed by a fecal culture; however, the data from the culture may be incomplete. Dysbiosis is often diagnosed based on clinical signs such as those mentioned in the list above.
Q6: What types of treatments are available?
Dr. Cathy: Treatments are aimed at rebalancing the bacteria and fungi living in the body so the right ones are there at the right levels. For some patients, it is as simple as giving a probiotic. For some patients, it means a total overhaul of diet, pH, and a barrage of supplements targeting the out of balance bacteria and yeast.
Q7: What risks are associated with giving these treatments?
Dr. Cathy: The biggest risk comes with die off from whatever over grew. When bacteria die, they release toxins. If the bacteria die all at once, the toxins released can cause a temporary worsening of signs.
Q8: What kinds of supplements might be helpful?
Dr. Cathy: Probiotics, herbs and nutraceuticals work together to repopulate the body with balanced levels of the right bacteria and fungi/yeast. The type of supplement(s) used will depend on the patient's individual issues and how the veterinarian develops the case.
Q9: What kinds of dietary modifications are necessary?
Dr. Cathy: Diet is actually the very first place to start when treating dysbiosis. One of my favorite sayings is "fixing the food fixes 80% of what walks in my door." Diet changes start with removing the corn, grain, dyes and by-products from the food. All of these ingredients feed dysbiosis.
This can be as simple as discontinuing the use of dry food, feeding balanced people food, feeding raw, or scouring the pet food shelves until you find a brand that meets all the above guidelines. Until the food changes are made, there is little point in trying to address the dysbiosis as little headway will be gained.
Q10: What type of follow-up care is required?
Dr. Cathy: Stick with the program recommended by your veterinarian. Watch how your dog sheds. If the shedding stops (except for the normal spring and fall shedding) then things are going well. If the shedding resumes, a new problem exists.
If the shedding does not stop, there is a deep-rooted dysbiosis that just takes time to treat. Most young dogs respond quickly to treatment. Older dogs take longer; in some cases, maintenance is needed for the rest of their lives. Even if that is the case, your dog will have major improvements in quality of life.
Q11: How can pet parents prevent a recurrence of dysbiosis?
Dr. Cathy: Avoid starchy, carbohydrate-laden foods, minimize uses of medications, and once your dog has received his/her initial vaccines, do only what is required by law.
Q12: What other pet health problems might be exacerbated by dysbiosis?
Dr. Cathy: All health issues will be worsened by dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is believed to be at the root of autoimmune disease and cancer (both of which are becoming more and more common).
Q13: Are there dog populations at higher risk for dysbiosis?
Dr. Cathy: The population is best described by environmental characteristics as opposed to genetics. Dogs that eat corn based kibble and receive many treatments, which only address symptoms, rather than underlying causes, will have dysbiosis.
For example, either recurrent ear infections can be treated with antibiotics and steroids with each occurrence, or, the underlying food allergy can be determined. In addition, dogs born to dogs like those described above will be predisposed to dysbiosis because their mother can exchange the same imbalanced bacteria and yeast. Sadly, most of our dogs fall into these categories simply due to the convenience of dry food, which makes it is very difficult to choose in relation to high quality versus low quality ingredients.
Q14: Do dogs with dysbiosis ever require surgery?
Dr. Cathy: Only rarely in the most severe cases where there might be an intestinal blockage. In general, surgery can worsen dysbiosis rather than make it better.
Q15: What else do pet parents need to know about dysbiosis?
Dr. Cathy: Sadly, dysbiosis in pets is only slowly being recognized on mainstream veterinary medicine, yet it is incredibly common.
The devoted dog owner understands dysbiosis is at the root of most ill health and will work diligently with his/her holistic veterinarian to get to the underlying issue.
This veterinary medical information is based on information provided during a telephone interview with a professional, qualified, retired veterinarian. However, it is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice about your pet’s health.
While this information is periodically researched and updated (under the guidance of veterinary input) in the attempt to be timely and factual, no guarantee is given the information is correct, complete, and/or up-to-date.
Recommendations as to therapeutics, diagnostics and best standards of practice in the veterinary industry and/or opinions between professionals may differ or change as technologies and information changes. You should not use this article as your sole source of information on any matter of veterinary health or attempt to self-diagnose or treat your pets as the information herein may not be appropriate for your pet. The safest option for you and your pet is to rely on the advice of your veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the best treatment options.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Donna Cosmato