It finally happened. The moment I’d been waiting for (for almost 6 weeks!) finally came! I got the results back showing me my dog Barkley’s internal gut biome report. I totally geek out on stuff like this, so opening the email with the results was like opening a birthday present. (And I LOVE birthday presents. Seriously. Love them.) Essentially, this report is intended to tell me what sort of bacteria Barkley has in his gut. It also shows me (for comparison purposes) what a healthy dog’s internal biome looks like. But it was so much more than that: I was hoping it would give me clues as to what was going on with my best bud, because if I’m being honest, he isn’t optimally healthy.
Barkley’s less-than-perfect health
While he is definitely thriving now, for the first 6 ½ years of his life, Barkley was raised very conventionally. I’ve had him for 8 years, and I’m pretty sure whoever had him before me cared for him in a similar way. He ate a kibble diet, he was vaccinated for everything under the sun every year, and he received lots of conventional medications, including antibiotics (multiple times) and steroids. While it’s relatively infrequent, he still experiences diarrhea and GI upset, and he still has periods of itchiness (which I can usually relieve quickly, but still, they occur). Elle and Motley, our other two dogs—both of whom are 6—don’t have these issues, but they also weren’t subjected (and yes, I used that word deliberately) to the same kind of care that Barkley received.
The AnimalBiome report
So, back to the sample. I ordered it from AnimalBiome because I wanted to see how Barkley measured up, and so that I would know what steps to take if his biome wasn’t optimal. When it arrived, it was packed with a lot of really interesting and scientific information (if you want to see the report in detail, I’ve included it at the end of this post). But the upshot of the report was that Barkley doesn’t have very much diversity in his biome compared to a healthy dog, and he doesn’t have healthy proportions of bacteria either. In other words, he’s really low in some bacteria compared to a healthy dog, and he’s quite high in other bacteria compared to a healthy dog.
This makes sense to me—even though he gets a species-appropriate raw diet, plenty of exercise, fresh air, sunshine, and supplements as needed (plus, of course, tons of love and snuggles and playtime every day), we still have those first 6 ½ years to contend with. He was over-vaccinated and fed a non-species-appropriate diet. That, coupled with the antibiotics and steroids, wreaked havoc on his gut biome. In fact, I’ve seen estimates that dogs that are given antibiotics may take at least a year to recover a healthy gut biome, and much of what I’ve read suggests it may be much longer than that, if they ever recover at all. And this make sense, right? Since the “bad” bacteria recovers more quickly than the “good” bacteria, it crowds out the good stuff, which never has a chance to recover. Given that Barkley has received more than one round of antibiotics, just in the time that I’ve had him, he’s been hit repeatedly with a major attack on his gut biome.
The results…and what to do with them
So, now that I have my results, what am I going to do to help Barkley? Given that I want to address some of his lingering digestive issues, along with (if possible) clearing up his allergies, I’m going to try a rather novel and out-of-the-box (at least for me) “treatment.” I’m going to use a variation of what’s known as FMT, or fecal microbiota transplant, to introduce healthy strains of bacteria to Barkley’s gut, so that those strains can crowd out the bad stuff while at the same time increasing his gut biome diversity. While this has been mostly used (at least so far) to help animals (and people) with digestive issues, it’s showing some promise in helping with issues as diverse as behavioral problems, aggression, skin and coat problems (hello, Barkley’s allergies!), and coprophagia (eating stool). One veterinarian, Dr. Margo Roman, has even used FMT to help treat canine liver failure, kidney failure, adrenal exhaustion, and more. There’s even a trial going on at UC Davis right now to determine exactly how effective FMT is at addressing issues like allergies.
How improving Barkley’s microbiome can help him thrive
Improving Barkley’s gut microbiome doesn’t just mean we might be able to get rid of his bouts of diarrhea or flare-ups of allergies (which, as I’ve said, have greatly improved since we switched him to a more natural way of living, but haven’t disappeared completely). By improving the diversity and amount of the good bacteria, I also make it easier for Barkley to get rid of toxins naturally. That’s because “good” bacteria in the gut microbiome bind to toxins (including allergens!) and cancer-causing substances and then help remove them from the body. Plus, when a dog has a healthy microbiome, in addition to improving digestion, they are also able to produce more B1 and B12, as well as some fatty acids. The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that a dog needs a healthy microbiome in order to truly thrive.
An alternative to FMT
So, here’s what I’m going to do: because I don’t want to sedate Barkley for a traditional FMT, I’m going to give him the stool of a healthy, naturally reared, raw-fed, young dog. AnimalBiome offers capsules, which is a great route because they screen their donors (and you can get capsules that use raw-fed-dog stool on request), but I’m going to use my friend Dr. Erin O’Connor’s dog Onyx’s stool for Barkley. I’ll just add a nickel-sized amount to his meals for a month or two, and then re-test him. Yes, the whole concept sounds a bit gross, but it’s proven to be such an effective “treatment” for so many issues, and given Barkley’s gut microbiome profile, it may really help him.
I share all this with you to show you that, if your pet struggles with diarrhea, vomiting, stomach issues, allergies, or any other issues that suggest they aren’t optimally healthy, it’s worth looking into their gut microbiome. AnimalBiome has test kits for dogs and cats, and you can get capsules from them as well (as well as follow-up tests to see how effective the capsules were). I especially love this whole approach because, if done correctly, the risk for side effects is very low, and the possibility for improved health is very high. And, in my constant quest to improve the lives of my dogs and cat (and to bring you information about how to improve the lives of your pets), that makes me pretty happy.
The report itself
Want to see what Barkley’s report looks like? Check out the images below! The first image (stacked bar chart) shows the proportion of each bacteria in Barkley. The top 10 bacteria found in his stool sample are in the table directly below the chart. More interesting information from his report follows, so scroll down and take a look. If it’s hard to read, you should be able to click or tap on each image to make it larger.
Does your dog struggle with diarrhea and other digestive issues? Have you tried FMT, or considered it? Let us know in the comments below!
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