How to Resolve Gut Issues in Your Dog?

25th January 2023 10 min read

Guest Blog: Dr Conor Brady

Short term, sporadic instances of diarrhoea or long term gut issues? Dr Conor Brady explains all, including causes and remedies.

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How to Resolve Gut Issues in Your Dog?

Gastro-intestinal (GI) issues are the most common ailments in dogs today. In my opinion, they can be divided into two distinct groups - those instances that occur sporadically, out of the blue (and are often resolved just as quickly) and those that more chronic, reoccurring over time, often taking a little more time to resolve as a result. I’m going to show you the correct way to resolve both today.

Sporadic Instances of Diarrhoea

Shit happens. That’s the reality of it. Outside of a sudden shock or period of stress (e.g. just before public speaking for some people), where the body tries to lighten the load in response to the fight or flight chemicals that are released. A sudden instance of diarrhoea is most often caused by a microbial (though sometimes a chemical) bad guy introduced via something nasty you ate. Its presence either irritates the gut lining or perturbs the little residents in your poop factory, the gut flora.

These guys are far from defenceless, this is their house, and they retaliate with chemical defences of their own. This little battle can unfortunately irritate your gut further and if overwhelmed, they call for help. The immune system around your gut (the GALT - Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue) promptly responds like all good security guards do - everybody out!! - and it begins pumping the chain. As your colon begins filling with hot, muddy water, you find yourself sprinting for the nearest toilet, pushing small children out of your way as deep waves of cold, peristaltic terror inform you that to salvage any decency from this you may need to tuck your jeans into your socks.

First, a Brief Fast to Dry Them Out

The solution to these instances is to briefly fast the dog. Skip a meal. That’s first. He’s not going to die of hunger. The guts are in turmoil and few want to eat in that situation.

Leave out two types of water for him. The first is his regular, filtered water (no chlorinated tap water. If you don’t have a filter then boiled then cooled water is great). The second is what we call “electrolyte water”. This is filtered water with a good dollop of local honey (energy but it’s also antibacterial) and a healthy pinch of good quality salt (anything with a name - Himalayan rock salt, Oriel Sea Salt, whatever) dissolved in. The salt contains electrolytes. Electrolytes help control the osmotic potential of your gut. When you are gut sick, you use and lose a lot of them. Offering them in water allows your dog to self select as much as he feels he needs in a process called Zoo Pharmacognosy (I’m particularly interested to see if a Greyhound will drink much of this post sprint…anyone out there interested in running a little field test?!).

How to Give Probiotics Correctly

Supplements wise, a little probiotic now would be handy. Studies show they’re great for post-diarrhoea episodes. Human or dog type, it doesn’t matter, they’re virtually identical (see below). The theory is, as meat-eaters, dogs are different to us in the gut flora department, of course, but the differences are largely in anaerobic bacterial species, i.e. bacteria that do not like oxygen, hence you can’t make them in our very-oxygenated factories.

A comparison of popular probiotics for dogs and humans.

How to Give Probiotics Correctly

(On the left is one of the most popular canine probiotics available today. On the right is BioKult, a probiotic available in your local health shop. It’s half the price, twice the amount of CFU’s (colony-forming units) and has none of the crappy fillers often found in canine probiotics, for some reason).

Probiotics is a numbers game so I give probiotics in liquid (e.g. a tablespoon of yoghurt and a table spoon of water in a cup) and offer them in-between meals. Not putting them on their dinner means they avoid the rigors of the dogs extremely acidic gastric acids. Instead, as the gut doesn’t hold onto liquids, the probiotic drink passes straight through to the intestines where they can get to work en-masse.

I feed this diarrhoea diet for a few days or until his poop clears up and gradually move back to his normal diet. I stop the probiotics after a week or so.

Chronic / Recurring Episodes of Diarrhoea

The stool is the window to the digestive system. You can tell a lot about your health from it. For more here, check out my article for Paleo Ridge, 50 Shades of Poo.

For now, if their stool quality is often poor, let’s say regularly scoring between Types 4-7 in the Bristol Stool Chart above, then all is clearly not well in the gut department and it needs to be addressed.

The very first place to look (and the very last place our vets seem to) is the diet - what have you been putting in to cause this? There are other causes too, of course, such as chronic stress, but very few of our pampered pooches are that. Or perhaps there is something environmental going on - a chemical on the lawn, a parasite or indeed a nasty wormer treatment. Sure. However, in my experience, the chances of it not being food related is very low, particularly if your dog has been to the vets (and such dogs too often wrack up a terrible amount of veterinary visits and bills…) and anything more sinister has been ruled out.

What Human Nutritionists Say to do…

When a human patient presents with recurring GI issues, nutritionists will give them some easy-to-remember phrases to help guide their diet choices through recover. They say things like “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t feed it”. Sound advice for any time in your life, this means dump ultra processed food and any weird, synthetic compounds that might hamper your recovery. In particular, we need to avoid chemical preservatives. The toxic compounds they use to kill life in the product also wash over your delicate gut garden…and you’re expecting your gut-troubled dog to recover on that stuff?!

They also will say to avoid any products with more than five ingredients in general though this is reduced to more than two or three in patients with stubborn GI issues.

They say with GI issues, it’s like you’re in a dark room and there’s lots of people punching you. You need to reduce the number of people in that room if getting out of it is your aim.

In other words, particularly in dogs with recurring issues, you need to simplify greatly. In order to recover, you need to know what is causing this? If your kibble contains 100 ingredients (though they only list around 20 these days…) and those ingredients arrive to the factory containing other ingredients used in their production you have introduced a LOT of potential enemies to the mix. Which one is punching your dog?

This is why studies of these ridiculous, grossly over-priced, chemically preserved, nutrient-bereft “prescription” crackers (available without prescription as they have no medicinal qualities whatsoever) show they fail to help your dog over time. And whatever about alleviating symptoms they certainly will not fix the issue. No chemically preserved, ultra-processed food product can or has ever done that before.

The Solution to GI Issues in Dogs is to GET SIMPLE

So, no more packet foods or treats. And no more multi-ingredient supplements you bought as you read someplace that x might do y (which it might, in some dogs, just not on top of a pile of stuff that still seems to contain something causing a gut issue in your dog…). No more allergy tests (later). No chemical parasite control as “maybe it’s parasites” in such dogs, I strongly advise you refrain from chemically napalming your dog (and his poor gut flora) until you actually identify a bug that needs sorting. Test, don’t treat. Poo samples can be sent off to wormcount.co.uk to check for worms (and then treated naturally should anything be found…). And don’t get me started on annual vaccinations !

It’s all got to STOP.

The solution for dogs with stubborn GI issues, be they dry or canned or raw fed, is to get very simple. How are you on turkey, dog? How are you on lamb? Etc. We add a couple of supplements that might help and slowly, slowly we add a new ingredient every couple of weeks, tentatively exploring for food intolerances. We build up his menu over time and free of antagonists, the gut (via a gut flora restored to health) will heal itself from the inside out.

Not a profitable concept I grant you, but highly effective.

Why it Doesn’t Work Sometimes…You Have to Fix the Road if You Want the Good Car to Work on it…

The problem pet owners encounter is that, convinced real food is the answer, they jump to raw and hope it fixes their dog.

However, I use the car salesman analogy at this point. Let’s pretend instead of great diets I sell high-end cars. You come to me looking to buy one. I say, no offence, but the state of the car you’re after driving in here - it’s covered in much, the wheels are all wobbly, the exhaust is scraping on the ground and steam is coming from the bonnet - leads me to believe my fancy cars will not like where you’re driving your car. You tell me you don’t care, you want a Porsche, and off you go. You come back a week later, the Porsche clearly wrecked, telling me you need a better car. You want a Ferrari! Which soon too is ruined.

In this instance, it’s not the car that’s the problem but the road you’re driving on. It’s not that the diet didn’t work, it’s the fact the gut is it’s the fact you did nothing to fix the gut before you set off.

STEP 1: Find the Base Diet

We haven’t the time to get into it right now but allergy tests don’t work well enough to make them worth the spend. First, the cheap ones that test for hundreds of proteins are based on bioresonance. Please avoid these. However, even the blood tests conducted by your vet are very hit and miss. In fact, tests of these tests, reveal they are at best a rough guide. In short, if you have a blood allergy test with the vet and the protein IS NOT on list, we can work with that and cross our fingers (it will be right 80% of the time).

Allergy tests aside, most people with constantly gut-sick dogs know what proteins their dog does okaaaaay on and what proteins definitely do not work. We start with that info. Others aren’t really sure at all. For these, we seek to begin on a novel protein, in other words, something the dog hasn’t had before or in the very least, has not had a lot of.

For most dogs, starting on turkey or lamb is a good idea. They are relatively novel, very often successful and, importantly, the bones of them are readily available.

Let’s say we’re going with turkey here. First off, there’s no point buying a whole heap of one meat or another only for him to turn his nose up at it or, worse still, aggravate his gut condition! So start with a pinch of the cooked turkey mince mixed well into his normal food (and put a little blob on the side...see if he goes for it). Next meal increase the dose.

If it works, pick yourself up a whole turkey, organic if possible. If it does not work and the turkey addition clearly makes him worse for more than 2 or 3 meals, move on to your next meat (e.g. lamb or venison or duck or rabbit…).

STEP 2: Make Broth

Broth is fantastic. Easy to make and deeply nutritious, it contains all the building blocks his gut needs right now to rebuild that ruined gut (gelatine, collagen, glucagon, glutinane, hyralaunic acid, glucosamine, chondroitin etc). It is the tarmacadam for the ruined road.

Take apart a whole turkey. Keep breast for making turkey treats - simply chop and bake low and slow in the over. Bring the meat and bone to the boil then drop to a simmer for 8-10 hours. Bin the cooked bones, simmer off the excess water until you have something akin to a nice thick turkey stew, add a nice pinch of salt (electrolytes and tasty, let’s face it!) and away you go.

Remember he needs at least 3% of his weight per day in this stew. But as his gut is ruined and not processing well he may be very hungry / nutritional destitute and in need of more. If so, give it to him.

STEP 3: Start With a Little Fast

Start with a little fast as discussed but in these dog it’s wise to extend the principle. We recommend giving gut sick dogs a max of two meals per day and they are given within 6-8hrs of each other. This gives the gut at least 16hrs off per day, the magic number for gut regeneration. More here.

STEP 4: Introduce Supplements

  • Probiotics - as above. Human type fine. If your dog has an IBD diagnosis from the vet, Fidospore is excellent. However, please note it contains beef which fudges food trials. Stop the probiotic after 2-3 weeks. If when removing it his poo disintegrates, keep it up a bit longer!
  • Herbs - Organic German chamomile (called Mother of the Gut), some organic marshmallow (adds mucous to the intestines where the gut flora lives) and I would add a nutritional booster like seaweed as such dogs with be in nutritional disarray under the hood. 1-2g of each per 10kg of dog per day. To this end, I have a product called BioFunction8 for just this issue. It simply combines all the above and a few other bits that he would benefit him now.

Introduce the supplements only when we know the stew is working to produce an OK poo (doesn’t have to be wonderful but it can’t be worse). Introduce them one at a time and remember to start on a tiny dose and build to the required amount. Gut sick dogs are notoriously unstable. We don’t dose to be as issue and we stop giving a very useful herb because we gave too much of it, throwing the baby out with the bathwater-type scenario.

STEP 5: Challenge Him

Weeks down the line (3 or 4 say) we need to start asking questions of the now fitter dog. First we need to know if raw turkey works as well as the cooked stuff (not always the case). Test him with some raw turkey mince by adding a little to one meal, a little more the next, waiting for a reaction. If OK then he’s fine to move to a complete raw turkey dog food with your broth addition.

From this point, we are now free to add a new raw meat protein every couple of weeks. Eg, try lamb next. If good, he can now have turkey AND lamb in his life. If not good, he can’t!!! Simple as that.

Make your way through the proteins you hope will be OK before trying the ones that suspect are not (usually beef or chicken). You might try lamb then raw eggs then sardines then duck then venison…

If one doesn't work, don't push on for too long. Fast, retreat to a diarrhoea diet that you know works and move back to the previous food you know works once poo solidifies.

And that’s it!

Easy. Cheap. Tasty. Definitive.

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If you need some hand-holding, you can book a consult here.

Further Reading

22nd February 2024

Your dog's body is a sophisticated arrangement of organs, cells and proteins all tasked with safeguarding the body from infections. So what is the best way to support this unique system?

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