The Gut Story: Keep the bad guys away!


Dr Dhananjay Pandit
Did you know that the bacteria living in and on your body outnumber your body’s own cells? The same is true for our companion animals, and science shows that beneficial bacteria—the cat microbiome—have a symbiotic relationship with our pet’s bodies and affect their overall health and wellness.
You must have heard of gut wrenching stories, but this isn’t one. This is the gut story to help you know more about the gut health of your pet and how you can keep them happy and healthy!
In the word microbiome, micro means ‘small’ while w refers to a community of flora and/or fauna that inhabit an ecosystem. The easiest way to conceptualize a dog microbiome is to think of them as a microscopic population of bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa that occupy the eco-system of your pet’s body. While you will often hear about gut bacteria, there are also bacteria that live on the skin, in the oral cavity, in females’ reproductive system and in the respiratory tract.
A certain number of ‘good’ gut bacteria help support health. But, there are also “bad” gut bacteria that can cause disease and illness. Majority of microbiome lives and functions in the colon. In a healthy individual, the good bacteria outnumber the bad bacteria and help keep the bad guys in check. If the bad guys start to outnumber the good guys, disease manifests. In cat microbiomes, the good bacteria are supportive friends that aid normal bodily function.
How do microbiomes develop in companion animals?
Cats are not born with a microbiome. Kittens start building one immediately after birth, from their mother and the surrounding environment. Your pet’s microbiome can be built from a variety of things that they come in contact with every day from toys to food to indoor and outdoor environments, and yes, even from you.
As kittens grow and mature, their microbiomes change and mature as well. The microbiome remains stable in most adult cats unless they become unhealthy from other illnesses or improper nutrition.
Good gut for good health
Gut bacteria not only aids digestion, but they also synthesise vitamins and essential amino acids, help prevent infections, strengthen the immune system and support general health and well-being. Research shows a correlation between the gut flora and diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders such as asthma, allergies, GI diseases such as IBD and colitis, as well as other conditions. We now know that people’s microbiomes can influence their mood and that some depressed humans have altered gut flora.
Further, a recent study in ‘Trends in Cancer’ investigates the ways in which the microbiome can influence the development and spread of cancer. The microbiome can also be affected by obesity; a study from the American Society of Microbiology found abnormal microbiomes in obese dogs.
The microbiome can affect almost every tissue in your pet’s body, making a balanced microbiome vital for overall health. Each microbiome from your dog or cat’s gut to their skin or oral cavities is different. Each requires slightly different needs to help promote the good bacteria or slow the impact of the bad bacteria. Researchers are now testing microbiome treatment in unhealthy individuals. Current therapeutic approaches include meal plan modification, antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics and fecal microbiome transplant therapy.
Food for thought is ok! But what about food for gut?
Food has a big influence on the health and population of the cat microbiome. When a companion animal’s microbiome becomes unbalanced, the digestive system is thrown out of balance as well, potentially causing diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, appetite changes, skin problems, behavioural problems, sluggishness etc.
The cat microbiome is sensitive, and can be affected by food, medications, stress and environment. Even something as seemingly innocuous as abruptly changing a cat’s food can alter the microbiome. Differing levels of protein, fat, carbohydrates, soluble fibre and insoluble fibre can all influence and alter a cat microbiome.
When you feed your pet, you are also feeding their microbiome. While still in the early stages of research, new discoveries are being made every day that reveal the role that feeding a pet’s microbiome has on their overall health. Understanding the relationship between these nutrients and bacteria is helping formulate food that better promotes healthy microbiomes, and consequently healthier pets.
The trillions of microorganisms living in our pets must be properly balanced to promote their health and wellness. Nutrition plays such an important role in your pet’s life, so make healthier lifestyle choices for them and feed them a healthy and balanced diet!
(Dr Dhananjay Pandit is National Vet Affair Manager at Scientific Remedies Pvt Ltd. He is a vet with more than 20 years experience in food, hygiene, animal nutrition and pet care)