A new look at two old natural health superstars: Enzymes and Probiotics

Ever get that gut feeling that something is wrong? If your dog is plagued by bouts of these gastrointestinal maladies: sloppy looking poop, diarrhea, or nasty gas attacks – chances are the intestines are battling an unhealthy mix of bacteria. Reasons for this can range from food intolerances or allergies, repeated exposure to antibiotics and other medications, and poor digestion. In fact, the gut is often the first to send out the alarm: something is rotten here! To understand how important a healthy gut is to your dog’s overall health, let’s begin with some basic gut stuff that impacts us humans as well.

Think of the digestive tract as an amazing tubular processing plant that can turn a chicken dinner into loads of energy while extracting essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids needed by vital organs like the heart, kidney, liver and immune system. In the simplest of explanations, its primary function is to digest food, chemically breaking it down through the action of enzymes to ensure vital nutrients will later be absorbed by the intestines.

Food in its natural state, uncooked, contains live enzymes, making it easier for nutrients to be digested and later absorbed. But when we cook food above temperatures of 118 degrees, valuable enzymes are destroyed by the heat. Fewer natural enzymes force the pancreas to crank up its own enzyme production which can result in deficiencies over time. This is important because further down the intestinal road your dog will not be able to absorb nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) that have not been properly digested. These undigested proteins, fats and carbohydrates can fuel the growth of unwanted bacteria—upsetting the delicate balance of intestinal microbes and the battle begins. Your dog may succumb to uncomfortable bloating, gas, bloody stools, diarrhea and even bouts of vomiting.

But don’t give bacteria a bad rap, yet. Bacteria are natural inhabitants of the gut and the friendly ones, also known as the good bacteria or probiotics, are instrumental workers in this processing plant. Your dog depends on his or her friendly bacteria to make certain key B vitamins, assist immune functions, and protect intestinal cells from invasion by harmful lurking bacteria. No other organ in the body is equipped to handle loads of bacteria that are found in the gut. In fact, when bacteria is found anywhere else in the body such as the kidneys, lungs, or bones, we call that an infection. Now that is some real food for thought!

This can be easier to understand when you realize that animals expose their bodies to the outside world whenever they swallow or breathe in air. The digestive tract (gut) and respiratory tract (sinuses, airways and lungs) are on guard 24/7 ready to battle harmful microbes, environmental pollutants and toxins. In a healthy state, other organs remain sheltered from these outside health hazards. This is until, of course, something goes wrong. The immune system breaks down and natural protective mechanisms are lost. The bad boys gain entrance and crash the party. Could you help your dog build a stronger gut defense — maybe hire some hefty bouncers? Yes! One simple solution that gives your dog a fighting advantage is to keep your dog’s gut in a healthy state of balance. Make sure the numbers of good bacteria living in the gut far outweighs the bad guys and you can help tip the scales in favor of your dog. High numbers of good bacteria will simply crowd out the bad guys, denying them a place to set up camp.

To keep the good soldier bacteria happy and doing their jobs, they need the right environmental conditions and food supplies. Does this sound familiar? Health in a large part is determined by what we eat all the way down to the simplest of life forms, bacteria! And what your dog eats will either befriend the good bacteria or give ammo to the enemy. The increasing popularity of raw food diets are showing health advantages over factory made pet foods because they are uncooked, leaving naturally occurring enzymes intact to aid in digestion and they closely mimic the dog’s native diet – using fresh wholesome meats, bone, and organs.

Simply put, nature designed a raw food diet for our friendly wolf descendents. However, the family dog who has been denied access to his native fare, now struggles to adapt to our more convenient modern way of life – commercial, factory made diets. These heavily processed diets are devoid of any food enzymes, may contain unhealthy by-products and chemical food additives – all adding to the digestive burden. Home cooked diets offer a much better option because you control the quality of ingredients. But remember, cooking will nuke these healthy food enzymes too.

Better digestion will also provide a better environment for your dog’s friendly bacteria. To help your dog absorb more nutrients from the food you are feeding, simply add some powdered enzymes to each meal. Even dogs already eating a raw food diet can benefit from adding extra enzymes. Try adding digestive enzymes to your dog’s diet and watch for these commonly reported benefits:

  • Improved digestion results in less gas and firmer stools.
  • Better hair coats and less skin problems.
  • Older dogs show more vitality and improved mobility.
  • Improved immune function provides natural resistance to disease.
  • A reduction in seasonal allergy symptoms.

Other factors that can set up hostile living conditions for good bacteria are the use of medications – especially antibiotics and steroids like cortisone. These medications are among the most widely prescribed drugs in veterinary practice. If your dog is on these medications or has taken them in the past, he or she needs help to re-establish healthy numbers of good bacteria. And here is the good news: healthy recruits of good bacteria, probiotics, can be safety and cheaply given to any dog. They can be used as treatment or given as prevention to increase the number of good fighting soldiers. Most of us are familiar with yogurt and other fermented foods that contain live strains of friendly bacteria. Fermented foods have been hailed for centuries as healthy food and the reason being they promote a healthy gut. Even our ancient healers understood the healthy benefits of eating these fermented foods long before the microscope was invented!

If your dog suffers from digestive problems, stool eating, arthritis, poor hair coat or allergies – it’s time to think gut. Many dogs start to show improvement in just a few weeks when given the right combination of digestive enzymes and probiotics. I recommend the multiple blend of enzymes and probiotics selected by a company called Ultra-Pet Products: Total-Zymes and Total-Biotics. This product line was developed by John Taylor ND, a naturopathic doctor who has successfully used enzymes and probiotics to treat human patients and himself for years. Five years ago, he turned his attention to pets. After studying products available in the marketplace, his research told him he could develop better products at a better price. Ultra-Pet Products is a sister company to his human supplement line, Natural Wellness.

Another company, Nature’s Farmacy has developed a supplement containing both enzymes and probiotics named DOGZYMES. Their products gained popularity among the dog fancy – going back almost 20 years ago. They continue to enjoy positive testimonials by breeders and those who show dogs professionally.

I strongly advise that you experiment using both digestive enzymes and probiotics to see what works best for your dog. You can expect to enjoy positive results within the first month or two.

The gut is a key player in your dog’s health and can be a major determinant of whether or not your dog gets sick. So, keep the gut happy, never ignore a gut reaction, and you will surely help your dog to enjoy better health!