The microbiome refers to the gut bacteria (and other organisms) as a whole and has been
studied widely in humans. The microbes in the gut make a huge contribution to health. This
includes producing various vitamins and essential nutrients, affecting energy levels, and even affecting our mood. It is also associated with immune system function, whether we develop certain metabolic diseases, and with the development of certain brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. But what about the gut bacteria of our dogs and cats?
Well, it turns out that studies have now been conducted that show similar results in our pets.
A healthy microbiome is essential for the maintenance of good health. Early in life, the
microbiome helps with the development of the immune system and is vital in aiding immune function throughout life. But studies have also shown that the gut bacteria of our pets change as they get older. There is less diversity of bacteria, and some “good” bacteria start to decrease. Studies show that bifidobacteria and lactobacilli become reduced in elderly dogs.
Elderly cats have lower numbers of bifidobacteria compared to young adult cats fed the same diet. Studies also show that some types of “bad” bacteria increase in the guts of our older pets, which may lead to an increased risk of infection. Changes such as the ones documented in older dogs and cats are associated with inflammation and frailness in studies in humans.
Do they cause the same types of problems in our pets?
One study conducted on cats split the cats into three groups, and all groups were fed a
complete and balanced diet. One group received the diet alone, one group had the diet plus
antioxidants, and the third group received the diet and antioxidants, plus a fatty acid
supplement and prebiotics. Antioxidants help to scavenge up substances that can damage
cells in the body, and include things like vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E. Fatty acids are
essential nutrients. They can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the right amount and
balance. A fatty acid supplement may be something like fish oil, krill oil, or flaxseed oil.
Prebiotics are nutrients that feed the “good” bacteria in the gut and include things like fructooligo-saccharides.
In the study on the aging cats, the group that received the balanced diet plus antioxidants and fatty acids + prebiotics lived significantly longer than the other two groups of cats and had a slower decline in their health. This is encouraging work that examines how feeding the gut microbiome may have a positive impact on the health of our aging pets.
An important influence on the gut microbiome in our pets is antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill
off large numbers of the bacteria that the gut relies on for good health. Probiotics (i.e.
providing the gut with “good” bacteria) can be important not only after antibiotic treatment,
to help replenish the gut, but also to prevent some gut infections and other intestinal
conditions. Probiotics have been developed that contain strains of bacteria specifically
targeted to the canine and feline gut. This research is quite exciting and holds promise for the future when antibiotic resistance is likely to become a bigger and bigger problem.
You can now measure the health of the microbiome of your dog or cat using a tool called the“Pet Biome” from CanineMicrobiome.com. The Pet Biome is a stool test that gives you a
report on the bacteria present in your pet’s gut. This is done by measuring the DNA of the
bacteria in the stool and comparing it to reference studies performed on healthy animals. You receive a full report on the health of your pet’s microbiome which you can share with your veterinarian. See an example of a report here: http://biome.orivet.com/kit/health-chart/10
Research on the effects of the dog and cat microbiome into aging and pet health is in its
infancy. Still, the importance of the intestinal microbes on an animal’s health has become
clear, and as a pet gets older, it is an aspect of their wellbeing that we should not neglect.
- Dr Janette Mattey, BVSc, BAnSc. Orivet Genetic Pet Care
Keijiro Mizukami, Jumpei Uchiyama, Hirotaka Igarashi, et al., Age-related analysis of the gut microbiome in a purebred dog colony, FEMS Microbiology Letters, Volume 366, Issue 8, April 2019, fnz095, https://doi.org/10.1093/femsle/fnz095
Gail L. Czarnecki-Maulden, Fecal Microbiota Changes in Aging Dogs and Cats – Implications for Health and Longevity. Companion Animal Nutrition Summit, May 3-5, 2018 Charleston, Sth Carolina. Proc pp 21-22
Masuoka H, Shimada K, Kiyosue-Yasuda T, et al. Transition of the intestinal microbiota of dogs with age.
Biosci Microbiota Food Health. 2017;36(1):27-31. doi:10.12938/bmfh.BMFH-2016-021
Rachel Pilla and Jan S. Suchodolski, The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease. Front. Vet. Sci., 14 January 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00498