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Improving Gut Health for Dogs

Improving Gut Health for Dogs

Gut health is essential for optimal quality of life -- and life span -- in your dog.

There are many options for supporting gut health. But the first step is recognizing when to see a vet. Some gut issues resolve on their own.

However, the best course of action is to not leave your dog’s health up to chance and schedule regular visits with your dog’s veterinarian.

About the Canine Digestive System

Like humans, the canine digestive system consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon (Fig. 1). Digestion begins in the mouth with the exposure of lingual lipases and amylase. Partially digested food travels down the esophagus into the stomach where gastric acid and protein-digesting enzymes liberate important essential nutrients like B12 and amino acids.

dog gut GI symptom stomach intestine

One important difference in dogs is that gastric acid is three times the potency of humans (AKC, 2022) Food then travels to the upper intestines, also known as the gut, where the majority of digestion and absorption takes place. While in the gut, ingested foods are exposed to digestive enzymes and bile which aid the breakdown and absorption of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates.

The gut hosts the majority of the immune systems as well as a rich blood supply. Water continues to be absorbed as it travels through the remainder of the GI tract leaving undigested foods and fiber to be excreted (DeFarges et al., 2022).

Gut Disorders in Dogs

The GI is unique in that it is the only biological system in which substances, mainly food, are voluntarily introduced into the body. In some ways, this offers a degree of control over health. The GI is also unique due to what is known as the GI microbiome, which is an abundance of diverse microorganisms that reside throughout the GI tract.

Dog gut supplement IBS diarrhea constipation

A healthy microbiome known as eubiosis performs various important functions such as nutrient metabolism, neurotransmitter production, strengthening of the gut mucosa, and training of the immune system (Pilla & Suchodolski, 2020). An imbalance of harmful microorganisms to healthy organisms is called dysbiosis and can cause or contribute to a number GI disorders.  

Finally, the dense innervation of the GI tract, with a special emphasis on the vagus nerve, permits communicative input from the microbiome, gut hormones, and inflammatory cytokines that can impact cognitive function, emotional health, and stress resilience.  

On the other hand, mental or emotional stress can communicate to the GI system through the vagus nerve and impact GI health. These unique qualities combined ultimately play an important role in GI health. Below are the most common gastrointestinal disorders in canines.

Never attempt to treat a suspected gastrointestinal disorder in your dog without consulting with your veterinarian.

Dog gut health turmeric probiotic colitis


Colitis in Dogs

Colitis refers to inflammation of the colon otherwise known as the large intestines. The colon continues the process of absorbing water from digested foods. Therefore, inflammation of the colon tends to accompany watery bowels and more frequent bowel movements.

Colitis can be chronic, last from weeks to months, or acute, lasting only a few days, based on the causative factor (PetMD)

Causes of Colitis in Dogs

Colitis can be caused by a number of factors such as  parasites, trauma, allergies, inflammation due to  immune system disfunction, genetic predisposition, antibiotic use (DeFarges et al., 2022; Whittenmore et al., 2021; Willard et al., 1998) and altered kidney function.

Examples of parasites that lead to colitis are (Simpson, 1998):

  • Trichuris vulpis
  • Giardiasis
  • Hookworms
  • Coccidia spp.

Inflammatory bowel disease can cause colitis  and is the result of white blood cells infiltrating the large intestines leading to inflammation (AKCb, 2021). French Bulldogs and Boxers are genetically predisposed to a type of colitis called granulomatous colitis which occurs when a bacterial infection leads to thickening and blockage of a segment of the intestines.

The most common bacteria found to result in this condition is the pathogenic strain of E. coli (AIEC) also found in humans (PetMD).

Symptoms of Colitis in Dogs

Diarrhea, straining while passing stool, mucous and/or blood present in stool, and more frequent bowel movements of a smaller volume. 

Conventional Treatment

Conventional treatment can consist of anti-inflammatory medication, low allergen bland diet consisting of kangaroo, duck, lamb, or venison, and a 1 – 2 day fasting period to give the colon time to rest (DeFarges et al., 2022).

Anti-inflammatory medication may be combined with fiber to assist with symptoms of diarrhea (DeFarges et al., 2022). However, fiber alone will not resolve colitis and signs of illness in your pet should always be communicated to a veterinarian.

Dog gut health antioxidant turmeric quercetin

Antioxidant Superfoods for Dogs

Antioxidants - Numerous antioxidants have supportive effects on gut health in dogs. A turmeric-quercetin supplement called PCQ Pet is clinically studied to directly impact the major inflammatory pathways associated with some of the most frequent age-related health conditions in dogs.

Probiotics  - Probiotics are defined as microorganism that live in harmony with its host while conferring health benefits such as inflammation modulation (AKC, 2021).

A fecal transplant is a procedure that takes fecal matter from a healthy host and transfers it into the intestines of an unhealthy host to confer health benefits (Dang et al., 2020).  In a randomized control trial led by Dang et al., mixed probiotics and fecal transplant outperformed the placebo in dogs with ulcerative colitis (Dang et al., 2020).

Herbal Products The following herbs may be helpful in supporting gut health in dogs:

Antioxidant supplement for dogs with turmeric quercetin

  • Demulcent herbs include marshmallow, slippery elm, licorice, bladderwrack, and fenugreek (Wynn, et al., 2007)

Nutritional Management Other supportive nutrients for intestinal health include glutamine, enzymes, and homeopathic remedies (AKC, 2022).

Constipation in Dogs

Constipation occurs when the passage of stool is restricted. Chronic constipation increases the risk of a condition called obstipation which is an inability to defecate. This can result in damage and distortion of the muscle of the colon and lead to an inability to defecate normally (AKC, 2022).

Causes of Constipation in Dogs

The three common causes of constipation in dogs are internal constriction, external constriction, or neuromuscular dysfunction (DeFarges et al., 2022).

Internal constriction can be caused by ingestion of non-digestible substances such as hair, bones, or toys for example. It can also be caused by infrequent bathroom visits due to stress, fear, or dehydration (DeFarges et al., 2022).

External constriction still occurs within the body, but it is outside of the intestinal tract. Some common examples include an enlarged prostate, a tumor, or a broken pelvis (DeFarges et al., 2022). Finally, neuromuscular dysfunction reduces or inhibits the wave like contractions known as peristalsis that move food through the GI. This leads to a build up of hard dry stools in the colon (DeFarges et al., 2022).

Symptoms of Constipation in Dogs

Symptoms of constipation include straining, lack of defecation, hard stools that leave little to no residue when picked up, and discomfort while passing stool (AKC, 2022).

Conventional Treatment

Typical interventions will include increasing liquids, healthy fiber, and getting exercise. In some cases your veterinarian may recommend laxative or enemas. In more serious cases, manual extraction, surgery to remove sections of the colon (colectomy), or medications to activate peristalsis may be required (AKC, 2022).

Alternative Considerations

In mild cases of constipation fiber can support healthy intestinal motility. Some popular fiber and dietary suggestions are (AKC, 2022):


Diarrhea in Dogs

Diarrhea occurs more frequently than constipation and will differ from dog to dog (AKC, 2022). The American Gastroenterology Association defines diarrhea as “loose, watery stools three or more times a day”.

Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

The most common causes of diarrhea are (AKC, 2022):

  • Eating garbage or spoiled food
  • A change in dog food
  • Food intolerances
  • Allergies
  • Parasites can cause diarrhea if the immune system is compromised – Roundworms, Hookworms, Whipworms, Coccidia, Coccidia are common culprits.
  • Poisonous substances
  • Swallowing foreign objects
  • Infections with common viruses
  • Bacterial Infections
  • Medications such as Antibiotics
  • Stress or emotional upset

Symptoms of a More Serious Condition (AKC, 2022)

Diarrhea can be accompanied by other symptoms indicating a more serious condition. Make sure you consult your veterinarian before attempting to treat diarrhea accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • lethargy, fever, vomiting, dry, tacky or pale gums, or weakness
  • Diarrhea that does not stop
  • Dehydration
  • Long duration – This will vary depending on the dog. If you are not sure consult your vet.
  • Use of medication
  • Existing conditions such as advanced age, diabetes, Cushing’s, cancer, or any medical issue
  • Changes in your dog that let you know something may be wrong

Conventional Treatment

Medication may be prescribed to kill infectious microorganisms, correct diarrhea, reverse poisoning, or provide pain relief. In some cases IV is required to quickly restore electrolyte balance with severe diarrhea (DeFarges et al., 2022).

There are many well established home remedies that can support the return of your dog’s stool habits back to normal. With your vet’s help you can select what fits your dog’s needs best.

A 12 to 24 fast with while providing water in small amounts can allow an offending agent to clear. However, make sure your dog is fit enough to fast. Smaller dogs may not have the energy reserve for fasting (AKC, 2022).

Make sure to provide plenty of water to make up for fluid loss and Pedialyte with the advice of your vet can offset the loss of electrolytes.

You might consider over-the-counter medications for humans with your vets advice (AKC, 2022).

Alternative and Home Remedy Considerations

The following home remedies are suggested by the American Kennel Club:

  • Rice water with chicken broth to add flavor
  • Plain white rice
  • Pumpkin puree from the grocery store or pumpkin powder
  • Plain yogurt with active cultures also called live bacteria which are in essence probiotics
  • Probiotics for dogs specifically can be purchased over the counter. Some clinically studied strains to look for are Enterococcus faecium, Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bacillus coagulans, and Saccharomyces boulardii (Son, 2022).
  • Skinless Boiled potatoes
  • Cottage cheese
  • Plain protein sources such as boiled eggs or skinless chicken
  • Herbs, such as turmeric, quercetin or fennel, may help calm the gut
  • Specially-formulated dog foods such as sensitive stomach dog foods

Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in Dogs

Canine IBS, also known as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) is actually a group of inflammatory intestinal disorders classified by location and cell type. German Shepherds, Yorkshire Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels are more likely to have the condition (DeFarges et al., 2022).

However, more specific types of IBS such as ulcerative colitis or protein wasting enteropathy are more common in Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, Basenjis, Norwegian Lundehunds, and Boxers (DeFarges et al., 2022; German et al., 2003).

The most common types of canine IBS are lymphocytic-plasmacytic and eosinophilic enteritis. Other disorders under the umbrella of IBD are Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis. However, these are more common in humans. Unlike their human counterparts canine IBS tends to occur mostly in the small intestines (German et al., 2003).

Causes of IBD / IBS in Dogs

The cause of IBS is unknown. However, there are distinct characteristics that are associated with the condition such as the involvement of the immune system along with environmental and genetic factors that encourage the disease to manifest. Examples of environmental factors are microbial and dietary antigens (German et al., 2003).

These factors work together to disrupt three essential aspects of a healthy gut: the  mucosal  barrier,  a healthy functioning mucosal immune system, and  the microbiome, which ultimately leads to chronic  inflammation of the gut (German et al., 2003) . Therefore, supporting these three areas are key to managing IBD.

Symptoms of IBS in Dogs

Common IBD symptoms in dogs in vomiting, diarrhea, reduced nutrient absorption weight loss and loss of appetite (AKC, 2021a).

In protein wasting enteropathy excessive protein loss in the feces leads to weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, swollen abdomen, and fluid retention (DeFarges et al., 2022).

Conventional Treatment

There is no cure for IBD. However, management is centered around removing any possible offending agent and reducing symptoms, inflammation and promoting weight gain. Conventional treatments can include:

  • Diet modification (hypoallergenic or elimination diet) with or without other treatment
  • Glucocorticoids or other anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation
  • Anti-parasitic drugs and/or antibiotics,
  • Vitamin supplementation

Alternative Considerations

Holistic vets believe IBD is a reaction to toxins from medication, the environment, or the diet. Some examples include vaccinations, flee and tick treatments, and food allergens. Therefore, detoxification is recommended alongside other treatments to manage IBD (AKCb, 2021). Another important consideration is the loss of mucosal integrity with prolong inflammation. Specifically, tight junction proteins located between cells intestinal cells play an important role in keeping immune activating agents separate from the surveillance cells of the immune system which once activated can further increase inflammation (White et al., 2017).

Some recommendations include (AKC, 2021):

  • A hypoallergenic diet or Elimination diet
  • Antioxidant superfoods like turmeric and quercetin
  • Probiotics known to support IBD management - In one study a combination probiotic product sold under the name of Visbiome® was found to increase tight junction proteins critical for gut integrity (White et al., 2017).
  • Enzymes can assist with nutrient absorption when intestinal damage has occurred
  • Glutamine provides fuel to intestinal cell during growth, repair and maintenance (DeFarges et al., 2022)
  • Herbs such as marshmallow root help soothe the mucosal lining
  • Herbs for detoxification such as milk thistle and homeopathic remedies


Please consult your veterinarian before initiating over the counter aids for digestive health.


American Kennel Club. (2021a). A Different Take on Treating Your Dog’s IBD. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/a-different-take-on-treating-your-dogs-ibd/

American Kennel Club (2021b). Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). AKC Canine Health Foundation |

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/your-dogs-health/inflammatory-bowel-disease.html

American Kennel Club. (2022). A Survival Guide for Dog Diarrhea. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/doggie-diarrhea/

Baliga, M. S., Joseph, N., Venkataranganna, M. V., Saxena, A., Ponemone, V., & Fayad, R. (2012).

Curcumin, an active component of turmeric in the prevention and treatment of ulcerative colitis: preclinical and clinical observations. Food & function, 3(11), 1109–1117. https://doi.org/10.1039/c2fo30097d

Defarges, A., Blois, S., Hall, E. J., Gibson, T. W. G., & Mitchell, K. D. (2022, April 18). Disorders of the

stomach and intestines in dogs - dog owners. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-stomach-and-intestines-in-dogs

Hall, E. J. (2022, June 1). Malabsorption Syndromes in Small Animals. Retrieved from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/diseases-of-the-stomach-and-intestines-in-small-animals/malabsorption-syndromes-in-small-animals?query=malabsorption%20in%20small%20animals

German, A. J., Hall, E. J., & Day, M. J. (2003). Chronic Intestinal Inflammation and Intestinal Disease in Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 17(1), 8-20. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2003.tb01318.x

Kim, J., An, J. U., Kim, W., Lee, S., & Cho, S. (2017). Differences in the gut microbiota of dogs (Canis lupus    familiaris) fed a natural diet or a commercial feed revealed by the Illumina MiSeq platform. Gut pathogens, 9, 68. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13099-017-0218-5

Mehrabani, D., Ziaei, M., Hosseini, S. V., Ghahramani, L., Bananzadeh, A. M., Ashraf, M. J., Amini, A., Amini, M., & Tanideh, N. (2011). The effect of calendula officinalis in therapy of acetic Acid induced ulcerative colitis in dog as an animal model. Iranian Red Crescent medical journal, 13(12), 884–890. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371898/

PetMD. (n.d.). Colitis in dogs. Retrieved May 30, 2022, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/colitis-dogs

Pilla, R., & Suchodolski, J. S. (2020). The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease. Frontiers in veterinary science, 6, 498.   https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00498

Son, K. (2021, October 15). Everything You Need To Know About Digestive Enzymes For Dogs. Retrieved from https://www.veterinarians.org/digestive-enzymes-for-dogs/

Son, K. (2022, May 17). The Best 6 Probiotics For Dogs According to a Veterinarian. Retrieved from https://www.veterinarians.org/probiotics-for-dogs/ 

Simpson, J. W. (1998). Diet and Large Intestinal Disease in Dogs and Cats. The Journal of Nutrition, 128(12), 2717S-2722S. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/128.12.2717S

Suchodolski, J. S., Markel, M. E., Garcia-Mazcorro, J. F., Unterer, S., Heilmann, R. M., Dowd, S. E., Kachroo, P., Ivanov, I., Minamoto, Y., Dillman, E. M., Steiner, J. M., Cook, A. K., & Toresson, L. (2012). The fecal microbiome in dogs with acute diarrhea and idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease. PloS one7(12), e51907. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051907

Stone, C. (2020, May 30). AGA releases guideline on the evaluation of chronic diarrhea. Retrieved from https://gastro.org/press-releases/aga-releases-guideline-on-the-evaluation-of-chronic-diarrhea-1/

Wynn, S. G., & Fougère, B. J. (2007). Veterinary Herbal Medicine: A Systems-Based Approach. Veterinary

Herbal Medicine, 291–409. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-02998-8.50024-X


Useful Websites:





https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/128/12/2717S/4724373 Diet in Large Int. Dis.

https://www.healthcentral.com/article/uc-and-gut-bacteria   - Location of Probiotic Reference for Colitis