Ask any veterinarian and they will most likely tell you that their phone is filled with pictures of poop. Clients text and email photos, and they engage their veterinarian in lengthy discussions about frequency, color, consistency and odor.
Poop is the end product of the complex digestion process that starts with food and requires the assistance of trillions of microorganisms that rent space in the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of our companion animals. In exchange for nourishment and a place to live, these organisms provide essential elements needed for regulating our metabolism, healthy digestive functioning and a competent immune system. It is estimated that one-third of the microbiota in humans is common to most people, and the remaining two-thirds constitute a sort-of individual fingerprint; each dog likely has its own unique microorganism populations.
An imbalance in the bacteria that inhabit the gut is termed “dysbiosis” and can occur with illness, aging, the use of certain pharmaceuticals and the ingestion of products that are toxic to these organisms. One such culprit is glyphosate, an herbicide that disrupts the shikimate pathway in microorganisms, including the bacteria that live in the GI tracts of mammals. GMO “Roundup Ready” foods and crops sprayed with glyphosate can substantially alter the composition of bacterial populations for the worse.
How should these concerns be addressed? A healthy, species-appropriate organic diet should be the foundation of any therapy. Pre- and probiotics—in the form of fermented raw foods, the right sources of fiber and high-quality supplements—can also help.
In addition, a therapy that is gaining attention is Micro-Biome Restorative Therapy (MBRT), or fecal transplants. In people, fecal transplant therapy is successfully used to treat Clostridium difficile overgrowth, a debilitating and potentially fatal condition often caused by the use of antibiotics.
At a basic level, a fecal transplant involves taking poop from a healthy animal and transferring it, orally or rectally, to an animal with a “sick” microbiota. This process may be performed once, or successful establishment of a healthier microbiome may require multiple treatments. Exploring the potential uses of MBRT in pets is just beginning. Currently this therapy is considered for gastrointestinal disorders, endocrine diseases and immune-mediated conditions
Identifying a healthy donor dog is critical for the success of this therapy. Donor dogs are carefully screened for parasites, bacterial and viral diseases, and any systemic health concerns. Ideally, a donor dog should be eating a raw diet, receiving minimal vaccines, taking no antibiotics or other conventional medications and not suffering from gastrointestinal diseases, allergies or other immune-mediated conditions.
Transplants can be accomplished by feeding a dog poop from a healthy donor, rectally infusing a poop enema or using a commercial “poo pill” from a company such as AnimalBiome. Recipients also need to be prepared: they should be off of antibiotics before a transplant procedure, be on a diet of fresh, GMO-free foods and be taking probiotics and other targeted nutraceuticals.
Dogs are scavengers and eat all sorts of things that we find repulsive—including fecal matter from herbivores and other dogs, as well as decaying flesh. Droppings from grass-eating animals can provide a complex array of vitamins, enzymes, fatty acids and fiber. Feces from unknown dogs can introduce a diversity of bacteria but can also create risky exposure to parasites, bacterial and viral diseases, as well as possibly provide an unhealthy population of microorganisms. A healthy donor reduces these risks and can, literally, transform the immune system and gut health of a sick animal.
Treating gastrointestinal problems with fecal material from healthy donors has been recorded in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Despite this history, we have barely begun to understand the implications of alterations in intestinal microbiota and to explore the wide-ranging possible conditions that are affected by the organisms that live in symbiosis within our pets and us. Fecal transplant therapy may be a beneficial option for some pets, especially for cases of chronic diarrhea, and many veterinarians that use this therapy believe it does far more than improve digestion.
As the demand for holistic therapies in veterinary care increases, the long-term health benefits of nutrition counseling and therapies such as fecal transplants to provide balanced gut flora will become clearer. Maintaining good gut flora is essential for a healthy digestive system and strong immune system… and for fewer photos of poop in the camera roll.
Dr. Laura Weis and her husband, Dr. Ransome Weis, own and operate Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care, and Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center, in Doylestown. She focuses on homeopathy and nutrition counseling for her clients within the full-service veterinary practice. Call 215-345-6000 to request an appointment. May 2018