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

By Paula Terifaj DVM

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 is 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!

Paula Terifaj,
DVM is the author of the 30 Minute Vet Consult series. She has written three
ebooks to help dog owners make informed medical decisions, reduce veterinary
visits, and improve their dog's health. To purchase books and sign-up to read
her outspoken commentary, DOG-Breath, visit www.30MinVetConsult.com