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Pet Diarrhea - Using Natural Therapies

Diarrhea is the most common clinical sign of an abnormality of the gastrointestinal tract in dogs and cats. Causes of pet diarrhea include stress (common in nervous dogs and working dogs,) dietary changes or indiscretions, parasites, tumors, and inflammatory reactions (usually a common cause of chronic diarrhea, going by the name inflammatory bowel disease.)

Conventional therapies for diarrhea include antibiotics (only a few of which are truly helpful in gastrointestinal disorders,) corticosteroids such as prednisone (most commonly implicated in certain bowel cancers and inflammatory bowel disease,) anxiolytics (for dogs experiencing stress,) and deworming medications. All dogs with diarrhea can benefit from fasting (usually 12-24 hours of no food) to allow the gastrointestinal tract to rest and heal. Often a low fat bland diet composed of a protein source (usually beef or chicken) and carbohydrate source (rice is easily digestible) is used as the diarrhea resolves.

There are several complementary (natural) therapies that mushers might find useful to help normalize the digestive tract and assist in "curing" diarrhea in their dogs. My approach, as discussed in The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, includes plant enzymes, the amino acid glutamine, and probiotics.

Enzymes are used for a variety of functions in the pet's body. Cellular processes, digestion, and absorption of dietary nutrients are dependent upon the proper enzymes. The pancreas produces amylase, lipase, and various proteases. Amylase is used for digesting carbohydrates, lipase is used for digesting fats, and proteases are used by the body to digest proteins.

While it is true that the pancreas produces enzymes to aid in food digestion, additional enzymes found in the diet contribute to digestion and absorption as well and may enhance feed efficiency (maximizing the utilization of nutrients in the diet.) Natural, raw diets contain a number of chemicals including enzymes not found in processed diets. Processing often alters the nutrients found in a pet's food, depleting it of important nutrients and enzymes (enzymes are broken down in the presence of temperatures in the range of 120-160 degrees F. and in the presences of freezing temperatures.) Supplying additional enzymes through the use of supplementation can replenish enzymes absent in processed foods. Even pets on natural raw diets can often benefit from additional enzymes, which is why they are often recommended as a supplement.

Additionally, various stressors such as illness, stress, allergy, food intolerance, age (older pets may have reduced digestive enzyme capability,) and various orally administered medications (antibiotics) can decrease gastrointestinal function. This results in poor digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the diet. Supplying digestive enzymes at these times can improve digestion and absorption.

Enzymes have been recommended for treating pets with various disorders, including arthritis, allergies, coat conditioning, bowel disease (especially inflammatory bowel disease,) and coprophagia (the condition where the pet ingests its own or another pet's feces.) Plant enzymes are active over a much wider pH range (pH 3-9) than pancreatic enzymes and are the preferred enzymes for most patients. Plants contain the enzyme cellulase to aid in digesting plant materials contained in the diet; they free zinc, selenium, and linoleic acid that might be bound by fiber.

For dogs with diarrhea, especially chronic diarrhea as may occur in inflammatory bowel disease, enzymes assist in the digestion and absorption of additional nutrients from the food. Diarrhea results from damage to the intestinal cells that secrete enzymes and absorb nutrients. By supplying additional enzymes in the diet we are supporting the intestinal cells while they are healing (which takes several days in acute diarrhea and longer in chronic conditions.)

Since enzymes are inactivated by heat, they cannot be added to warm food or mixed with warm water. Rather, they are simply sprinkled onto the food (at room temperature) at the time of feeding. Enzyme supplementation is inexpensive, safe, and easy to administer in pill or powder form (the preferred form for most pets.) Your doctor can help you decide which product is best for your pet's condition.

Glutamine, or L-glutamine, is an amino acid derived from another amino acid, glutamic acid. There is no daily requirement for glutamine as the body can make its own glutamine. High-protein foods such as meat, fish, beans, and dairy products are excellent sources of glutamine. Severe stresses may result in a temporary glutamine deficiency.

Glutamine plays a role in the health of the immune system, digestive tract, and muscle cells, as well as other bodily functions. It appears to serve as a fuel for the cells that line the intestines (it serves as a primary energy source for the mucosal cells which line the intestinal tract.) Because stress on the intestinal cells (such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease) can increase the need for glutamine as the body replaces the cells lining the intestinal tract, glutamine is often recommended for pets with acute and chronic bowel disorders including inflammatory bowel disease. Heavy exercise, infection, surgery, and trauma can deplete the body’s glutamine reserves, particularly in muscle cells.

Inflammatory bowel disease may result from food hypersensitivity or allergy (“leaky gut syndrome.”) Preliminary evidence suggests that glutamine supplements might reduce leakage through the intestinal walls.

While glutamine is useful for treating diarrhea, in people and pets, glutamine is also recommended to reduce the loss of muscle mass (as may occur during injury, stress, or high-endurance activities as might be encountered by dogs competing in field trials.) This may be helpful in mushing dogs during training and competing.

Glutamine, being one of the body's amino acids, is thought to be a safe supplement when taken at recommended dosages. Because many anti-epilepsy drugs work by blocking glutamate stimulation in the brain, high dosages of glutamine may overwhelm these drugs and pose a risk to pets with epilepsy. If your pet is taking anti-seizure medications, glutamine should only be used under veterinary supervision.

Maximum safe dosages for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined; similar precautions are probably warranted in pets. Recommended dosages in pets are 250-3000 mg daily.

Probiotics are normal viable bacteria residing in the intestinal tract which promote normal bowel health. Probiotics are given orally and are usually indicated for use in intestinal disorders in which specific factors can disrupt the normal bacterial population, making the pet more susceptible to disease. Specific factors which can disrupt the normal flora of the bowel include surgery, medications (including steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,) antibiotics (especially when used long-term,) shipping, birthing, weaning, illness, and dietary factors (poor quality diet, oxidative damage, stress.) Improving the nutritional status of the intestinal tract may reduce bacterial movement across the bowel mucosa (lining,) intestinal permeability and systemic endotoxemia. Additionally, probiotics may supply nutrients to the pet, help in digestion, and allow for better conversion of food into nutrients.

There are several different probiotic products available which can contain any combination of the following organisms: Lactobacillus (L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. thermophilus, L. reuteri,) Acidophilus, Bacillus (specifically a patented strain called Bacillus CIP 5832 in one patented product,) Streptococcus S. bulgaricus, Enterococcus (E. faecium) Bifidobacterium,B. bifidus, and Saccharomyces (S. boulardii, which is actually a beneficial yeast not a bacterium.)

The intestinal tract, especially the large intestine (colon) is home to millions of bacteria, most of which are harmless and in fact beneficial to the pet. The intestinal bacteria
are essential to digestion and the synthesis of vitamin K and many of the
B vitamins.

As mentioned, your pet's intestinal tract contains with billions of bacteria and yeasts. Some of these internal inhabitants are more helpful than others. Acidophilus and related probiotic bacteria not only help the digestive tract function, they also reduce the presence of less healthful organisms by competing with them for the limited space available. Diarrhea flushes the healthy bacteria out of the body; treatment with antibiotics worsen this situation. Probiotics are indicated to allow normal bacteria to repopulate the
intestinal tract.

There are several proposed mechanisms by which probiotics can protect your pet from harmful bowel bacteria: probiotics produce inhibitory chemicals that reduce the numbers of harmful bacteria and possibly toxin production by these harmful bacteria; probiotics may block the adhesion of harmful bacteria to intestinal cells; probiotics may compete for nutrients needed for growth and reproduction by harmful bacteria; probiotics may degrade toxin receptors located on intestinal cells, preventing toxin absorption and damage by toxins produced by harmful intestinal bacteria.

Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir are good sources of acidophilus and other probiotic bacteria. However, many yogurt products do not contain any living organisms or only contain small numbers of organisms. Some dogs will eat these foods, and others won't. Also, if the pet has any lactose intolerance, he may not tolerate yogurt well and may experience diarrhea (although this is rare.) Most doctors recommend supplements to provide the highest doses of probiotics and avoid any lactose intolerance.

Dosages of acidophilus and other probiotics are expressed not in grams or milligrams, but in billions of organisms. A typical daily dose in people should supply about 3 to 5 billion live organisms. One popular pet supplement provides 500 million viable cells to be given per 50 pounds of body weight. The suggested dosage range of probiotics for pets is approximately 20-500 million microorganisms.

Because probiotics are not drugs but a living organisms, the precise dosage is not so important. They should be taken regularly to reinforce the beneficial bacterial colonies in the intestinal tract, especially in dogs under regular stress, which may gradually push out harmful bacteria and yeasts growing there.

The downside of using a living organism is that probiotics may die on the shelf. The container label should guarantee living Acidophilus (or Bulgaricus, and so on) at the time of purchase, not just at the time of manufacture.

There are no known safety problems with the use of Acidophilus or other probiotics. Occasionally, some people notice a temporary increase in digestive gas (the same could occur in pets, although I have not seen this.)

While conventional medications may be useful in specific instances of diarrhea, the use of complementary therapies including plant enzymes, probiotics, and the amino acid glutamine is beneficial to dogs which develop diarrhea. Work with your veterinarian to establish a protocol for your dog during training and competition to try and prevent diarrhea. The therapies mentioned in this article can be very helpful if your pet develops acute diarrhea or chronic problems such as inflammatory bowel disease. If conventional medications are indicated, the complementary therapies discussed can and should be used with medications.




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