Updated: Jan 31
Healthy food is, by far, the best way to a healthy life. But when your pet needs a little boost above and beyond what a fresh, wholefood diet alone can offer, you might have better luck by focusing on supporting their gut health instead of trying to tackle multiple issues individually.
Over 70% of your pet’s immune cells live in their gastrointestinal tract, so keeping their gut happy can mean they’re better prepared to fight off potentially harmful bacteria that can flourish into harmful and irritating issues. The best part? Boosting your dog or cat’s microbiome can be a quick and easy adjustment to your feeding regimen with long-lasting effects—it’s a win-win situation all around!
With that said, let’s get into the guts of it!
Signs Your Pet Might Need Gut Support
To start, you don't need a sign of illness or discomfort to support your pet's gut-even perfectly healthy-appearing dogs and cats can have more going on under the surface! As with most aspects of a healthy lifestyle, the effects of a healthy microbiome on an already healthy-looking pet might be more of what adverse effects you aren't seeing versus an issue you're actively dealing with.
However, if your pet is dealing with any of these conditions, it might be time to take a closer look at their gut:
Chronic ear infections
Chronic or intermittent diarrhea, loose stool, or constipation
Leaky gut syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Dull coat, itchy skin
Food sensitivities or “food allergies”
Bad breath, belching
…and that's just the tip of the unhappy gut iceberg. Not only can your pet's gut health influence so many parts of their immune system (remember, around 70%!), but a flourishing microbiome can also absorb nutrients better than one struggling to maintain its basic functions.
4 Foods for Gut Health
Think of your pet’s gut like a well-oiled team: all of the organisms are working in lock-step, but the more specialties each team member has, the better they’re able to perform as a whole. This is how feeding a variety of foods works in your pet’s gut: by introducing new proteins, supplements and other fresh foods into your dog or cat’s diet, you’re nurturing a host of healthy bacteria, each capable of absorbing different nutrients and managing harmful bacteria your pet may run into—and even regulating your pet’s metabolism!.
What we’re trying to say here is that there’s rarely such a thing as “too much” gut support; any one of these foods or supplements can work wonders, but there’s no need to limit yourself to just one—the more the merrier!
1. Raw Foods
Of course, we have to mention the benefits of a raw diet! Feeding your pet raw foods ensures that the protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals naturally present in raw food don’t get lost in the cooking process. All these various nutrients work together to expose your dog or cat to various healthy bacteria that can “train” their gut to respond quicker and more efficiently to any unhealthy bacteria they may encounter.
Additionally, raw foods are easier for our pets to digest; it puts less strain on their digestive system and reduces chronic inflammation that occurs when their guts work overtime to break down and squeeze out all the necessary nutrients from their food.
Finally, rotating through different proteins naturally exposes your pet to a variety of different nutrients, which also increases their microbiome strength. For dogs, adding a bit of our Base Mix Beef Tripe is a particularly efficient way to boost their gut health!
RDBK Foundations Raw: for dogs and cats, a limited-ingredient meal plan in a wide variety of proteins with organic vegetables.
RDBK Everyday Raw: for dogs only, these mixed protein meals are a great way to include multiple proteins in a single dish!
RDBK Base Mixes: for pet parents who want a little more control over which vegetables go into their pet’s meals, reach for base mixes—they’re just our top-quality protein mixes with probiotics!
2. Bone Broth
Bone broth is an excellent and versatile addition to any pet’s meal. It’s a concentrated dose of three types of collagen, the first of which is the same type found within the lining of your pet’s digestive tract. This is particularly useful for pets with leaky bowel syndrome, as the collagen supplied by bone broth can coat the intestinal lining, “seal” the gaps, and help rebalance their microbiome.
The collagen in bone broth can also reinforce your pet’s cartilage, which helps keep your pet spry and reduces the aches and pains that come with age-related conditions like arthritis.
Finally, bone broth is high in essential amino acids and vitamins. It's an easy way to sneak some healthy and flavourful moisture into your pet’s diet—particularly great for cats who only have a casual acquaintance with their water dish.
Open Farm: an excellent bone broth meal topper in a convenient-to-use pouch—it’s great for both dogs and cats!
DIY: it’s cheap and easy! Check out this link from Adored Beast Apothecary for a quick how-to.
3. Fermented Foods
When you need to start boosting your pet’s microbiome ASAP, reach for pet-safe naturally fermented dairy products like kefir and plain greek yogurt or fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, broccoli, or carrots.
Fermentation is a process of preserving food with living microbes, and these handy little specimens do a lot of the heavy lifting for your pet’s digestive system. First, they’re already digesting the starchy sugars in vegetables before your pet even eats them, so your dog or cat can get all the benefits of those veggies with none of the carb-rich downsides!
Second, those microbes become a food-sourced probiotic once your pet eats them, helping maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria and improve nutrient absorption. Just a little bit can make a huge difference!
Browse your grocery store for:
Sauerkraut: look for recipes low in salt and sugar
Kombucha: choose plain or ginger-flavoured recipes; check the label for sugar or caffeine—while the natural bacteria eats sugars, it’s best not to risk it.
Probiotic yogurt: again, choose plain flavours and feed sparingly to cats, especially if you’re not using greek yogurt, as too much lactose isn’t the best for their digestive systems.
It’s more than just a seasonal treat! Pumpkin is full of fibre, a prebiotic which helps feed those beneficial bacteria in your pet’s gut. It’s also great for supporting regular bowel movements, so if your pet is on the mend from a bout of diarrhea or constipation, pumpkin might be their saving grace.
Pumpkin is also high in several antioxidants, most notably beta-carotene, which can help reduce inflammation in the gut and support the cells within it, and enzymes that help break down food into more readily-absorbed nutrients. And as a bonus, it’s a low-fat, low-calorie meal topper that’s high in moisture—perfect for pets who need to lose a few pounds!
Farmer’s Market Foods Organic Pumpkin Puree: this is easily one of the best pumpkin purees you can get on the market: it’s organic, non-GMO, and simplicity at its best—it’s organic pumpkin and nothing else!
3 of the Best Probiotics for Gut Health
For pets with particular taste buds, there’s a chance it might take them some time to become acquainted with the flavour and texture of food-sourced probiotics like fermented foods. If that’s the case for your pet, or if you simply want a high dose of probiotics to jumpstart their microbiome, then an expertly curated gut-support product might be your best solution.
But just like all supplements, gut-support products aren’t all equal, so here are our two favourite naturally-derived probiotics for pets!
Red Dog Blue Kat has been partnered with Olie Naturals for over a decade, and not without reason! This company specializes in certified organic and naturally derived probiotics; their New Beginnings probiotic contains a host of carefully selected fermented and living microorganisms that can give ailing guts the support they need.
New Beginnings is also gluten-, sugar- and dairy-free and free from preservatives, additives, artificial flavours, and colouring. Its liquid format makes it easy to stir into your pet’s meal. It’s an all-natural boost to get your pet back to an all-natural gut!
This is another fantastic 100% natural probiotic for your dog or cat—and it has prebiotics too! Prebiotics are the food that feeds the gut flora, so not only will Love Bugs plant more beneficial bacteria in your pet, but it’ll also be feeding and maintaining their population.
This probiotic comes in a powdered form with 14 strains of probiotics, so if a diversity of gut flora is your aim, this one might be the one for you!
3. Dr. Dobias’ Gut Sense
A fantastic pre- and probiotic with canine-specific strains, Dr. Dobias’ Gut Sense is made with 100% organic and natural ingredients. Once again, including a prebiotic and probiotic means you’re feeding the existing bacteria colonies in your pet as well as adding more to their gut!
A Final Addition…
It’s odd to think that when we feed our pets, we also feed what lives inside them, but the bacteria living inside them are crucial to their overall health. A dog or cat’s gut flora is the first step in a long chain of dominos controlling their well-being. Keeping that domino strong and upright is necessary to keep your pet happy and healthy for longer—and thankfully, it's an easy, tasty task!