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10 reasons why you should get down and dirty with microbes

Posted on September 20 2019

I would like to present a case to you on behalf of the microbes - not because I feel I can speak their lingo - but because they have no voice - and I do! 

If I was to say, name 10 reasons why microbes are important to you and your pets, how many could you get to before flaking?

Your No. 1 answer might be that “microbes were the first life on earth and by way of that very fact, it must mean they are crucial to life on earth”.  You would be correct!  Next …

2. So you’ve “heard that probiotics are really important - that's the microbes that are found in capsules that you take after antibiotics right?” Correct again! Next …


3.  “there are good microbes and bad microbes - baddies being salmonella, and E.coli, campylobacter, and streptococcus” - brilliant!  “Goodies are acidophilus, bifido...”  - now you are struggling right?

Why is it we are more familiar with the baddies than the goodies?  (can I just whisper that most strains of E. Coli are good - one strain even helps manufacture vitamin K, the blood clotting vitamin without which any mammal would die!) Staphylococcus is one such detrimental bacteria giving rise to awful afflictions for dogs such as pyoderma, ear infections and impetigo. In horses in New Zealand the most common skin afflictions would be caused by the bacterial condition dermatophilosis, and the fungal infection ringworm. These are the well known conditions, however if you were to look at white line disease in horses the exact bacteria is still unknown, despite extensive research.

You’ve probably read somewhere that probiotics are good for the gut and that 70% of your (and your pet’s) immune cells are found in the gut this might lead you to think microbes and immune health go hand in hand.

We absolutely need microbes for a healthy gut, healthy skin, a healthy pet, a healthy home and a healthy environment. Beneficial microbes play a major role in protection of the host, be it horse, dog or human, from invading pathogenic organisms, such as mud fever in horses or Seborrhoea Dermatitis in dogs. But we need to think about the bigger picture.

Which brings me to my next point; when did it become trendy to use anti-microbials and anti-bacterial agents in our homes, cars, businesses to the extent we now do, in the name of hygiene? It snuck up on me too that's for sure.  Antibacterial agents are now added to dishwashing and laundry detergents, soaps, window cleaners - to name a few - and you can even add textiles to the burgeoning list. Is it that we are buying into the marketing hype that surrounds new products sold on the added advantage of being anti-bacterial? There is now evidence to prove that the use of anti-microbial cleaning agents, particularly if used in a household where the occupants, be it animal or human, are taking antibiotics, may produce strains of multi-resistant organisms. Do we want this situation in our own homes, where we can no longer depend on certain antibiotics or other medications to actually work for us or our pets? Studies have actually proven that antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaning products are no more effective than using plain soaps, detergents and warm water. Even more importantly than this, do you realise that there are now so many environmental factors that kill our beautiful beneficial microbes. The microbes are under attack from:

  • chlorine (in drinking water)
  • antimicrobials in the home
  • antibacterials and anti-fungals dispensed liberally
  • stress to the host animal
  • insufficient fibre as a food source (tinned dog food often contains insufficient fibre)
  • antibiotics
  • and insufficient quality food to feed the healthy bacteria

That’s without looking at the chemicals such as glyphosate (found in weedkiller) that plays a huge part in disrupting the microbiome - spray can be inhaled or absorbed within a 15 metre radius of your dog walking. A great video by Dr Karen Becker on the risks to your dog from glyphosate is on this link  

For horse owners, if you are feeding non-organic grains, you need to be aware of the implications of glyphosate in the horses feed. Another environmental toxicant is the pyrethrin fly spray emitter that uses the chemicals pyrethroids. If its screwed to your home wall, you might want to consider unscrewing it. We underestimate the combined effect of everything that disrupts the crucial balance of micro-organisms on and in our pets. The result if we ignore all the signs, is humans and their pets will suffer worsening health issues, and even more skin afflictions. In dogs these can take the form of canine hot spots, possibly leading to histoplasmosis, furunculosis and cellulitis.  

The problem is that if we continue in this trend, we are helping to create superbugs that can be immune to even the strongest antibiotics. Already we have whole classes of drugs that can no longer be administered to our pets, or to us, due to the fairly recent phenomenon of Methicillin resistance. Veterinarians have been advised to avoid systemic antibiotic therapy for dogs with surface or superficial pyoderma caused by methicillin-resistant staphylococci (MRS) and instead focus on aggressive topical therapy. Malassezia is a canine bacterial skin condition that is usually treated with anti-fungals, then antibiotics, and then sometimes steroids, often with no resolve. Perhaps it was the wrong antibiotic prescribed, perhaps the underlying cause was not treated, perhaps the pet-owner is feeding too high a level of carbohydrates, or perhaps there was an over-riding need by the dog to detoxify through the skin, and due to a weakened and compromised immune system was just unable to restrain the detrimental bacteria.  

It is not that long ago that we believed in being exposed to bacteria and fungi to build up our immune system. So the less bugs we are exposed to, the less healthy our gut microbiomes become - not just us but our pets as well. The healthier the gut microbiome the less the individual or pet will suffer allergies such as allergic dermatitis in dogs. 

With the latest research from Banfield Pet Hospital, confirming there are an  increasing number of pets suffering allergies, it certainly pays to look after the gut and it's microbial population, alongside the skin and it's microbial population. 

Who knows the third major area that microbes are found in the body? You guessed it - the mucosal membranes - eyes, nose, lungs, and all other orifices of the body.  So it was in 2018 that Benfield Pet Hospital was able to advise us that in the last 10 years there has been a 12.5% increase in flea allergies. That in itself seems to me totally weird - how can this be? Dogs are now reacting to something that is designed to live on them? Even more concerning, when it comes to environmental allergies over the last 10 years, there has been a 30.7% increase for dogs. Many pet owners are led to believe their pets have a food allergy however Banfield reports “food allergies in our pets are uncommon, and other causes of certain skin conditions should be investigated before pursuing a food allergy diagnosis. Acral Lick Granuloma is an interesting condition - a pet can drive itself silly with constant licking in a particular area, forming a lesion that does not heal. It appears, that the prevalence of hypersensitivities in dogs is increasing, reported by J Khosnegah, in her study in 2013. Why is this the situation when our healthcare should be improving the outcomes? I feel that there could be a correlation between food allergies and vaccinations, in that the vaccines are often grown on cultures using beef or chicken. So once the vaccine is injected into your dog, not only will the dog's immune system develop antibodies to the vaccine, it can also develop antibodies to the beef or chicken. 

Hotspots are a classic form of inflammation externally and often the cause is unknown. It is helpful to understand that inflammation always starts within the body, being that it is a process of the immune cells setting up a speedy reaction to an insult, be it a chemical, an allergen or a bacteria. Inflammation is a valuable and necessary component of any immune system. However the underlying issue must be isolated and dealt with, as it would be unwise to stop the inflammatory process without dealing with the irritant.

An article in the Vet Times recently, stated, “with our increasing knowledge of gastro-intestinal (G.I.) and other microbiomes, more interest is emerging in using microorganisms to benefit pet and human health”. Currently, they are being used in cases of chronic and acute diarrhoea and as an adjunct to antibiotic therapy but in my opinion there is hardly a dog that would not do well on a good probiotic.

If you were to run a PubMed search (specializes in medical publications) on probiotics you would find that more than 18,000 articles abound, with close on 650 published in early 2018. 

Most skin issues in pets are multifactorial of course - I always say you don’t suffer a headache from a lack of paracetamol - or equine thrush, ringworm or canine alopecia from a lack of antifungal!  It's really important to address the ‘whole’ situation from a ‘holistic’ perspective. There's no point applying a topical antibiotic for an ear infection if the environment that set up a bacterial overgrowth in the ear, or in the gut, has not been improved. Likewise, why would you cut off a toe with furunculosis only to have the situation appear on another toe a few months down the track because you have not actually dealt with the root cause; the environment that gave rise to the condition in the first place. 

Recently I read an article where it stated that “Dog flea allergy is the leading cause of skin problems/" However to me, any allergy is not a cause it is merely a symptom - the underlying cause has not been diagnosed and until it is, ill-health will continue. 

There needs to be a paradigm shift in thinking and the root causes such as incorrect diet, emotional or physiological issues, gut dysbiosis, Leaky Gut or inflammatory causes must be addressed to move forward into optimum health.