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Feline Leaky Gut masking as Allergies?

Posted on October 17 2021

One of MicroMed’s core values is treating causes, not just symptoms. Many cat owners are seeking help for issues such as itchy skin, allergies, or incessant licking. Although these are definitely things that can be (and should be!) treated, you often aren’t addressing the ‘root cause’ and are only treating the symptoms.  When the issues become persistent and ongoing, seemingly no matter what you use to treat it, then we need to delve deeper.  One of the most common underlying causes, aside from a microbial imbalance, for itchy, scratchy cats, is Leaky Gut, known as Intestinal Permeability in the medical profession.  This is now a condition listed in PubMed, the medical database, however many vets are still not being taught about this condition and as it underlies so many health issues it is paramount that you become aware of this insidious condition and are able to treat it.  

So what is Leaky Gut? The hint is in the name. The intestinal tract is an incredibly important organ that protects the body from what enters the mouth and should stay in the gastro-intestinal tract and not be absorbed through into the bloodstream.  It controls which nutrients are moved out of the gut, and discards any toxins.

Genetic biodiversity in the intestines is so incredibly important because it creates the right environment for all of the critical enzymes and bacteria that are needed to keep your cat in good health. When your cat eats something, it goes into the gut and breaks down. All of the important bits are transported through the permeable gaps in the intestinal walls, while the waste and unnecessary bits just continue on through the gut. In a healthy gut, only water and nutrients are able to pass through the small gaps in the intestinal walls. However, when your gut is ‘leaky’, these gaps are larger and allow unwanted toxins and other harmful bacteria to pass through into the bloodstream and the rest of the body. This can cause all sorts of issues such as inflammation, high sensitivity to foods and environmental factors (eg. your cat suddenly developing food intolerances or grass allergies), skin issues, or auto-immune conditions.

Feline Leaky Gut

So how does your cat develop a Leaky Gut? Unfortunately, it’s incredibly easy to develop. A high sugar diet is the leading cause, which is bad news for cats that eat biscuits. For biscuits to be ‘dry’, they need to have a huge amount of carbohydrates in them; usually around 30%-70%. Once eaten, these carbohydrates break down into sugars, which feeds the carbohydrate-eating microbes and encourages them to repopulate. However, these are the wrong microbes for the gut; as there should be mainly protein-eating microbes in a cat’s gut. Sugar also feeds yeast (which are naturally found in the gut), which can cause a yeast overgrowth, that can lead to ... you guessed it ... Leaky Gut - or itchy skin or dermatitis or many, skin ailments.  Long-term antibiotics and steroids also increase the gut permeability (making the ‘gaps’ in the intestinal walls bigger). When taking anti-biotics you are killing off all of the bacteria, hence the name anti (no) and biotics (bacteria). However, this also means that all of the good bacteria are being eliminated, as well as the bad ones. As the bacteria and fungi begin to repopulate, there are often huge imbalances between the ‘good’ microbes and the ‘bad’ microbes. The complete eradication of bacteria, good and bad, leaves niches available, and particularly when being fed ‘biscuits’, it's the fungi that fill the biological vacumn, often leading to fungal overgrowth.

Having an imbalance of microbes can cause all sorts of issues, which is why you need to make sure that your pet only has the correct bacteria in their gut for their species. Another major contributor to Leaky Gut is a lack of nutrients, such as deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin D, and zinc. Leaky gut also exacerbates the issue more, as the food cannot be broken down fast enough (and have the nutrients absorbed) before ‘leaking’ occurs, through into the bloodstream.

Now that you understand what Leaky Gut is, here’s how to figure out whether your cat has one. Two of the most common symptoms of Leaky Gut in cats are skin issues and allergies. If you find that your pet has suddenly developed these issues, and it hasn’t cleared with the usual veterinarian medicine (or it cleared for a few weeks/months and then re- appeared), then there is likely an underlying issue at play. Leaky Gut also means that your cat can become more susceptible to other conditions or diseases, as well as becoming more tired/lethargic and have trouble eating or develop strange eating habits. Leaky Gut also tends to exacerbate other issues, because the blood and body become ‘toxic’ due to the waste filtering through from the gut. Now, this doesn’t mean that if your cat has allergies, it definitively has a leaky gut. It’s more that if there are constant issues that don’t go away with the regular treatment, there is likely something else going on, and the likelihood of it being Leaky Gut is very high.

Leaving a Leaky Gut untreated can cause chronic dis-ease, but luckily it can be very simple to fix. Micromed has a protocol formulated by Maria, our Director and Naturopathic Nutritionist. It involves the use of specific amino-acids that are able to repair the ‘holes’ in the intestinal lining. Other supplements will also be recommended to soothe and aid the healing of the gut, as well as preventing further issues from arising. It is very important that prebiotics and probiotics are used to help overcome any inflammatory or minor skin issues. A Leaky Gut can cause all sorts of issues when left untreated (including auto-immune disease) so it’s best to take the necessary measures rather than waiting until it becomes a chronic situation, as this is way more time-consuming and expensive to reverse.