Simone had “tried everything” to give relief to her itchy dog and of all the remedies she had tried, none had worked! After many frustrating visits to the vet, asking once more, “why does my dog scratch his belly?,” purchasing ‘the best itch relief for dogs ever’ and trying every “home remedy for itchy dogs” there was her dog - still itchy! She felt sad, and defeated and very annoyed. It wasn’t the dogs fault of course! She simply felt like giving up! Every so often though, after watching her beautiful boy scratch himself silly once again, (and now he also woke up with a hotspot), she would reignite her passion to find the answer, googling some more.
Sound like you? You know so much about itchy dogs now having spent so much time googling right? You know for example that, itch can be due to either fleas, parasites or allergies. You’ve tried the antibiotics, you’ve tried the steroids and you’ve tried the antibacterials - you’ve literally tried everything!
Or have you?
What if there was a piece of the puzzle that was missing! Its a piece of the puzzle that almost no-one even knows is missing - like a trick of the eye! Could the answer be something no-one has thought of, lying in a place no-one has looked. Or maybe we are looking at the problem from the wrong angle!
Here’s an interesting angle - if we wanted to give our dog an itch, what would we have to do?
- Be a flea
- Be a mite
- Strip the dog of all of its microbes, or even just the bacteria alone
So which of these do you think - if you had to choose one - might be something we as pet-owners inadvertently might have done - probably when we weren’t even looking!
Interesting - let's join the dots.
So if we strip the dog of its microbes what happens? Think of what happens every time you give antibiotics for example. All bacteria die, indiscriminantly - the good and the bad. The fungi does not however. Fungi is way harder to kill but thats another story! Did you know there are beneficial fungi as well as detrimental fungi though? Similarly there are beneficial bacteria and detrimental bacteria. It is interesting to look around us in the year 2020 to see just how microbe-phobic we have become, and even more so after Corona-virus. It seems we now live in the mentality of microbes means eradication - at all costs! I believe we now need a campaign espousing the benefits of microbes to offset this imbalance.
You see in any living organism, and lets be specific to mammals here, so your dog or even you, the bacteria and the fungi co-habit. They actually have a very intimate relationship with each other on a bio-physical and metabolic level. You see most bacteria and fungi interdependently develop and co-evolve, and this effects every level of the organism they inhabit, from growth, reproduction, transport/movement, nutrition, stress resistance and pathogenic susceptibility. Genetic bio-diversity, even just within the gut of your dog, guarantees the presence of critical enzymes allowing biochemical pathways that otherwise your dog would lack. Without those enzymes, you are creating small, but ongoing deterioration in the functioning of your dog on many levels. In fact, in light of the thirty or so studies that have emerged over the last five years in this field of research, the interacting micro-organisms together may be conceptually regarded now as one meta-organism, which I find fascinating! It is literally, a dynamic entity both in and of itself!
So imagine when a dose of antibiotics kills off only the bacteria, what happens to the fungi? The fungal-associated bacterial communities, as they are called in scientific circles, become impaired, primarily with regards to the metabolites, products of cellular metabolism, that they produce, affecting their reproductive abilities. This means the complex and inter-related eco-system begins to break down, and harmony no longer reigns supreme. Also what occurs once the bacteria have been killed by antibiotics, is an empty niche that will be filled, also known as a biological vacuum. Who should move in? More fungi? Or the resistant bacteria that weren’t killed off by the species and target-specific antibiotics? This is the crux of the problem that I perceive. If all the beneficial bacteria are gone, suddenly its all-out war and within 15-30 minutes you have uninhibited microbes, bacteria and fungi, primarily detrimental, reproduce and fill those vacant niches and gain a foothold, giving rise to pathogenic conditions in the absence of the previously diverse community of microbes. Disease-fighting bacterial communities have an extremely precise number and combination of species and strains of bacteria. Too little or too many of each can equate to problems.
As pet-owners, manipulating food sources alone can have a huge impact on the precise balance of microbes. To build a rich, resilient microbial community over time, allows a strong resistance to disease, and less need for antibiotics. The other way to build a strong, resilient community is to use probiotics, preferably with a powerful and highly diverse commensal blend of microbes, both bacterial and fungal, that already exists as a meta-organism per se.
Back to those resistant bacteria - the few that remained after antibiotic use. They may well now become the dominant species as they fill the vacuum, unhindered by other bacteria, and multiply extremely quickly. This has dire consequences further down the track when medical intervention is required for a serious illness or acute situation, and the antibiotics no longer work for this species. Then to add salt to the wound, compound this situation by understanding that bacteria are able to swap DNA. Not many people are aware of this! They drop some and then other bacteria pick it up because thats what bacteria do and suddenly beneficial bacteria start using DNA that contain DNA from an antibiotic resistant bacteria, and before you can say “Jack Robinson”, those bacterium are no longer able to be killed by antibiotics.
I was recently talking to a customer, and he mentioned that he had stopped a course of antibiotics for his dog halfway through, two weeks prior to his phone call to me. What he was not aware of, and that is of paramount importance, is that if antibiotics are commenced, a full dose must be given. Otherwise a partial dose is like giving a bacteria a small dose just to enable them to build up resistance to that antibiotic - not a good idea! Likewise the same applies if you give antibiotics that are old and no longer full-strength.
So we go from a dog with practically no bacteria due to antibiotic use, to a dog that has too many detrimental bacteria and not enough beneficial ones, known as gut dysbiosis, or bacterial imbalance. From there it is only a matter of weeks or months, depending on how many contributing factors are present, and your dog will likely develop Leaky Gut, also known as Intestinal Permeability.
Intestinal Permeability is where the semi-permeable gastro-intestinal tract, designed to allow access of foods and other beneficial substances to the bloodstream, becomes too permeable. This occurs in the tight junctions, think of them as little gates that should open and close allowing certain substances through to the bloodstream but not others. These tight junctions become inflamed and stop working correctly - like a gate being left open for everything to run madly in and out. The substances designed to remain in the gastro-intestinal tract, like certain viruses and bacteria, now have free access to any part of the body they want - if they can get that far - which of course depends on the strength of your dogs immune system. First problem is that dogs’ immune systems are becoming weaker and weaker, particularly with each passing generation. Secondly, because the leaky gut is allowing access of anything and everything through to the bloodstream, the immune system has had to go into hyper-alert so they eventually become overwhelmed with the amount of substances they are trying to eliminate and neutralise. Worst case scenario - this leads to auto-immune disease, and if your dog is lucky it only leads to ‘allergies’, and the ‘itchy’ skin conditions, on a scale present today that is unparalleled. Importantly, when gut toxins gain access to the bloodstream through a leaky gut, it commences a process of metabolic endo-toxaemia, also known as systemic inflammation. How many dogs are we seeing today with all-over itch, or itchy feet, or red, inflamed skin - and thats just what you CAN see!
If it does progress to an auto-immune condition where the immune cells start to attack your dogs own body cells then mast cell activation is sky-rocketing. Mast cells belong to the immune system and play a major role in the allergic response. When these guys are exposed to allergens, that shouldn’t be in the bloodstream or liver, or circulating through the body and ending up at the skin, they release compounds and chemicals called mediators, in a process called degranulation. So an allergic reaction being driven by mast cells, that are primarily found in the skin and on all mucosal tissues of the body, releases histamine which then produces redness, swelling and/or itching. This is only the beginning of a process that needs to be halted by implementing a gut Repair Protocol.
Another interesting facet of your dogs internal eco-system, is that we now know thanks to gene sequencing, that over 90% of the bacteria of a dog belong to two phyla, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. The importance you ask? Bacteroidetes produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) the essential energy source (or food) for the cells that line the gastro-intestinal tract. So these same Bacteroidetes bacteria are crucial to ensuring the tight junctions are not disrupted, and in turn regulating intestinal barrier contents. Even more importantly in an itchy dog, these same Bacteroidetes bacteria stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory compounds and have a major part to play in balancing and fuelling your dogs immune system.
And here we are at the ‘itch’. A persistent, ongoing itch is usually a symptom of a deeper underlying, unrecognised issue. If we follow the trail back to where it began, we can see just how important the little microscopic microbes are! They play such a crucial role in maintaining harmony in the body, but particularly in the gut. We need to be more pro-active with our pets and instigate a strategy that looks after good microbes. We must allow the fine balance of the meta-organism - the powerhouse of inter-related microbes - within and on our pet's to carry out it's amazing work, crucial for host health. We need to stop indiscriminate killing of microbes AND understand what is it in our dogs' environment that may be killing good microbes, to work consistently to re-establish a healthy micro-biome.
A top recommendation from MicroMed for any dog with any skin or ear issues, and particularly an ‘itchy dog’, ensure the carbohydrate content of your pet food is zero for the first two weeks, followed by no more than 5% carbs in the following two weeks.
A trend that has emerged in the last few years is many pet food manufacturers no longer list the carbohydrate content of the food, making it difficult to even know what the carbs are. So I devised a chart to make it easy…
So those all-important Bacteroidetes bacteria mentioned, love, love, love protein. Feed your dog too high a level of carbs and fat however and you feed the Fermicutes bacteria. Balance is everything in the gut. Almost half the bacteria in the gut is Fermicutes - if you allow them to overtake by feeding too much carbohydrate (and fat) they will out-compete the Bacteroidetes, at the cost of the health of your dog. If this does happen where Fermicutes crowds out Bacteroidetes (gut dysbiosis) you commence a vicious cycle of gut inflammation, leading to Leaky Gut, leading to whole body inflammation and allergies.
So what do you need - an action plan?
- Do not allow any carb if your dog has an ‘itch’ or ‘yeast’ or ‘fungal’ issue, until that problem is resolved
- Re-establish the healthy microbes with a highly diverse commensal blend of probiotics
- Feed your dog a prebiotic that will feed the probiotics, examples being, chlorella or apple.
- If you suspect your dog has a leaky gut, contact MicroMed for our Leaky Gut Protocol.
- If your dog is suffering inflammatory issues, such as hotspots, pink inflamed skin patches, and mild, digestive issues, MicroMed recommends 1/2 tsp of the herb slippery elm, as a powder, mixed with a small amount of water and then mixed into your dogs food, and continue this for a period of a month or so.
- Add an antioxidant, preferably a polyphenol-rich antioxidant (think red, yellow and orange foods such as sweet peppers, carrots, pumpkin). Polyphenols have the capacity to change the bacterial populations in the gut of your dog. Polyphenols can bind to and alter the cell membranes of pathogenic bacteria, interfering with their activity and growth. If we simply allow our dogs a healthy, fresh diet, nature can take care of the rest.
It’s that simple! Itchy Dog v Healthy Dog!