More studies are linking good skin and coat to a healthy gut. Scientists have found links between gut health and skin issues. Today, we know that the gut and skin enjoy a constant dialogue via what has become known as the gut-skin axis. Studies are showing that where there is gut inflammation, there will be skin inflammation that ultimately manifests as doggy skin itching and allergies. Therefore, it’s so important to address a dog’s gut health to resolve his skin issues.
The importance of a good gut health
You may have heard of the word “microbiome”. The gut isn't a single organ. The dog’s gut includes a complex colony of bacteria and microbes known as the microbiome. The microbiome living in the dog’s gut performs the following key functions in the dog’s body.
- They help to produce important nutrients like vitamin K and some of the B vitamins.
- They help with the absorption of vitamins and other micronutrients.
- They regulate the dog’s immune system. The bacteria in the dog’s microbiome help to train his immune system to differentiate between friendly and unfriendly organisms.
- They strengthen the gut lining. The microbiome produces fatty acids to keep the intestinal lining healthy. This prevents the development of a poor gut health condition known as “leaky gut”.
The link between gut health and skin allergies
When the microbiome becomes unbalanced, the result is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is characterized by a decrease in bacterial diversity and an increase in pro-inflammatory bacteria species. This imbalanced microbiota is unable to perform its key functions, resulting in micronutrient deficiencies, weakened immunity, and leaky gut.
On top of all these health issues, the increase in pro-inflammatory bacteria species triggers intestinal inflammation and if left unbalanced, may lead to systemic inflammation. The inflammation can manifest as symptoms of food sensitivities like vomiting and diarrhoea, and skin allergies. What causes dysbiosis in dogs?
Common causes include
- Chronic use of antibiotics.
Antibiotics kill both harmful and friendly bacteria. This will disrupt the delicate balance between the good and the bad bacteria, leading to dysbiosis.
- Chronic use of Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are often prescribed to manage pain. Long-term use of NSAIDs has been known to modify the composition of the dog’s gut microbiota causing dysbiosis and increasing the susceptibility to intestinal damage.
Plenty of research has shown that both physical and psychological stress affects our pets’ gut microbiota. This is true for humans too. Stress affects our microbiota too. Dogs are sociable animals. A dog that spends long hours cooped up alone in a restrictive environment will experience tremendous stress. This chronic stress will make him more susceptible to an imbalanced microbiome. Dogs need adequate exercise and play to help them release extra energy and de-stress.
We should not forget that dogs can be allergic to many things and your dog’s skin allergies may not be due to his poor gut health. Skin allergies can also be triggered by other environmental factors like household cleaning chemicals, dog shampoos, or even synthetic perfumes and air fresheners. Your vet may prescribe medication and guide you to identify possible environmental allergens, but if the skin itch is chronic and relapse is common even after you have removed all environmental triggers, it’s time to focus on your pup’s gut health.
Dog food for healthier gut and skin
Our dog’s diet will have a direct impact on his gut microbiome. A poor diet will lead to gut dysbiosis and inflammation. Through the gut-skin axis, an inflamed gut will cause inflamed skin. The good news is that you can gradually restore your pup’s gut health and improve his skin and coat condition by changing his diet.
For dogs with severely compromised digestive health, switching to a new dog food needs to be a slow, gradual process. The gut microbiome needs time to rebalance itself. With a healthier microbiome, intestinal inflammation will gradually subside, and finally, noticeable skin improvements after several weeks on the new diet.
Here are some tips on how to choose a good dog food for a healthier gut and skin.
1. Dog food with fresh ingredients
A doggy diet consisting of mainly fresh ingredients is the best way forward to restore your pup’s gut microbiome. Dogs with skin issues will usually see great improvements when they switched to fresh whole food diets. Pet parents may choose to home prepare fresh food for their pups. Busy parents looking for commercially prepared fresh diets can consider The PetCubes Cooked Dog Food (Beef). This diet is gently cooked, using only human-grade ingredients and does not contain salt, sugar, preservatives, fillers, additives, GMO ingredients, by-products, or grain. It is highly recommended for dogs with sensitive stomachs or suffering from skin itching.
PetCubes dog food comes in a variety of proteins. If beef causes an adverse reaction and is not a good choice for your dog, consider the lamb, duck, or kangaroo. Whichever dog food you decide, choose only protein sources that your dog tolerates well.
Freeze-dried dog food is a good option for pet parents wanting to feed fresh food to their pups, but do not have the freezer storage space to keep boxes of frozen doggy diets. Freeze-dried dog food is made with fresh, raw ingredients, and the final product is then dehydrated using the freeze-drying method. This freeze-drying method does not expose the dog food to high-heat treatment. As such, freeze-dried dog food still retains most of its nutrients and is highly digestible. It is almost as good as eating it raw!
The drying process will also help to concentrate the flavours of the dog food while preventing pathogen growth. Therefore, no artificial preservatives, flavourings, or colourings are required in freeze-dried dog food.
Try this Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Duck Duck Goose Dinner Patties Dog Food. It is made with cage-free poultry and 100% organic-certified fruits and vegetables. This dog food is also enhanced with probiotics to aid in healthy digestion and is the perfect choice for pets with sensitive stomachs.
2. Dog food with no allergens included
Sometimes, feeding a fresh, raw diet is just not possible and the only choice is to feed dry kibble. Dry kibble is considered a highly processed dog food, and lower-quality dog kibble often contains synthetic flavourings, chemical food dyes, and fillers. These are the substances that you want to avoid as they can be allergens that worsen gut inflammation and trigger skin itching.
If kibble is your only option, be selective with your choices. There is good quality dog kibble available in the market but do not be fooled by the many poor-quality ones. At the very least, check the product label and choose dog kibble that is:
- grain-free and gluten-free
- made primarily with fresh animal protein as opposed to “meat meal”
- limited ingredients dog kibble enriched with pre and probiotics
The Wellness Core Six Limited Ingredients dog food is a kibble range that meets most of the above-mentioned dietary requirements. Another dog kibble ideal for dogs with digestive and skin allergies is the Carna4 Easy-Chew Quick Baked Air Dried Lamb Recipe Dry Dog Food.
Supplements for better gut and skin
1. Pre and probiotics
Probiotic is often recommended for gut health restoration. Probiotics can help to soothe an inflamed, upset tummy and boost your dog’s immune system.
The CAHO Nucleotide Cell Renewal & Gut Health Supplements For Dogs is a good gut health supplement for dogs suffering from irritable bowel, multiple food sensitivities, and chronic skin itching. This gut health supplement is rich in dietary nucleotides that support your dog’s immune system, improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
Feeding your pup some naturally fermented food may help with his gut and skin health. Plain Greek-style yogurt is one of the healthiest fermented foods that you can give your dog. Avoid yogurt with added sugar and artificial flavourings. There are a ton of tasty additions you can throw in the yogurt that your dog will enjoy like fresh berries, chopped apples, and mashed-up bananas.
2. Bone broth
Another food item that you should be adding to your pup’s diet to restore gut health is bone broth. Bone broth is rich in gelatin, a key nutritional component that helps to heal the gut mucosal lining, improve nutrient absorption, and reduce gut inflammation. Bone broth can be added to your dog’s food or fed as a snack. The Barkery All Natural Frozen Bone Broth For Dogs is a healthy and delicious broth made with human-grade ingredients. It does not contain preservatives, artificial flavourings, and colouring.
What we feed our dogs truly impacts their gut microbiome and health. If you have exhausted all forms of conventional medical treatment for your dog's skin allergies, and are frustrated with the mediocre results, start treating his gut instead. Start by changing his dog food and incorporating the above-mentioned supplements. Understand that natural healing takes time and dietary changes must be done gradually. Be patient and you will be rewarded with a beautiful, healthy, and happy dog.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.