By Dr. Becker
As if being abandoned at an animal shelter wasn’t bad enough, many dogs also develop acute stress colitis, which is severe inflammation of the colon.
Acute stress colitis is brought on by the trauma of suddenly being locked in a kennel in a strange, scary environment.
Other contributing factors can be parasites, infectious diseases, and the abrupt change in diet that every dog entering a shelter undergoes.
The primary symptom of acute stress colitis is diarrhea, which creates challenges not only in managing the health of the animals, but also with shelter hygiene and the adoptability of the dogs suffering with the condition.
Traditional Treatments for Acute Stress Colitis
The standard treatment for stress colitis in adult shelter dogs includes anti-parasitic drugs and antibiotics.
In fact, many traditional veterinarians in private practice treat dogs with diarrhea and other GI issues with the antibiotic metronidazole.
Both these drugs put the GI tract under additional physiological stress, which can prevent full recovery and prolong symptoms and suffering.
In addition, overuse of antibiotics in veterinary medicine has resulted in the widespread problem of highly resistant strains of deadly bacteria like MRSA.
North Carolina Shelter Dog Study
Researchers at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study recently to compare the use of probiotics vs. metronidazole to treat acute diarrhea caused by stress colitis.
The dogs used in the study were from a Raleigh, NC animal shelter and were suffering from severe diarrhea. The researchers examined the dogs, recorded their weights and body scores, and ran blood, urine and fecal tests.
The dogs were randomly selected to receive either a probiotic or metronidazole to treat the diarrhea. All were fed either an adult maintenance or growth life stage diet. Food intake and fecal characteristics were recorded daily.
There were 50 dogs total – 25 received the probiotic and 25 received the antibiotic. At the end of the study, 11 of the dogs treated with metronidazole were unresponsive. They were then given the probiotic.
The fecal scores of all three groups of dogs (including those that didn’t initially respond to the metronidazole) improved approximately 2-fold. Even the parasite-infected dogs showed the same level of improvement at the end of treatment.
The weight and body condition scores of the 50 dogs didn’t change significantly during the treatment period.
Based on the fecal score data, study researchers concluded the probiotic “… is an equally effective treatment to the traditional antibiotic regime for the treatment of acute diarrhea in shelter dogs.” The researchers further acknowledged that, “Antibiotic-treated dogs with limited improvement appeared to benefit significantly from subsequent probiotic treatment.”
How Probiotics Work
Probiotics are friendly strains of bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance of ‘good bugs’ in your pet’s GI tract, while keeping less friendly pathogenic bacteria in check.
Your dog’s digestive tract is the largest immune organ in her body, and a healthy ratio of good-to-bad bacteria helps keep her immune system functioning normally. When the bad bugs overtake friendly bacteria, GI symptoms begin to show themselves and your pet will be at a significantly higher risk for disease.
When your dog’s GI bacteria are in balance with the right amount and type of healthy bugs, several vital functions can take place inside her body:
- Vitamins are made
- Vegetable fiber is processed as it should be
- Unfriendly bacteria are kept in check
- Toxins are well-managed
Holistic veterinarians and knowledgeable pet owners have long understood the healing and health maintenance properties of probiotics. However, the traditional veterinary community has lagged far behind in accepting probiotics as a beneficial treatment for a variety of gastrointestinal and other conditions.
Part of the reason for this reluctance is because there are few published studies on the effectiveness of probiotics, and virtually no documented research on their potential to benefit the shelter population. Probiotics aren’t drugs, after all, so there are no big pharmaceutical companies funding research into their use in treating GI disorders.
Expanding Use of Probiotics for Pets
Fortunately, more and more veterinarians, pet owners and other animal caretakers are turning to probiotics not only to treat diarrhea, but also to:
- Help boarded and traveling pets avoid GI upsets
- Replenish healthy bacteria in animals taking antibiotics
- Alleviate GI issues created by changes in diet
- Improve digestion and stool quality in large breed dogs
- Enhance immune function in very young, senior and chronically ill pets
We tend to view probiotics as being primarily beneficial for digestive issues. But studies in both humans and pets indicate the positive effects of probiotics may reach far beyond the gut to a variety of immune-related disorders, kidney disease, healthy cholesterol levels – even asthma.
Selecting a High Quality Pet Probiotic
The bacteria in probiotic supplements must be live and able to reproduce in order to be effective. That’s why commercial pet foods containing probiotics aren’t worth the money. The manufacturing process kills many of the live bacteria, which means there’s little to no probiotic effect by the time the product hits store shelves.
Beneficial pet probiotics have five important things in common. They are:
- The correct strains of bacteria beneficial for pets, not people
- Easy to give to your dog or cat
- The ability to survive the acidic environment of your pet's stomach
- Enough live organisms to colonize the intestines
- Product stability under normal storage conditions
My favorite probiotic is Mercola’s Complete Probiotics for Pets. It meets every standard for a high quality supplement, including GMP certification. It’s the probiotic I use for both my patients and my own pets.