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I'm not a veterinarian nor am I an animal nutritionist. This blog is focused on my life with dogs and what I've learned as I attempt to raise my dogs naturally.
This blog post idea was suggested by Courtney Colosimo. Thanks, Courtney.
Rodrigo has had digestive issues since he was a puppy. Using Google as my guide, I determined that he was allergic to chicken and I worked to find a kibble that worked for him. Imagine my surprise when no matter what kibble I found, he'd eventually start having digestive issues. It drove me wild trying to figure this out and his veterinarian, at the time, told me that this is just what puppies do and later just what dogs do. Rodrigo rarely had a solid poop the first few years of his life and as I began researching dog health and nutrition, I learned a few things:
- Rodrigo needed a digestive supplement to help him build and maintain a healthy gut.
- Rodrigo had trouble with kibble because, for some dogs, it's difficult to digest.
- Rodrigo was subjected to many vaccinations at the beginning of his life; I don't know if this impacted his gut health.
I switched Rodrigo to a raw food diet in April 2013 and while this improved his gut health, he still had issues. A couple of years after switching to raw, Rodrigo had a month of diarrhea, his anal glands became impacted, and he lost a tremendous amount of weight. That was when I learned about the importance of adding a digestive supplement to my dogs' diet. I thought that as a raw feeder, my dogs' diet was filled with natural enzymes, especially if I also fed green tripe. While this diet may be sufficient for many dogs, it wasn't enough for Rodrigo and he needed additional support.
Benefits of Digestive Supplements for Dogs
When I was learning about feeding raw food to my dogs, I was told about several supplements that support good digestive health, like fish oil, fermented fish stock, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, kefir, and raw goat's milk. While I add many of these things to my dogs' diet, sometimes I might find that they need more support. 80% of the immune system lives in the gut and I know that my dogs need more support because they will experience…
- food and environmental sensitivities
- diarrhea and loose stool
- impacted anal glands
- chronic ear and yeast infections
- itchy skin and paws
- weight loss
And more. The above list is what my dog, Rodrigo, experienced before I put him on a quality digestive supplement.
Choosing the Right Digestive Supplement
I get a lot of queries about which supplements are best for dogs and digestive and joint supplements are high on the list of questions. I want to first share that every dog is different and will respond to supplements differently. I'm not a veterinarian or a nutritionist and this post will share what I've learned with my dogs so far to give you an idea of what you can do if you have similar issues with your dog.
Like many supplements, choosing the right one is a combination of trial and error, research, and feedback from other pet parents and our veterinarians. There are many natural supplements (as listed above) and after trying several digestive supplements over the years, I've settled on the following supplements for my dogs.
FullBucket Daily Dog Probiotic Supplement
When Rodrigo first had a serious digestive attack (loose stool and diarrhea, rapid weight loss, near impacted anal glands), I tried several supplements and the one that turned things around for him was FullBucket. They offer two supplements that I like to keep on hand for my dogs, a powder and a paste. The powder is given daily in their meals and the paste is something to keep on hand when Rodrigo would have an episode.
I used to have FullBucket on a monthly auto-ship, but now I order as I need it; stocking up when it's on sale. FullBucket is a supplement that brings a high concentration of probiotics with prebiotics and enzymes to help boost the immune system, digestive food and absorb nutrients.
Enzyme Diane Pancreatin 6X
In 2019, Rodrigo was diagnosed with Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), this is a condition where the pancreas no longer produces the enzymes necessary to digest food and dogs with EPI will slowly starve to death unless enzymes are added to their food to predigest before feeding. Over the years, Rodrigo's digestive issues had continued and I transitioned from FullBucket (for Rodrigo only) to BioCase Plus and, most recently, to Enzyme Diane when BioCase Plus became too expensive. Enzyme Diane is a powder supplement made from porcine glands (made and sourced in the US).
When comparing Enzyme Diane to other supplements, you'll see that there really is no comparison. This supplement is the best for dogs with EPI (in my opinion). It's an expensive investment, but Rodrigo is thriving on it, which makes the cost worth it. I have an auto-ship with Enzyme Diane for two pounds of the supplement to be delivered every 6 weeks. This is $158 – yikes! BioCase Plus increased to over $200 every four weeks.
What About Prebiotics?
I used to give my dogs prebiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria in the gut; prebiotics are food for the good bacteria. Some people believe that prebiotics only feed the good bacteria, while others believe that it's food for all the bacteria in the gut, good and bad. However, I quickly learned that prebiotics are not a good fit for Rodrigo. At first, they seemed to help, but then he had a huge relapse and it made me wonder if the prebiotics were feeding the bad bacteria.
“For a dog or cat with a very fit digestive tract, prebiotics probably won't do any harm. But many pets today have GI conditions like IBD, IBS, leaky gut, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and other issues. The good to bad bacteria ratio in their GI tract is out of whack, and the last thing we want to do is feed pathogenic bacteria with prebiotics.
That's why I always warn against prebiotics for pets with any type of gastrointestinal dysfunction.
Another confusing thing about prebiotics is they are commonly referred to as fiber because they are non-digestible. Prebiotics are actually complex sugars, and the most common source for them in inexpensive pet food is dried beet pulp. In better quality brands, they're often listed as fructo-oligosaccharide, chicory root, or garlic.
Since prebiotics are sugar and sugar feeds yeast and other opportunistic pathogens in the small intestine pets with yeasty guts can get much sicker from ingesting prebiotics.”
Source: Dr. Karen Becker, HealthyPets.Mercola.com
When I read this on HealthyPets.Mercola.com, I thought AH HAAAA! This is why prebiotics were great for all of our dogs except Rodrigo. FullBucket contains prebiotics, but it's not the only thing, which is why it worked for Rodrigo; a supplement that is 100% prebiotics was a train wreck for him.
Foods that Support Digestive Health
I've been feeding my dogs a raw food diet for more than seven years and during that time, I've learned that fresh food is far better than supplements and I try to use fresh food whenever possible. That being said, Rodrigo still gets a supplement, but with my other dogs, I feed fresh food. The following foods support gut health:
Fermented Fish Stock
I order fermented fish stock through a local raw food co-op and I can pick it up at independent pet stores. This is one of my favorite whole food supplements because it saves me money. Fermented fish stock provides Omega 3 fatty acids (skin, coat, joint, and cognitive health), probiotics (for gut health and the immune system), and COQ10 (for heart health).
Vegetable Puree Mix
When I started feeding raw to my dogs, the biggest conflict in the raw feeding community was whether or not to feed our dogs vegetables. It's so silly to remember this, but people had serious online battles on this topic. Today, I happily feed vegetables to my dogs because they add more nutrients to the diet, they are a natural source of fiber (great for gut health), and vegetables act as food for the bacteria in the gut.
Lately, I've been mixing up vegetable mixes to stock in the freezer; my goal is to create enough to last several months before I start blending up vegetables again.
With fermented vegetables, instead of pureeing the vegetables, I chop them up and ferment them in the jar for a couple of weeks (up to a month in the winter). I don't ferment vegetables as much as I used to now that my dogs get fermented fish stock several days a week. So, not only does this provide nutrients, fiber, and food for gut bacteria – fermented vegetables are also a natural source of probiotics.
Kefir by Answers Pet Food and Raw Goat's Milk
I source my kefir and raw goat's milk from a local raw food co-op. You can also source these from independent pet stores or farmers. Kefir is supposedly easy to make at home, but I've never had luck. Don't allow my lack of luck to dissuade you; many people make it at home. Kefir and raw goat's milk are natural sources of probiotics and other amazing nutrients and I give them to my dogs once a week when they fast. I do a modified fast where I feed my dogs kefir, raw goat's milk, or bone broth instead of not feeding them at all. I chose this method because Sydney used to have hunger pukes in the morning and this would prevent that; although Sydney is no longer with us, I still do a modified fast.
Whether you're feeding raw, home-cooked, or a kibble diet to your dog, I encourage you to check out digestive supplements to help boost your dog's gut health and immune system. While I believe FullBucket is the best supplement for my dogs, there are many reputable brands and supplements out there. You can start with fresh food (listed above) and continue to research supplements to find the best ones for your pup.