Friday, September 13, 2019

Microbiome and Its Relationship to Pet Health:Written by: Dr. Ryan Honaker, Director of Microbiology at NomNomNow

This is a sponsored post written by Dr.Ryan Honaker, Director of Microbiology at NomNomNow

In our world, there are life forms so small that we can’t see them with our naked eyes. We need a microscope to see them. These miniscule beings are called microorganisms and include things like bacteria, viruses and fungi. They live everywhere -- from lakes to soil to animals -- in massive communities made up of billions or trillions of individuals.

Though some microbes are best known for their ability to make us sick -- for example, bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumonia can cause human pneumonia -- most of them are important for survival. The collection of such beneficial microorganisms within a specific habitat, whether that be your pet’s skin or the soil in your garden, is known as the “microbiota.”

Each member of the microbiota has its own instruction manual for making and maintaining life, called genes. Just as in us humans, this manual is comprised of genes that provide the code to dictate how microbes survive. Within the microbiota teeming in a specific environment, these genes are called the microbiome. The assemblage of genes in a microbiome is vast. In our gut, for instance, it outnumbers the number of human genes [1].

Scientists “read” these microbial genes like a book with sequencing techniques to identify the community in a given habitat. This helps us puzzle together what various types of microbes contribute to their environment, such as their roles in keeping us and our pets healthy.

Microbiomes have a wide impact on health

Microbes living in and on our pets can affect health in a variety of ways. In the gut, for example, bacteria assist with digestion [3]. Skin microbes may be important for preventing allergies [4]. Others, however, can make your pet sick or, in the case of bacteria living in their mouths, may affect the development of periodontal disease [5,6].

Although microbes with these extreme effects exist, most microbes are somewhere in between: some of them are slightly beneficial, some of them have no effect at all, and others are partially detrimental but not bad enough to make your pet sick.

This gets even more complicated when we think about how microbes affect each other and how their interactions may change the outcome with respect to health. For example, microbe X may help with food digestion only if microbe Y is absent. If microbe Y colonizes the gut, however, microbe X produces a toxin to kill microbe Y. The toxin may inadvertently cause inflammation of your pet’s intestinal walls -- an unpleasant side-effect of a microbial fight.

The gut microbiome’s relationship to overall health

Animal guts in particular are one place brimming with microorganisms. All animals -- including us, wild animals, domesticated livestock and our pets -- support an incredible number of intestinal microbes. In fact, current estimates suggest that the number of microbial cells in your gut is approximately equal to the number of human cells in your body [2].

Without these digestive tract-inhabiting microbes, our pets would be unable to digest all of their food. Researchers have also uncovered links to the gut microbiome that extend far beyond the gut. Your pet’s ability to fight infections, for instance, likely depends on a healthy microbiota facilitating how their immune system develops. Studies suggest that gut microbes may also send signals to the brain.

Conditions that affect gut health

The types of microbes living in your pet’s microbiota are carefully balanced. Imbalances, called “dysbiosis,” may play a role in the development of several conditions, including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)[7–10]), allergies [4,11], obesity [12], periodontal disease [5], and diabetes [13].

Myriad factors can cause these disruptions, including antibiotics, dietary changes, and stress [14–16]. Antibiotics, for example, have been essential for treating bacterial infections. But they also wreak havoc on the microbiota because they impact innocent microbial bystanders in addition to the one causing disease. Thus antibiotics can alter the abundance or presence of particular bacteria in the gut, thereby disrupting the normal function of the gut microbiota.

Other influences work similarly by upsetting the normal balance of microbiota. As more studies are conducted to identify the causes and consequences of disrupting the microbiota, scientists will be able to identify robust associations between changes in the microbiota and disease, and eventually identify effective treatments.

Changing the microbiota is often unavoidable. In order to prevent loss of beneficial gut microbes, scientists need to do all we can to improve our ability to return pets’ guts to a healthy, pre-disruption state.

Microbiome relationship to nutrition

Diet is a major driver of microbiome composition. Microbes in the gut help with digestion [3], which means that they eat what the animal they live in eats. Thus, diet and nutrition have a strong impact on the gut microbiota [17,18]. Can your pet eat specific foods or nutrients in order to maximize the number of beneficial microbes living in their guts? Can specific foods reduce the numbers of detrimental microbes or steer microbial interactions to have outcomes that are favorable for your pet’s health?

We cannot completely answer these questions until we conduct more research. But we do know that certain components of diet affect particular members of the gut microbiota in pets. For example, the amount of protein and carbohydrates that pets eat can steer the gut microbiota towards having more bacteria of the Firmicutes type [19]. Too much protein might negatively alter the gut microbiota and impact pet health [20]. Experiments with potato fiber in pet diets have also shown that this fiber source increased abundances of “good” gut bacteria [21,22].

Examining gut bacteria by “reading” their DNA sequences has now become much more affordable, paving the way for more studies to test particular dietary components for their effects on gut microbiota and overall health. Pet parents can now have their pets’ gut microbiome characterized in order to improve overall health.

If you’d like to learn more about the microbiome and how it relates to pets’ health. Head over to

References Cited
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  2. Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. Are We Really Vastly Outnumbered? Revisiting the Ratio of Bacterial to Host Cells in Humans. Cell. 2016;164: 337–340. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2016.01.013
  3. Flint HJ, Scott KP, Duncan SH, Louis P, Forano E. Microbial degradation of complex carbohydrates in the gut. Gut Microbes. 2012;3: 289–306. doi:10.4161/gmic.19897
  4. Rodrigues Hoffmann A, Patterson AP, Diesel A, Lawhon SD, Ly HJ, Elkins Stephenson C, et al. The skin microbiome in healthy and allergic dogs. PLoS One. 2014;9: e83197. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083197
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  10. Minamoto Y, Otoni CC, Steelman SM, Büyükleblebici O, Steiner JM, Jergens AE, et al. Alteration of the fecal microbiota and serum metabolite profiles in dogs with idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease. Gut Microbes. 2015;6: 33–47. doi:10.1080/19490976.2014.997612
  11. Craig JM. Atopic dermatitis and the intestinal microbiota in humans and dogs. Vet Med Sci. 2016;2: 95–105. doi:10.1002/vms3.24
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  16. Curtis M. An introduction to microbial dysbiosis. In: Nibali L, Henderson B, editors. The Human Microbiota and Chronic Disease. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2016. pp. 37–54. doi:10.1002/9781118982907.ch2
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  1. Boy, I would love to know about these little guys in OUR systems!

  2. It's quite amazing what all we're learning these days, think what future knowledge will reveal.

  3. Gosh, what a timely post! I'm doing some research on my own 'internal' struggles, and I think Angel and I are in the same boat. Maybe I should take some of her CBD oil supplements?!?

  4. What an informative post.

    Have a purrfect day and weekend, Cody. My best to your wonderful mom. ♥

  5. This is a very informative post! It's amazing what we're finding out about our pets. The more we know, the better!

  6. The things we learn! Petcretary uses lots of pre and probiotics for herself, and maybe she should start using them for the furs around here.

    Thanks for this information, and a good learning article.

  7. Most people have just started to think about this for themselves - hopefully they'll consider this in their cats too.

  8. We use Probiotics at times such as Forta Flora which we all love
    Thanks for a great post

  9. What a great informative post!! We eat lots of fermented foods, but I hadn't even thought about gut health for the kitties!

  10. Love the information here. I'm definitely going to bookmark that link as it's so appropriate now for our old lady Sarabi with her antibiotic treatments. "You are what you eat" applies to our pets too! Gut health is so important. xx