9 October 2018

Microbiota: Intestinal flora in cats and dogs

The microbiota is a fundamental part of our body and our pets. Along the following paragraphs we will explain what diseases are associated with a damaged intestinal flora and we will shareu 10 tips to regenerate it.

The microbiota is the set of microorganisms that colonizes our body and our pets’. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and even archaea are found covering surfaces such as skin, mouth, digestive tract, nose, genitourinary system, inner ear and even the respiratory system. Such is the number of them, they far exceed the number of cells of their host (between 10 and 100 times more), so, today, they are considered an “organ” of the body.

Both in humans and in dogs and cats, the initial colonization of these microorganisms occurs during labor (although there are still controversial studies in which bacteria have been isolated in the amniotic fluid during pregnancy). The populations of intestinal bacteria, in those first days of life, vary considerably due to breastfeeding. It has been proven that it is through breast milk that the flora is transferred to the offspring or to the baby in a more stable and efficient way, being the first factor of microbial development (more so than natural birth).

Just as breastfeeding favors the selective growth of certain bacteria, the completion of lactation also implies a change in the microbiota. From the first year of life, the intestinal flora is usually equated among all individuals of the same species, being the variations derived from the diet, the main cause of changes in that intestinal population (followed by age).

There are other factors, besides feeding and age, that can alter the microbiota and favor the growth of undesirable microorganisms, thus generating a dysbiosis. Some of those factors are:


And what repercussions can a damaged flora have?

There are numerous studies that associate dysbiosis with a myriad of pathologies. To give you an idea, we have seen a strong relationship of an altered intestinal flora with:
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rhinitis and atopies.
  • Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and problems with concentration and memory.
  • Autism and attention deficit.
  • Depression, anxiety and stress.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Obesity and diabetes (as shown in the article published in Lipids in Health and Disease).
  • Certain types of cancer.

Taking care of and recovering the intestinal flora is essential for the health and well-being of our dogs and cats (as well as ours) since it is a key part of the organism, which performs vital functions that nothing else performs. We summarize some of them:


Metabolic function:

  • They intervene in the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates (being able to have a key role in the development of gluten allergies and intolerances, in such a way that the Spanish National Research Council or CSIC patented a strain isolated for therapeutic purposes for celiac disease.
  • They produce short-chain fatty acids, which are not only fuel for the cells of the intestine (the enterocytes) but also control their growth, regulate the intestinal pH, favor the absorption of certain trace elements and modulate the action of insulin.
  • They synthesize vitamins (K and some of group B).
  • They help metabolize cholesterol.


Protective function against pathogens:

  • They produce antimicrobial and antibiotic substances to fight against invasive bacteria.
  • They occupy the places where the pathogenic bacteria may adhere and compete for the same nutrients (avoiding their proliferation).
  • They control the intestinal permeability (improving the connections between cells to prevent undesirable toxins or bacteria from crossing that barrier and causing an exaggerated immune response).


Modulating function of the immune system:

  • They contribute to the important maturation of the immune system after birth (as explained in the article published in Nature).
  • They regulate the allergic response to food (which means higher food tolerance).
  • They control the immune response both local (in the digestive system) and systemic (in the rest of the body).
  • Antitumor action (as summarized in the trial by Laurence Zitvogel and collaborators).


Regulating function of the nervous system:

  • The intestine is covered by millions of nerve cells and it is also where 95% of serotonin (which regulates emotions) and 50% of dopamine (involved in learning, memory and reward system) is produced.
  • It has been proven that the microbiota influences the central nervous system by altering the secretion of neurotransmitters and modulators.
  • There are studies that demonstrate the power of the intestinal flora in brain chemistry and in certain neuropsychiatric disorders (such as the Studies by Esther e. Frölich and collaborators and by Yan Wang and Lloyd H. Kasper) ; as well as the benefits of certain probiotics (the so-called psychobiotics) in the treatment of some of those disorders.
  • There are even researchers who suggest a possible manipulation of our habits and food preferences by the microbiota, to get the nutrients it needs to continue to grow and be the dominant population.


In Dingonatura, when we prepare our food, we are very aware of the importance of the microbiota for the health of our dogs and cats. To help you take care of and recover the intestinal flora of your pets (and of course yours), here you have a series of tips:

  1. Avoid diets rich in fat and sugars (as this type of nutrients adversely affect the flora and intestinal barrier and predispose to stress and depression, as summarized in the article by Jane A. Foster and collaborators).
  1. Drink mineral or filtered water, whenever possible (to avoid prolonged ingestion of chlorine).
  1. Offer foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics (link to post).
  1. Exercise regularly (since there is a relationship between physical activity, obesity and the type of flora).
  1. Minimize stressful situations.
  1. Use antibiotics only prescribed by a professional (keeping to the duration of treatment to avoid resistance) and supplement with an appropriate probiotic (link to post) at the end, to restore the flora.
  1. Encourage breastfeeding (which implies carrying out a gradual weaning in our dogs and cats, to complete the lactation at approximately 2 months-old).
  1. Provide food, when possible, with a low load of environmental contaminants (from controlled agriculture and livestock).
  1. Provide food rich in omega 3 (link to post about omegas) (for its prebiotic and anti-inflammatory effect) and in L-Glutamine (an amino acid that takes care of the intestinal mucosa and the microbiota).
  1. Choose natural foods without artificial preservatives that can alter the intestinal ecosystem (the real impact of preservatives on the intestinal flora is not clear yet but there is already some research on this).


At present, several studies are being carried out to try to identify with precision the microorganisms present in the digestive system of pets, but the results are sometimes contradictory (probably due to the different methodologies used). This makes the choice of the best probiotic for your dog or cat more complicated (although in Dingonatura we give you some clues (link to probiotics) for it). And if you want to delve into the field of microbiota in pets, we recommend the article by Amanda B. Blake and Jan S. Suchodolski; research published in Frontiers; as well as the study carried out with cats  and its equivalent in dogs by Hiroaki Masuoka and collaborators.