It’s been a crappy week…..literally. No really, last Friday I got a picture text message from a foster of poop before my first cup of coffee. If there is one thing we can count on with our dogs, it’s that they will have an occasionally bout of diarrhea and that we will likely never know why. We discussed how to handle dietary indiscretions in the blog The Same Poop Page, but I wanted to take a side step and talk about the long road.
Digestion issues are unfortunately one of the most common problems associated with stress and anxiety. Did you know that aside from the brain, the gut contains the largest area of nerves? They don’t call it butterflies in your stomach for nothing! Sadly our dogs can’t tell us when they feel that way. We find out about it when it ends up splattered all over the living room rug. It’s actually more common than you think for a dog to have bouts of diarrhea related to stressful events in their life. After a couple of days and with proper care, they are back to normal and no worse for the wear. A couple months ago I was approached by someone who had a dog just like this, he would be fine for a while but then appear to get a bout of diarrhea for no apparent reason. She had already started working on it, changing food, being careful with treats and making sure he wasn’t getting in to anything he wasn’t supposed to, but none of that seemed to be working. Prescribed by her vet, Metronidazole (Flagyl) along with chicken and rice he always got better. But she wanted to do something more to prevent it from happening. The question posed to me was….Can I just keep him on a low dose of Metronidazole to keep this from happening?
In theory this is a great idea, Metronidazole is an antibiotic. It’s very effective for infections of all kinds, because it is an ANTIbiotic. Trillions of microorganisms live in our gut, mouth, skin and all kinds of other parts of our bodies and these microbes have numerous beneficial functions, like digesting food, preventing bad bugs from invading our bodies, and breaking down nutrients and vitamins we need. According to researchers at The Ohio State University, times of stress can actually change the composition, diversity and number of gut microorganisms, reducing our microbiome’s ability to protect us. In fact, an increase in stress can actually increase harmful bacteria!1 Overgrowth of harmful bacteria is often the culprit behind GI upset and eventual diarrhea. Great! Then a low dose of an antibiotic should do just the trick right? Unfortunately these antibiotics don’t distinguish between good bacteria and harmful bacteria, which means they are going to wipe out everything, well almost everything. You may have heard of MRSA or methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus or Clostridium difficile or C. diff? When everything else is susceptible to the antibiotic treatment, resistant bacteria remain and begin to grow effectively populating the entire gut with harmful bacteria. Harmful bacteria = diarrhea. So now what?
Since the universe always creates balance….I offered this……What about probiotics?
There is a huge surge of research and focus on microbiomes. If during times of stress we can maintain the healthy diversity of good bacteria, we could potentially prevent harmful bacterial overgrowth. Probiotics come in powder or pill, even liquid version and chatting with your vet about the particular bacteria your dog’s condition would benefit from is always a good idea. For example, for chronic diarrhea Lactobacillus acidophilus is a major component you will want to look for. With every supplement and medication there are always risks and side effects, but I would propose that it is safe to say that the side effects from antibiotics….particularly with long-term use, far outweigh the side effects associated with probiotics. Arguably there seems to be a whole lot of benefits from probiotics that we are just starting to discover.
Happily, Captain is doing great. He hasn’t had his routine bouts of diarrhea after the addition of probiotics to his diet. It probably won’t mean he never has diarrhea again, but it certainly has improved his quality of life.
If you have more questions about bacteria, I happen to live with a microbiologist =)
Katie 1. Elsevier, “Stress Affects the Balance of Bacteria in the Gut and Immune Response, “Science Daily, 22 March 2011.