Gastrointestinal issues are among the top five reasons dogs are taken to the vet. Problems can range from the mild--flatulence and the occasional bout of diarrhea--to the serious, including chronic gastrointestinal disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI).
Causes of Canine Gastrointestinal Problems
If your pit bull is experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and other associated digestive issues, the first step should be to rule out intestinal parasites. Take a fresh stool sample to your vet for analysis. Unfortunately a negative fecal test doesn't guarantee that your dog is worm-free, since some parasites are difficult to detect during certain phases of their life cycle. Consequently it may be a good idea to follow a natural deworming protocol even if the test result came back negative.
Stress, certain drugs (e.g., antibiotics, NSAIDs), sudden dietary changes (particularly if your dog has been eating the same commercial food for a long time), and contaminated food can all cause temporary digestive upsets.
If the gastrointestinal problems persist and parasites have been ruled out, you may be dealing with a food allergy or sensitivity. Grains are the most common culprit, particularly those containing gluten. Providing your dog with species-appropriate nutrition by switching her to a grain-free raw diet often puts a stop to digestive problems.
In the event that feeding a home-prepared diet isn't possible and a grain-free commercial dog food doesn't solve the problem, it may be necessary to put your pit bull on an elimination diet to identify allergens. Also have your vet rule out IBD, colitis, EPI, pancreatitis, Addison's Disease, and other potential medical causes of gastrointestinal issues.
Supplements for Gastrointestinal Health
The following supplements are beneficial no matter what the cause of your pit bull's digestive problems.
- Probiotics - Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that colonize the digestive tract. Supplementing with probiotics is a must when your dog is taking antibiotics or having digestive problems. Probiotics have proven effective even in cases of IBD, and there is extensive research to suggest that benefits are systemic, going well beyond gastrointestinal health. While dogs can take probiotics developed for humans, a special canine probiotic formula that contains bacteria such as Enterococcus faecium that are specific to dogs is ideal.
Recommended Dosage: See product label.
- Prebiotics - Sometimes referred to as fermentable fiber, prebiotics are non-digestible nutrients that stimulate the growth of probiotics in the digestive tract. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and raw chicory root are excellent sources of prebiotics. Some probiotic formulas also contain prebiotics.
Recommended Dosage: See product label.
- N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) - NAG is not the most effective form of glucosamine to give in cases of joint problems, but it's wonderful for digestive issues. Occurring naturally in the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, NAG supplements help to repair and soothe the intestinal lining while promoting healthy digestive function.
Recommended Dosage: 100-150 mg per 10 pounds of body weight twice a day. So a 50 lb pit bull would be receiving 1000-1500 mg of NAG daily.
- L-Glutamine - This amino acid is the preferred fuel source for the cells of the gastrointestinal tract. Glutamine helps to protect and repair the intestinal lining which is the first line of defense against pathogenic microorganisms. May also help prevent ulcer formation and has been proven effective in cases of IBD. In fact, some researchers believe that IBD is linked to L-glutamine deficiency.
Recommended Dosage: 250 mg per 10 pounds of body weight.
- Digestive Enzymes - Enzymes are abundant in raw food, but they are destroyed when food is heated to temperatures above 117 degrees Fahrenheit. While dogs produce their own digestive enzymes, the ability to manufacture sufficient quantities of certain enzymes can be impaired (it also decreases with age), resulting in digestive problems. A good digestive enzyme supplement (e.g., ProZyme) will contain lipase to break down fats into fatty acids and glycerol, protease to break down proteins into amino acids, amylase to break down carbohydrates into sugars, and cellulase to break down plant fibers. Digestive enzymes can improve nutrient absorption and reduce or eliminate many gastrointestinal issues. Products that combine digestive enzymes with probiotics are also available (e.g., Nzymes Bac-Pak Plus).
Recommended Dosage: See product label. To "activate" the enzymes, add the supplement to your dog's food, combine with a little water, and let stand for 10-15 minutes.
- Fish Oil - The anti-inflammatory properties of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish body oil (fish liver oil contains too much vitamin A to supplement it in sufficiently high doses) are very helpful in cases of colitis, IBD, and other inflammations of the gastrointestinal tract. Look for a molecularly distilled fish oil product to avoid environmental contaminants.
Recommended Dosage: Give up to 1000 mg of fish body oil containing 300 mg of combined DHA and EPA per 10 pounds of body weight a day. This amount is best divided into 2-4 daily doses, so a 60 lb pit bull might be getting 2 grams of fish oil 3x a day. Adding polyunsaturated fatty acids to the diet increases the body's need for vitamin E, so give your pit bull 100-200 IU of a vitamin E-Complex supplement when feeding fish oil.
- Slippery Elm Bark - Slippery elm bark can be made into a thick, nutritive gruel that works wonders in cases of diarrhea and irritation. The herb's high mucilage levels are responsible for its wonderfully soothing qualities. Mix 2 teaspoons of powdered slippery elm bark with 1 cup of non-chlorinated water in a pan. Slowly bring to a boil while stirring. Then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for another 3-5 minutes as you continue to stir and the mixture thickens. It will have the consistency of porridge. Let it cool and add a little honey to sweeten. If your dog has been vomiting, cinnamon, ginger, and/or carob powder can be added to the gruel.
Recommended Dosage: Give 3-4 tablespoons every 3-4 hours or as needed. Puppies under 25 pounds get 1-2 teaspoons every few hours. Can be added to food, fed alone or with other supplements as a nutritious porridge, or administered with an oral syringe.
- Marshmallow Root - Like slippery elm, marshmallow root contains plenty of mucilage and is extremely helpful in cases of diarrhea and colitis. Relieves irritation and soothes the inflamed mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. Can be combined with slippery elm bark to make a thick gruel (see above) or simply mix the powdered root with a little hot water and add to food.
Recommended Dosage: 3/4 - 1 teaspoon of the powdered root twice a day or as needed. Puppies get 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon. For best results, combine with water and stir well before feeding.
- Fennel Seed - Commonly used as a digestive aid, fennel seeds stimulate digestion by increasing the production of bile. The seeds also relax the muscles of the intestinal tract, thereby relieving cramps and stomach pains. Very effective as a treatment for flatulence and bloating. Fennel seeds can be ground into a powder and added to food, or brewed into a strong decoction by adding 1 teaspoon of seeds to a cup of water, briefly bringing the mixture to a boil, letting it simmer for 15 minutes on low heat, and then allowing the seeds to steep until lukewarm or cool.
Recommended Dosage: About 1 gram of ground fennel seeds twice a day or 2 teaspoons medicinal tea (decoction) per 10 pounds of body weight 2-3 times a day. Give with food or right after meals.
- Peppermint Leaf - Peppermint's many gastrointestinal benefits are well established. The herb supports the digestive process by promoting the flow of digestive juices and bile. It is an intestinal muscle relaxant, and it has a soothing effect on the lining of the intestines. These properties make peppermint helpful in cases of diarrhea, gastrointestinal irritations, bloating, flatulence, nausea, stomach cramps, and colitis. For stomach problems, a medicinal tea (infusion) works well. For lower intestinal problems (IBD, colitis), however, an enteric-coated peppermint product that will survive your dog's stomach acid is a better choice.
Recommended Dosage: About 2 teaspoons medicinal tea (infusion) per 10 pounds of body weight 3 times a day or more frequently if necessary.
Other herbs that are beneficial for gastrointestinal ailments include alfalfa, ginger root, chamomile, cardamom seed, fenugreek seed, boswellia, and aloe vera juice.
In the case of chronic digestive problems, contact a holistic veterinarian to get to the root of the issue.
This information is not intended as medical advice. Its intent is solely educational. Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on a supplement regimen.