What’s the Gut Got to Do with It?

By Meghan E. Burns, DVM
August, 2017
With so many topics to cover in an average visit, is nutrition being left out of the equation with your customers?

The gut is literally the foundation of our health – for humans and hounds. But why do we spend so little time focusing on it?

Instead of leaving the nutrition discussion to a sick visit, help your customers make it a regular part of each visit’s discussion. Help your customers see the value in an integrated veterinary office team approach from the time the client walks in the door until they checkout. Having each person in the chain is important, from the receptionist to the technician to the doctor and finally back to the receptionist, engaging the owner on the topic of nutrition and debriefing each other at each hand-off so that the discussion is seamless. It’s not about selling a bag of dog food, it is about educating our customer’s clients on diet as part of the foundation of preventive care for their pets.

It’s also important that our customers have new talking points to bring up to their clients. There continues to be new research on how critical the gut is to our immune system and to disease prevention. Helping provide your customers with new insights will only help to strengthen your relationship and further help you to be seen as a go-to resource and strategic business partner.

The gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microorganisms that help the dog’s body breakdown and absorb nutrients. When the population of bacteria changes in the dog’s gut, it is possible for the dog to experience digestive disorders. In a recent study, researchers were able to identify 

dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) compared to non-IBD dogs with more than 90 percent accuracy by solely identifying differences in microbial species in stool samples.1 This provides just one example of how critical gut flora is to the health of our pets.

Prebiotics are generally defined as nondigestible food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestinal tract. They benefit the dog’s gut by stimulating the growth and activity of bacterial species already residing in the colon. The most commonly used prebiotic in commercially available diets is dietary fiber. Two fermentable fiber sources that function as prebiotics in the colon are mannanoligosaccharides (MOS) and fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

FOS are found in many different foods, including plants such as sugar beet root, garlic, and chicory as well as numerous other fruits, vegetables, and grains. FOS can also be synthesized commercially. Beneficial intestinal bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium use fermentable fiber as a metabolic fuel, whereas pathogenic bacteria cannot metabolize FOS for energy.

The main structural difference between MOS and FOS is the predominant sugar molecule. FOS contains fructose, whereas mannose is the predominant sugar molecule in MOS. MOS are natural fibers that are found in yeast cells. They also use a different mechanism than FOS to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the GI tract. Pathogenic bacteria are able to attach to the intestinal wall because they have fingerlike projections called fimbriae that allow them to bind to specific residues (e.g., mannose) on intestinal cells. Because MOS contain mannose, fimbriated mannose-specific pathogens bind to MOS instead of the intestinal wall. By preventing these bacteria from adhering to the intestinal wall, MOS can inhibit the growth of pathogenic organisms and aid in the excretion of these harmful bacteria. In addition, they have been shown to be effective in preventing diarrhea.

Just like the skin, the wall of the intestine provides a barrier against pathogens. Probiotic bacteria, also known as direct-fed microbials, or colonies of live organisms commonly found in the intestinal tract of healthy animals, such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Aspergillus.

Probiotics will help the dog’s immune system by competing against pathogenic bacteria on the surface of the lining of the gut for nutrients and help to displace pathogenic bacteria that have already adhered to the gut wall. These microorganisms also synthesize vitamins, enzymes, and other products which may have a beneficial effect on gut function and health, as well as, aid in the absorption of nutrients.

Help your customers improve their communication about the preventive value of a good nutritional foundation. Help them to see the value of enhancing their preventive care offerings early in the client lifecycle to reinforce the importance of building strong client-veterinarian relationships just as you do with the veterinarian as a strategic business partner focused on helping the veterinarian grow their business.  

1 Vazquez-Baeza et al. (2016) Vazquez-Baeza Y, Hyde ER, Suchodolski JS, Knight R. Dog and human inflammatory bowel disease rely on overlapping yet distinct dysbiosis networks. Nature Microbiology. 2016;1 doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.177. Article 16177.

Topics: Trends


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