“Dysbiosis” is a serious-sounding word for an imbalance of bacteria in our pets’ gastrointestinal tracts. Frequently the result of illness, aging, the use of certain pharmaceuticals, or the ingestion of toxins – this microbial mix-up is often to blame for various ailments affecting our dogs and cats, from diarrhea to weight loss to skin conditions and beyond.
Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care has historically been on the holistic forefront of gut health for pets and has experienced great success with microbiome testing and treatment for many of our patients.
We most recently partnered with AnimalBiome Veterinary, a San Francisco-based biotechnology company dedicated to the research of the microbiome and the development of products to aid in its restoration. Together, Doylestown and AnimalBiome are bringing advanced microbiome science into our patients’ health care plans.
But the journey to this point involved so much more than just acting on a “gut feeling.”
Dr. Laura Weis, DVM, explains.
“We recognized many years ago as the science was coming out that a lot of what we do in medicine – even in wellness care – has fairly detrimental effects on gut health,” Dr. Weis says.
The microbiome comprises trillions of microorganisms living within the gastrointestinal tract and involved in functions integral to a host’s health and wellbeing. It is part of an intricate and complex balance that exists throughout the bodies of both humans – and their pets. Traditional veterinary treatments such as antibiotics, it turned out, had a way of upsetting this apple cart.
Recognizing the problem, the veterinary community posed the question: “What do we do about it?”
Just like environmental protection efforts tout “reduce, reuse, recycle,” when it comes to the microbiome – the first step in effective management is reducing the number of harmful inputs, Dr. Weis explains.
That’s often easier said than done, however. Occasionally, an offending illness must be met with full offensive maneuvers.
“Sometimes, you have to reach for antibiotics or antifungals or anti-parasiticides. And at that point, we try to mitigate,” Dr. Weis says.
In the past, the tools to mitigate were meager, at best.
“The way those bacteria live in the gastrointestinal tract is very specific to each location,” says Dr. Weis. “You have some that live in the small intestine, some that live in the large intestine. To replace those bacteria – or reintroduce families or species that might have been wiped out by our therapies – you have to figure out how to get them there. How do you get them past the stomach which has a very acidic environment and was designed precisely to kill bacteria?”
Early efforts included fecal enemas – which according to Dr. Weis remain a standard of care used in human clinical trials. While the practice was imprecise, relying largely on the fact that donors were healthy and robust and free from any auto-immune diseases or obesity, the science behind it was sound.
“We screened certain donor dogs to make sure they didn’t have intestinal parasites or diseases, and then we would make slurries of their fecal matter and introduce it via enemas.”
Not surprisingly, the veterinary staffers weren’t the biggest fans.
“It was pretty gross,” she laughs. “But we did have success with it.”
West Coast Wonders
AnimalBiome was founded in 2016 in the San Francisco Bay area with one simple goal: helping cats and dogs feel better by unlocking the mysteries of the pet gut microbiome.
“The company was started by a couple of women who came out of academia thinking, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to do this,’” says Dr. Weis.
Luckily for pets and their parents everywhere, there was.
“They had tremendous experience in understanding and researching specific bacterial families and species and understanding what’s normal for a dog or a cat.”
But the most game-changing development was that AnimalBiome had developed a new way to encapsulate needed bacteria and get them safely past the stomach.
“Now, all of a sudden, we were able to administer a shelf-stable product which could be taken in capsule form,” Dr. Weis says.
AnimalBiome had also developed a freeze-dried product that could be made into a slurry for more acute cases and administered via an enema.
“If you have a dog with parvovirus, for example, who is quite ill, and you need to do an immediate changeover, this product makes it possible.”
In the past, Dr. Weis says, probiotics were the name of the game and were used as a chaser for a round of antibiotics in the hopes that it would minimize any potential damage.
“The probiotics typically contained 1-3 bacterial species. And even the best ones weren’t the same as the bacteria and the distribution of those bacteria that are found in the normal flora of a dog or cat,” she continues.
“To make things even more complicated, a lot of these probiotics for dogs and cats contained lactobacillus, which is not even a species that you normally find in these animals.”
Today, with AnimalBiome, pets with suspected cases of IBD or food sensitivities or chronic skin issues, or even just chronic GI issues can be tested to determine the best course of action.
“We’re able to test a fecal sample from that animal. We send it off to AnimalBiome, and they’re able to break it down and give us a picture of what species and families we have and what the distribution is, and then we can compare that to a typical normal.”
“We can tell if we have missing bacterial species,” Dr. Weis continues. “We can tell if we have some bad actors that have overgrown – clostridial species, for example, that we know can be problematic. AnimalBiome allows us to target those species that shouldn’t be there. We do that through the use of, say, beneficial yeast or through certain supplements that contain bacteriophages, which target some of the pathogenic bacterial species.”
Additionally, Doylestown can conduct a “slow seeding” of a pet’s gastrointestinal tract with bacteria that should be present. For cases that required only a short-term antibiotic, two weeks of fecal capsules are typically administered, whereas chronic issues that have lasted years may involve six months of therapy or more.
“We can certainly retest at the end and see where we are,” Dr. Weis says.
“Sometimes we gauge how that pup or cat is doing clinically, and that allows us to make subtle shifts that equate to tremendous improvements in health, immune system functioning, and quality of life for that animal over time.”
The Next Big (Little) Things
The microbiome is part of a great, big – albeit microscopic – world. And there is so much that remains undiscovered.
AnimalBiome is currently working on targeting problem areas with various yeast species.
“This is a new and exciting area,” Dr. Weis explains. “When people think of yeast, they think of things that shouldn’t be there, like an overgrowth of yeast – like candida infections. But the fungal world that lives within us and on us is something we know nothing about.”
Science is only beginning to find beneficial fungal species that can be administered simultaneously with an antibiotic to stabilize the entire microclimate.
“Because they’re not affected by the antibiotic, they can prophylactically help to mitigate some of the damage that’s caused and reduce what we need to do at the end of therapy,” Dr. Weis explains.
“AnimalBiome is working on other species of these, specifically for some of the biggest problems that we face in dogs, especially chronic skin disease – what’s called atopy or allergic dermatitis. And there are some really promising results coming out of that work. So, it looks like that’s going to be next in the pipeline.”
For the time being, however, the Doylestown team can help you make productive choices about your pet’s health regarding:
- Microbiome testing
- Fecal transplants
- Gut Restore supplements
- Oral health tests
- And more!
To find out if microbiome testing and treatment might be beneficial for your pet, call (215) 345-6000.