Gut Reaction: Managing Digestive Issues in Boarding Pets
By Miranda Rochol
Taking care of dogs and cats in a boarding environment can get tricky. The adjustment issues can make pets sad and leave their stomachs upset—and the gut problems frequently become a challenge for boarding facilities.
Owners often perceive that their pet might have picked up a bug, and this kind of misinformation can damage the business, as well as make it difficult for the owner.
To prevent such situations, pet professionals need to be proactive. They must be aware of gut problems that dogs and cats might face in the daycare and boarding setting.
Common Gut Problems Faced By Pets
Most stomach issues are due to the stress of being in an unfamiliar place. They often manifest as:
- Gastric ulcers
If left untreated, these conditions could become serious and may require veterinary assistance. However, they can be managed or even avoided with minor alterations in the pets’ diets and lifestyles.
Below are a few strategies which pet professionals can utilize, or recommend to clients, in a preemptive approach to handling stomach issues in pets.
Keep Up with Hydration
Managing hydration levels in pets is crucial. Water boosts the activity of digestive enzymes and promotes digestion. Stress primarily upsets the stomach because, like humans, the gut is the second brain in dogs and cats. It can cause diarrhea that often leads to excessive loss of fluids. One way to stay ahead in managing diarrhea is by replacing the fluid losses effectively with adequate hydration.
Dehydration is also a risk factor for constipation. Hard and dry stools lead to constipation, but regular access to clean and fresh water can help that.
You can improve the hydration levels in pets by adding a water fountain. Dogs generally enjoy playing in the water and develop a habit of drinking it recurrently. Most cats also prefer fresh, running water, so adding fountains to your cat boarding areas can encourage regular drinking as well.
It’s often recommended to add water in food, but that can ruin the flavor and deter pets from eating.
Add Prebiotics and Probiotics in the Diet
One effective way to keep the gut working is to add prebiotics and probiotics to regular dog/cat food for better compliance.
Probiotics are good bacteria that reside in the guts of dogs and cats. They have a symbiotic relationship with animals and keep the gut healthy in exchange for digested food. The deficiency of probiotics can predispose the pet to diarrhea, bloating and inflammation. Studies suggest that adding probiotics in the diet of incoming dogs can reduce the likelihood of diarrhea1.
Prebiotics are long-chain sugars that these beneficial bacteria feed on. Adding these into pets’ diets can also help these microorganisms grow.
It is important to note that any supplements, treats or food not provided by the owner of the pet should be approved by the owner and/or the pet’s veterinarian before it is given to the pet in your care.
Supplement Diet with Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are particularly helpful for pets that are prone to gut symptoms due to changes in diet. Some pets take time to adjust to new food types and habits, and it can result in temporary or chronic malabsorption, where the pet is unable to draw nutrients from the food.
The inability to digest food properly can have severe effects, as it can cause indigestion, lead to gas trouble and bloating, result in weight loss and create various systemic problems due to nutritional deficiencies. To prevent these complications, digestive enzymes are particularly important.
In the past, these enzymes were only used in mal-absorptive diseases (such as Celiac disease) and pancreatic insufficiency. However, research is now exploring their benefits in a regular diet and with some positive results2,3.
Don’t Elevate Feeding Bowls
This alteration may seem trivial, but it tends to cause a drastic improvement in the gut health of cats and dogs. It is just not a matter of easy access to food. It remarkably reduces the risk of bloating and gastric problems, especially with dogs of the giant breed.
Research shows that keeping feeding bowls at a higher position can make dogs prone to volvulus (dilatation of gut)4. The study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association in 2014 sampled 1,637 dogs from diverse breed and age groups. It concluded that the reason for gastric dilatation and volvulus in 52 percent of large-breed dogs was due to heightened feeding bowls.
The reason for this is related to the position of dogs while eating. The natural posture of bending the head down while eating positions the gut in a way that prevents indigestion.
Ensure a Balanced Diet
Anything the pet eats has to go through the gut. So, the first and foremost effect of food is always on the stomach and intestines. Having a balanced diet with nutrients in an appropriate proportion is imperative to ensure a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Apart from proteins and carbs, some constituents are particularly advantageous to the gut.
• Meat-Based Diet
Being carnivores, it’s obvious that dogs and cats have an affinity towards a raw/freeze-dried meat-based diet. It is loaded with proteins and increases lean muscle mass in dogs without the risk of obesity. However, now data suggests that it has a beneficial role in the composition of bacterial flora present in large intestines5. It’s like natural probiotics for pets. Therefore, adding raw/freeze-dried meat to the diet proves highly productive in preventing an upset stomach.
Fiber is crucial for averting constipation, inflammatory bowel disease and colitis. It adds roughage to the diet and acts as a natural laxative. It ensures smooth gut movement and fewer chances of intestinal disease. However, too much fiber can induce satiety earlier because it slows down the emptying of the stomach into the intestine. It can cut back food intake and cause weight loss as well as dietary deficiencies. The appropriate approach is to combine fiber with probiotics to achieve healthy flora of the gut.
Brown rice can be added in kibble to increase the fiber content. Rice and venison also improve inflammation of the intestines. These are easy on the stomach and help dogs heal quickly.
Monitor Eating Habits
One of the major issues in the boarding environment is that pets often refuse to eat. The reduction of food intake can lead to an upset stomach and other health issues. Food seasonings and other appealing additives can help with this issue.
Some owners may have suggestions as to what might appeal to their pet’s palate if their regular food just isn’t cutting it. But it is also helpful to keep some appetizing additives on-hand in the case that you get in picky eaters. Again, be sure food additions are approved first by the owner of the pet.
Follow Feeding & Medication Instructions
It is also important that feeding instructions provided by the owner are followed closely and that any medications to be given are also being administered exactly as instructed. Any changes in food amounts or medications can greatly affect the gut as well.
1. L. Rose, J. Rose, S. Gosling, and M. Holmes. Efficacy of a Probiotic‐Prebiotic Supplement on Incidence of Diarrhea in a Dog Shelter: A Randomized, Double‐Blind, Placebo‐Controlled Trial. J Vet Intern Med. 2017 Mar-Apr; 31(2): 377–382.
2. Cecilia Villaverde, Edgar G. Manzanilla, Jenifer Molina, and Jennifer A. Larsen. Effect of enzyme supplements on macronutrient digestibility by healthy adult dogs. J Nutr Sci. 2017; 6: e12.
3. Gianluca Ianiro, Silvia Pecere, Valentina Giorgio, Antonio Gasbarrini, and Giovanni Cammarota. Digestive Enzyme Supplementation in Gastrointestinal Diseases. Curr Drug Metab. 2016 Feb; 17(2): 187–193.
4. Lawrence T. Glickman, VMD, DrPHNita W. Glickman, MS, MPHDiana B. Schellenberg, MSMalathi Raghavan, DVM, MSTana Lee, BA. Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. November 15, 2000, Vol. 217, No. 10, Pages 1492-1499.
5. Misa Sandri, Simeone Dal Monego, Giuseppe Conte, Sandy Sgorlon, and Bruno Stefanon. Raw meat-based diet influences fecal microbiome and end products of fermentation in healthy dogs. BMC Vet Res. 2016; 13: 65. Published online 2017 Feb 28. doi: 10.1186/s12917-017-0981-z.