Q: My dog often gets mild diarrhoea or indigestion from ingesting just about anything, including wet canned food and fruit. What foods or supplements can help tackle his belly woes? 

It sounds like your dog is suffering from inflammatory (or irritable) bowel disease (IBD), which is becoming increasingly common in pets. It’s one condition that responds extremely well to a change to raw, unprocessed pet foods.Clinical signs of IBD include vomiting and chronic diarrhoea, and the condition is often diagnosed after ruling out other potential causes. Chronic diarrhoea is the most common manifestation of IBD seen in both cats and dogs, and is a chronic end stage expression of food allergy at the gut level.

IBD, from my experience, is a disease seen predominantly in pets that eat commercial processed pet foods, and it joins the list of chronic diseases like allergic skin disease and diabetes—all of which are “man-made” diseases of the 20th century. IBD is the result of immune activation at the gut. It causes intestinal hyper-motility and extremely rapid gut transit time, with partially digested food reaching the large bowel and the associated overproduction of gelatinous mucus from goblet cells of the gut lining (an innate protective mechanism in the gut). The trigger for the “reaction” is generally a combination of foreign or reactive proteins, like wheat gluten and dairy proteins or denatured meat proteins, a high carbohydrate diet, and poor gut flora (intestinal tummydysbiosis). Not many bacteria survive cooking at 260 degree Celsius, which means that a lot of processed pet foods would have lost whatever probiotics the ingredients originally contained. The lack of good gut bacteria results in many allergic and autoimmune diseases—the gut wall becomes “leaky” and allows foreign molecules directly across into the local lymphatics and blood stream, which causes an intense local immune reaction. Treatment of IBD includes correction of the gut flora using a reliable probiotic supplement like Protexin or Entralive.

In the long term, natural raw diets will supply all the probiotic flora essentials necessary for good health. Response to a change in diet will generally take six to eight weeks, so I recommend a probiotic supplement in the meantime. Other supplements that can be beneficial include shark cartilage powder which can speed up the process of mucosal cell regeneration—important in cases where bloody diarrhoea is present, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements to diffuse the overreactive immune system. Slippery elm powder can also help to protect the inflamed gut wall in the initial phase, and there is a range of herbs that can settle the presenting symptoms while the diet change takes effect. Choosing a preservative-free meat source is very important for the initial trial period, and this may mean using free-range meats like kangaroo and rabbit, or green tripe.