Can Wolf Bacteria Cure Canine GI Disorders?

Can Wolf Bacteria Cure Canine GI Disorders?

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • New study results show that the gut microbiome of wolves contains bacteria with probiotic properties that may be beneficial for domestic dogs diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • The study co-authors expressed interest in “a dietary supplement or food additive capable of steering the composition of a dog's gut microbiome back toward that of the wolf, with which it has common ancestry”
  • Rather than feeding an ultraprocessed dog food plus a “dietary supplement or food additive,” why not feed dogs a fresh food diet that will preserve and maintain their healthy gut microbiome for a lifetime?
  • A 2023 study by researchers at the University of Helsinki showed that feeding puppies and young dogs a non- or minimally processed meat-based diet from age 2 months to 18 months was associated with a decreased incidence of chronic enteropathy (a form of IBD)
  • The study highlighted the role of the intestinal microbiome in canine chronic enteropathy, and the fact that offering puppies a non-processed, meat-based diet may encourage development of a balanced GI microbiome

According to newly published study, microbes found in the guts of wild wolves may be the key to treating a debilitating gastrointestinal (GI) condition commonly found in domestic dogs. The study, titled “Phenotypic and Draft Genome Sequence Analyses of a Paenibacillus sp. Isolated from the Gastrointestinal Tract of a North American Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)” was published recently in the journal Applied Microbiology.1

Some Wolf Gut Bacteria Species Have Probiotic Properties

The study co-authors — scientists at Oregon State University-Cascades and Oregon State's Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine — report the existence of a novel strain of bacteria (Paenibacillus) with characteristics of a probiotic, that may prevent inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs. IBD is a chronic disorder in which dogs have symptoms that include vomiting, lack of appetite, weight loss, a “rumbling stomach,” gassiness, and abdominal discomfort.

At present there is no known cure for this ongoing dysbiosis of the gastrointestinal tract, and there are limited options for treatment,” study co-author Bruce Seal of OSU-Cascades’ biology program said in a news release. “Underlying causes of the condition include an animal's genetics, environmental factors, the immunological state of the GI tract and, maybe most importantly, an altered gut microbiome.”2

According to the news release, this research “is an important step toward a dietary supplement or food additive capable of steering the composition of a dog's gut microbiome back toward that of the wolf, with which it has common ancestry.”

Dogs were the first domesticated animal,” Seal explained. “The modern dog diet, high in carbohydrates, does not reflect a wolf's diet — for example, starches in processed dog food are resistant to digestion, and that can have a negative impact on the microbial community in a dog's GI tract and in turn its gastric physiology.”

Paenibacillus Bacteria Inhibits Pathogen Growth in the Gut

For their study, the researchers collected GI material from a wolf who died the previous day after being struck by a car. Through preliminary genetic analysis, they were able to isolate 20 different gut bacteria with potential probiotic properties, and then performed whole genome sequencing on a novel Paenibacillus strain. Paenibacillus “encodes enzymes that can digest complex carbohydrates such as starches,” according to Seal. It also has gene systems expressing antimicrobials.

Non-toxic, spore-forming bacteria promote anti-inflammatory immune responses in the gut and inhibit pathogen growth,” Seal said. “Taking everything into account, this bacterial isolate could be a potential useful probiotic for domestic dogs.”

In an email to PetfoodIndustry.com, Seal wrote:

“Our Paenibacillus sp.ClWae2A inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Micrococcus luteus. This indicates the bacterium may be capable of competitively excluding various pathogenic bacteria in the gut. The isolate’s genome encodes several germination and sporulation gene products, so it could potentially be distributed as a spore formulation.Also, its genome encodes antimicrobials such as a bacteriocin system and chitinase that contribute to its ability to eliminate pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Finally, the bacterium’s genome encodes enzyme genes such as alpha-amylase, cellulase, lipases and pectin lyase indicating it can breakdown nondigestible carbohydrates such as various complex carbohydrates and lipids adding to increased energy for the host.”3

The research team plans to perform whole genome sequencing on 4 or 5 other bacterial species of the 20 they isolated.

Steering Your Dog’s Gut Microbiome in the Right Direction

In my view, there are two important takeaways from the above information. Number one, the researchers mention “a dietary supplement or food additive capable of steering the composition of a dog's gut microbiome back toward that of the wolf, with which it has common ancestry.” This is an admission, which we almost never see outside a small group of fresh pet food advocates, that the current state of the gut microbiome of most dogs is less than optimal because it has evolved away from the microbiome of wolves.

Number two, the study co-authors state that the diet of today’s pet dogs (which is more often than not, ultraprocessed kibble), is “high in carbohydrates” and therefore “does not reflect a wolf’s diet.” Further “starches in processed dog food are resistant to digestion,” which can negatively affect the gut microbiome and gastric physiology.

These revealing statements would be very encouraging if not for the fact that what I suspect will happen, is the study results will be used to develop additional probiotics or sporebiotic supplements for dogs fed kibble and/or a similar ingredient that manufacturers of ultraprocessed dog food can add to their formulas and market for the most impact.

Needless to say, my strong preference is to simply feed dogs a continually diversified, nutritionally optimal, species-specific, fresh food diet after weaning and for a lifetime. As I discussed in another recent article here at bark&whiskers, a study published in 20234 looked at links between what puppies are fed and the incidence of chronic enteropathy (CE) later in life. Chronic enteropathy is a form of IBD characterized by inflammation in the GI tract.

The study was based on longitudinal data and a food frequency questionnaire designed to gather information about early life diets. Results revealed significant associations between what puppies are fed and their risk for CE as adults. Specifically:

  • Feeding a non- or minimally processed meat-based diet from age 2 months to 18 months was associated with a decreased incidence of CE; this diet included raw red meat, organ meats, fish, eggs, tripe, bones and cartilage, vegetables, berries, fruits, and fat supplements in the form of fish and vegetable oils and animal fat
  • Feeding an ultraprocessed, carbohydrate-based diet, specifically kibble, during the same period increased the potential for development of CE later in life

Per the study authors:

“We found that feeding a non-processed meat-based diet and giving the dog human meal leftovers and table scraps during puppyhood and adolescence were protective against chronic enteropathy later in life.”5

Importance of Microbiome Diversity in Puppies, Young Dogs

The study results revealed that specific food items fed to puppies and adolescent dogs play a protective role against CE, specifically, raw bones and cartilage (the protective effect of which increases with higher feeding frequencies), and berries.

The researchers discovered that eating human meal leftovers and table scraps in early life had a significantly protective effect on the incidence of future GI illness. Interestingly, home-cooked meal diets did not have the same effect. Table scraps included cooked potato, non-sour milk products, cooked poultry and fish and processed meat.

The study highlighted the role of the intestinal microbiome in canine chronic enteropathy, and the fact that offering puppies a non-processed, meat-based diet may encourage development of a balanced GI microbiome, contributing to intestinal homeostasis (a condition of optimal functioning).

The biodiversity hypothesis, which holds that more microbial exposures in early life promote a healthier immune system, was supported by these study results. The study results provide evidence that minimally processed diets during puppyhood and adolescence may help lessen the risk of CE later in life.

The Best Way to Nourish Your Dog’s Microbiome

While there are many environmental and lifestyle factors that influence your dog’s gut health, the diet you feed has a direct effect on the microbial diversity of the microbiome and is the single most important factor in preventing illness and maintaining wellness.

If you haven’t already, I recommend transitioning your pet away from “fast food” (kibble), and instead, feed a nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet, which means human-grade food containing unadulterated, high-quality animal protein, moisture, healthy fats and fiber, with low to no starch content. If you must feed highly refined foods for financial reasons, adding is as much fresh food, in the form of treats and toppers, is important.

A variety of nutritionally complete raw or gently cooked homemade diets is the top choice for pets, but only for those pet parents who are committed to doing it right. If you don't want to deal with balancing diets at home, choosing to feed a pre-balanced, commercially available fresh food is a good alternative.

Sources and References

  • 1 McCabe, J. et al. Applied Microbiology, 2023, 3(4), 1120-1129, published September 23, 2023
  • 2 Oregon State University Newsroom, October 3, 2023
  • 3 PetfoodIndustry.com, October 6, 2023
  • 4,5 Vuori, K.A. et al. Scientific Reports, Volume 13, Article number: 1830 (2023), published February 9, 2023

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