Leaky Gut in Dogs: A Growing Epidemic

Some people know what leaky gut is in human terms, but what does it mean for our pets. This human epidemic is also a canine one. Leaky gut is a growing epidemic that’s the hidden cause of most chronic disease.

The Microbiome
When your dog eats a meal, it passes from his stomach to his small intestine and finally to his large intestine or colon. Collectively, this is called the gut.
The walls of the small intestine are covered in finger-like projections called villi. Each of these villi is covered in even smaller fingers called microvilli. The villi and microvilli increase the surface area of the small intestine, which gives it more real estate for your dog’s food to be absorbed.

The microvilli are lined with only a single row of epithelial cells. That means the only thing between your dog and the contents of his small intestine is a fraction of the size of a pin head. This flimsy barrier allows nutrients to be easily absorbed … but it’s not much protection against foreign invaders.

Inside your dog’s small intestine and colon are trillions of bacteria of at least 1,000 different species. The gut contains other less numerous but regular inhabitants including viruses yeast and parasites. Collectively, they’re called the microbiome.

Most of the bacterial population are commensal bacteria. Commensal bacteria eat the same foods your dog eats, especially fiber.
This is one reason why fiber is an important part of your dog’s diet. Fiber from a small amount of fruits, berries and vegetables feeds the commensal bacteria communities. In return, they produce enzymes to help digest his food, vitamins, amino acids and short chain fatty acids.

Commensal bacteria are considered beneficial for these reasons and because they help protect against pathogenic bacteria by competing for food and the best places to live in the gut. So animals and bacteria mainly have a symbiotic relationship as long as the bacteria stay in the gut. Luckily, the commensal bacteria don’t actively cross the intestinal barrier.
And this is important because if they did, it would trigger the immune system. And that would cause inflammation.

Leaky Gut and Your Dog
Your dog’s immune cells work carefully with the commensal bacteria to make sure they don’t trigger inflammation in the gut.

This is why nearly 90% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut. The immune cells protect the delicate border between the gut contents and his blood and organs. But gut inflammation can happen and when it does, the cells lining the gut become irritated.

While they normally align themselves like a tight zipper, inflammation will open up the zipper-like junctions between the cells. This makes the gut lining more permeable and the toxins, allergens, bacteria and yeast in the gut can leak to his blood—this is called leaky gut.

When leaky gut is present bacteria, allergens and yeast escape the gut and leak into the blood. The result is an immune response that triggers chronic inflammation in the entire body.

The chronic inflammation caused by leaky gut is the driver of most chronic diseases.

Autoimmune disease
Heart disease
Liver disease
Inflammatory bowel diseases
Leaky Gut and Food Intolerance

Arguably the most common symptom of leaky gut looks a lot like allergies. If your dog’s gut is permeable, proteins can leak out before they’re digested.
Your dog’s immune system recognizes foreign invaders by their proteins. So if a virus were to get into your dog, the immune system would attack it. It would then file away the information about the protein in memory cells. This memory makes sure the immune system can quickly recognize and destroy the same invader if it comes back.

So over time, your dog’s food can trigger the same immune response that bacteria and viruses would. This is called food intolerance or hypersensitivity.

If the gut is healthy, proteins from your dog’s food can’t pass through the gut lining until they’re digested. When proteins are digested, they’re broken down into small units called amino acids. Your dog won’t suffer the same immune consequences because the proteins have first been dismantled into harmless parts.

So one of the biggest signs of leaky gut is food intolerance but that’s not the only sign.

Signs of Leaky Gut In Dogs

Because leaky gut triggers an immune response in the entire body, it can be hard to detect. But common signs include:

Autoimmune disease
Arthritis and joint pain
Allergies and skin issues
Digestive issues and bowel disease
Yeast infections
Liver, kidney, pancreas and gallbladder disorders
Behavior issues (aggression or anxiety)
Thyroid issues (and in turn, thyroid issues can worsen leaky gut)

The signs of leaky gut are varied because the chronic inflammation it causes can affect any (or multiple) organs. It’s truly an issue for the entire body.

It also shows that leaky gut is much more common than scientists first believed and potentially more disastrous for your dog.

Now, since a large percentage of dogs have one or more of these health issues, let’s look at the causes of leaky gut. If one or more of these apply to your dog, then it’s a good bet there may be leaky gut present.

The Causes of Leaky Gut
There are two problems with diagnosing leaky gut. First, there really isn’t a test for leaky gut.

If you choose to do a hypersensitivity test on your dog, it may come back with sensitivity to most proteins. If this happens, it’s a good bet your dog has leaky gut … his immune system is reacting to everything that leaks through.

But if your dog is only sensitive to one or more proteins, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not leaky gut.

The second issue is, leaky gut can cause many other diseases. Very often, your vet will treat the resulting disease but as you’ll find out, this often only makes the leaky gut worse.

So the best way to determine if your dog has leaky gut is to look at the gut stressors he’s been exposed to. Here are the major stressors that can cause leaky gut:

Antibiotics (wiping out the gut bacteria can cause dysbiosis)
Drugs (including NSAIDs, steroids, antihistamines, heartworm, flea and tick meds)
Candida or yeast overgrowth

Age–as dogs age, the number and diversity of gut bacteria start to decline
There are also diet-related causes of leaky gut, including:

Glyphosate is a herbicide that’s also antibiotic. Glyphosate has been found in nearly all dog foods that contain grains or legumes.

The ingredients with the highest glyphosate content include non-organic oats, wheat, soy, potatoes and legumes (chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans and peanuts). Glyphosate is also found in most grains.


Lectins are proteins in plants that act as a defense mechanism against predators. Lectins attack the mucosal lining of gut and cause inflammation and leaky gut.

Beans, peas, soybeans, lentils, and other legumes have the highest lectin content of any food group, as do members of the nightshade family (like peppers, potatoes and tomatoes).

But lectin is also found in most grains with the exception of sorghum and millet.

Many dogs are gluten sensitive. When gluten-sensitive dogs eat foods with gluten, the small intestine, produces zonulin, a chemical that signals the tight junctions of the intestinal walls to open up, creating permeability.

Mycotoxins are cancer-causing molds that grow on grains, legumes and other starchy plants. Mycotoxins are found in many pet foods in fact, Purina has called them an “unavoidable contaminant.”

Mycotoxins have been shown to increase intestinal permeability in most species.


Most dogs don’t produce the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest the lactose in dairy products.

Whey and casein are proteins in milk that can also cause gut inflammation. In fact, casein and gluten share a similar molecular structure and half of the people who are gluten intolerant are also casein intolerant.

Sheep and goat milk have a different type of casein, which could make them easier for your dog to tolerate. But if your dog has lactose intolerance, goat and sheep milk are still high in lactose.

The exception to this would be the fermented raw goat’s milk and fermented kefir by Answers Pet Food.

So if your dog is eating kibble or has a dairy sensitivity, then he could have leaky gut. And of course, most drugs, vaccines and stress can also contribute. So if your dog has any of the health issues above, and has been exposed to any of these stressors, it might be a good idea to treat the underlying cause leaky gut!

Supporting A Leaky Gut
The first step is to avoid any food, drug or environmental stressors that cause gut inflammation. If you don’t eliminate the causes of leaky gut, your dog’s leaky gut will never resolve. And neither will the health issues it creates.

So your fist steps are:
Stop all drugs and antibiotics (it might be time to upgrade to a holistic or homeopathic vet).

Start feeding a raw diet or, at the very least, a canned or kibble diet with the smallest amount of carbohydrate. Glyphosate, mycotoxins, lectins and gluten found only in grains and legumes.

Avoid dairy (yogurt and kefir from goat or sheep milk is free of starch and inflammatory casein).

Relieve stress in your dog (such as boredom).

Next, you’ll want to actively add supplements and foods that can help repair the gut lining and reduce gut inflammation:

L-Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid. It’s an important part of solving leaky gut because it’s the preferred food of the cells lining the gut wall so it helps with their growth and repair. L-Glutamine also supports the mucosal lining in the gut and can help maintain the right pH balance.

L-Glutamine is so important to gut health that low concentrations are linked to gut permeability and inflammation.

As a non-essential amino acid, L-Glutamine can be manufactured by the body but glutamine is sometimes used more quickly than it’s manufactured.

Glutamine deficiency can result from drugs, pancreatitis, bowel issues, stress, surgery, infections or injury. These can all cause the muscles to release glutamine into the bloodstream and this is what causes depletion.
L-glutamine is found naturally in animal proteins, spirulina, broccoli and asparagus but when leaky gut is present, it should be supplemented to make sure your dog gets enough.

Dose: 500 mg per 25 pounds of body weight daily.

N-Acetyl Glucosamine
N-Acetyl Glucosamine (NAG) is a form of glucosamine that comes from shellfish. NAG builds healthy connective tissue like other forms of glucosamine.

But NAG has a special affinity for the gut lining where it promotes growth and healing. NAG can also bind to lectins and prevent them from binding to the gut lining.

Dose: 250 to 1,000 mg daily, depending on your dog’s size, age and health.
You can also get NAG from bone broth but because glyphosate and heavy metals are stored in bone, make sure the source is as clean as possible.
Answers has a very good fish and turkey broth.

Licorice Root

Licorice root is an anti-inflammatory herb that can help with IBS, diarrhea, constipation and acid reflux. It can also inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as H pylori.

Most importantly, licorice root can protect the mucous lining and blood flow to the gut and nourish the intestinal cells.
The downside of licorice root is one of its triterpenoids: glycyrrhizin.

Glycyrrhizin can be hard on the liver and kidneys, so look for a deglycyrrhized licorice – or DGL.

Dose: 12 to 20 drops per pound of body weight, twice daily.

Prebiotics And Probiotics

Probiotics are also an important addition for leaky gut. While they don’t do a great job of colonizing the gut for more than a day or two, they still have tremendous benefits. They help your dog digest food, which is important when there’s leaky gut present. This means less irritation from undigested food and more nutrients are released.

Probiotics also help tighten the junctions between the cells of the gut lining. They also create anti-inflammatory compounds and help build a healthy mucous membrane.

Research also shows that probiotics can reduce the markers of leaky gut.
Aloe Juice

Aloe Vera has been used medicinally for over 5,000 years. Aloe Vera juice comes from the inner fillet of the leaf, not the harmful latex or outer leaf. So Aloe Vera juice is safe to take internally.

Aloe Vera contains aloe polysaccharides. These active components promote tissue and cell regeneration and are anti-inflammatory.

Aloe can also form a thin coating in the lining of the GI tract that can remain for up to 48 hours. This can give your dog fast relief.

Dose: 25 to 50 drops per 25 pounds of weight, twice daily.

Other Anti-Inflammatory Herbs
You can also give your dog other anti-inflammatory herbs that target the gut and mucous membrane. Try:

Slippery elm
Marshmallow root
Ginger root

We carry a product called Colon Rescue that has a proprietary blend containing extracts of Slippery Elm Bark, Organic Licorice Root, Organic Plantain Leaf, and Organic Marshmallow Root.

In just a ten year period, the incidence of diabetes in dogs has increased by a whopping 80%. In the same time span, the incidence of osteoarthritis has increased by 66% and the percentage of overweight dogs has increased by an astonishing 158%. Leaky gut and the inflammation it can cause is an epidemic.

Luckily, it’s one that’s preventable … and ultimately treatable with the right choices.

At Beastie Boutique we have some options that can help as well. One is the Colon Rescue as mentioned above.

The second is the Answers Pet Food Diet. Answers Pet Food Company has a veterinarian on staff and has done extensive research on providing one of the best diets out there for your pet. One of the key aspects of their diet is that they ferment everything they make and they use different types of fermentation to provide a variety of enzymes and probiotics in your pet’s food. If you would like more information please come in and talk with either Kristina or Deana to assist you in getting the right diet for your pet.

Probiotic powerhouse
Establishes healthy gut flora
Kills unhealthy H. Pylori bacteria
Normalizes stomach acid
Prevents inflammatory bacteria
Easily digested, requiring little work from pet’s digestive apparatus
Fermented raw milk absorbs into pets’ bodies within 20 minutes
Maximum nutrient absorption
Great for lactose intolerance
Contains all enzymes needed for digestion
Reduces leaky gut, gas, and bloating
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Disclaimer – Kristina McLeskey is not a Veterinarian. These are just general guidelines. If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, please see your veterinarian.