Gut Health in Cats & Dogs

One of the core principles of Emisha Animal Wellness is supporting intentional food for companion animals, foods that provide nourishment and medicine for the body and soul. Personally, I have leaned on diet to support health throughout my life and witnessed the benefits of this practice with the two dogs I cared for the bulk of my adulthood. Unfortunately, it wasn't until Zeus & Caesar were older that I learned they too can experience healing with food and essentially Earth medicine.   

The last blog discussion was an introduction around nutritional, medicinal mushrooms for pets. This blog explores ways to support optimal microbiota & a healthy gut in cats and dogs.

Gut Health, Biome of Cats & Dogs 

This picture has a cute beagle dog hanging with some broccoli. Dog can eat small amounts but definitely not this size. Don't worry, no GI-upset happened as a result of this pic. Food as Medicine & Healthy Guts for Dogs and Cats Enjoy!

Science affirms how diet is more than fuel or an energy source in that it impacts almost all aspects of a companion animal's physical health including the GI microbiome and associated changes to it. (A microbiome refers to the entire habitat and residential organisms within the habitat.) The flora, or organisms in a microbiome can impact behavior, weight, allergies, oral health, diabetes, the kidneys and GI disease. 

Now recognized as an organ, the microbiome starts in the oral cavity and continues to the rectum. I think it's rather magical this organ consists of a mix of organisms like fungi, bacteria, protozoa, viruses and archaea. Imagine these organisms all finding ways to live together in cats and dogs, (humxns too); helping to orchestrate the breaking down of food and the production of compounds like nutrients, vitamins and short-chain fatty acids to name a few. These vital compounds are released throughout the body, influencing immune and inflammatory functions. In return, the host, aka cats and dogs, provide shelter, stable oxygen and temperature levels, pathogen defense and control peristalsis.

The following discussion is around potential allies that can be added to a pet diet to help develop, maintain, and support balanced & healthy gut flora. 

Honey. Manuka Specifically. 

All honeys seem to hold a spectrum of microbial fighting capabilities due to their high sugar and low pH makeup. However, each honey expresses a unique signature believed to be a combination of the honeybee physiology, location and its geography. Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks, Indians have trusted honey in nutrition and as a staple medicine to fight disease of the gut, to heal wounds and more. Today these medical applications continue to be employed and science continues to understand more of the Ancient knowledge surrounding honey. 

Manuka Honey Balances Sweet & Protective.

Manuka honey is a an expressive honey derived from the Leptospermum scoparium, or the Manuka tree. Originally from New Zealand and now with populations in Australia and throughout the world, the magic of Manuka honey is a collaboration relying on the relationship between European honey bees & the Manuka tree shrub. The imported honey bees are critical for Manuka honey in particular, however, the knowledge and the name Manuka tree comes from the indigenous Maori people. Both Maori flora and knowledge are supposed to have protection under New Zealand law. Even still, there is a lot of Manuka conflict with Australian & New Zealand governments fighting over rights and with foreigners from other countries applying for patents on Manuka without either acknowledging or paying the original peoples, traditions, communities that have shared the medicinal relationship.    

Part of the reason there is so much controversy regarding Manuka are the unique compounds that give it extra microbial and healing properties. These compounds are believed to be Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), Methylglyoxal (MGO), which provide anti-microbial powers above and beyond most other honeys. (All honey naturally has hydrogen peroxide which provides antifungal and antibacterial properties.) This can in turn provide flora support to the gut by managing levels of pathogens & bacteria.

Personal Use & Pet-Parent Perspective 

In my experience, Manuka is thicker than most honey but it maintains the golden color often associated with honey. I lean on the honey to protect immune function (through gut flora) or to fight-off respiratory infections by eating a tsp directly or combining it in an herbal tea. 

I also kept a bottle of Manuka handy for my dog Zeus. Both of us were prone to respiratory infections and long-lasting coughs. This honey was an effective and safe way to naturally support his immune response and soothe his hacking cough. I gave it directly to him as a treat or diluted it in warm water and even mixed it in food for occasional prophylactic use. 

As in all medications and with this natural remedy, research is important. I took time to understand how Manuka grows in the wild, the current understanding of the health benefits, the history, then read studies, blogs and veterinary expert input to come to an educated viewpoint.

Honey is not recommended for animals under 6 months so it may be beneficial to speak with your vet-care team before starting it. Specifically, I suggest checking out each link below for more information, terms like unique Manuka factors (UMF) and certifications help ensure quality and authenticity.  

Potential Questions & Consideration: What is your process of vetting food options for yourself and companion animals? How do you incorporate your knowledge and understanding of a treatment into an engaged & informed conversation with your designated vet-care team? 

Ginger Root. A Rhizome to Try. 

Now, one of the most popular culinary spices from a global perspective, ginger root or Zingiber officinale Roscoe, is a plant native to Southeast Asia. Scientists have found records of the ginger family from about 100 million years ago, estimating its existence on Earth began during the middle of the Cretaceous period.  The name can be misleading with “root” attached to it as ginger is not a root but part of the stem system, and is called a rhizome. Sometimes referred to as creeping rootstalk, Rhizomes grow below the surface of the ground and build up reserves for the times when plant life, the environment, or other circumstances make for unfavorable living conditions. The reserves often include storing starches, nutrients and proteins which can support survival underground if needed. Rhizomes also make sure the plant has multiple ways of reproduction as they facilitate the parent plants ability to clone itself and reproduce new plants asexually. 

Ginger is related to the plant family that includes similar spices, cardamom and turmeric. Like other Zingiberaceae family members, it is a nourishing plant full of magnesium, potassium and vitamin C. It is also a staple in numerous Traditional medicinal practices in India and China. Practitioners have documented at least 5000 years of engagement between ginger and humxns in the Ayurveda and Chinese medicine traditions alone. These traditions have long acknowledged how collaborations with ginger can offer support to humxns fighting off colds, arthritis, hypertension, migraines, nausea and more. From a Western scientific standpoint, there is an abundance of bioactive compounds like gingerols, shogaols and pardols which have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Water concentration can impact ginger’s healing expressions. Sass Ayres, who runs the website, Botany Culture shares differences between dry & fresh ginger and how each can be helpful with specific microbes; then suggests a mixture of dry and fresh might be best to facilitate balance with the bioactive healing compounds. 

A Vet Perspective

Dr. Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH, describes the clinical applications of ginger in veterinary practice, sharing that cats and dogs can experience ginger as an anti-inflammatory, a circulatory stimulant, an anti-oxidant, with common use in practice to ease nausea and to stop vomiting. Dr. Gollakner also offers helpful suggestions on how to give ginger to companion animals: 

Ginger is given by mouth in the form of a powder, tablet, liquid tincture, capsule, or as the fresh root. It may be given with or without food; however, if vomiting occurs on an empty stomach, give future doses with a small amount of food. Measure liquid forms carefully.

Personal & Companion Animals Use   

When I prepared ginger for the dogs, I mixed small amounts of fresh sliced ginger into their food or would make it a tea and either syringe the warm tea directly into the mouth (or mix it into their food. When the dogs experienced GI-upset like vomiting or diarrhea I would use the tea to cook rice in or simmer the tea in a chicken reduction for them. It makes the rice and chicken very fragrant and frankly, delicious. They enjoyed it. Like licking the bowl each time kind of enjoyment. 

There is always fresh ginger in my kitchen. I personally like it fresh for cooking, or making ginger/lemon/Manuka tea, rice, or just to chew on small amounts of it. It is particularly potent and healing for me when I experience nausea, vomiting or menstrual cramps. Again, ginger is a constant friend and a staple for me in the kitchen so it is in most dishes I prepare, including desserts. 

It has a strong kick to it, so introduce it with intention and in suggested small amounts to observe response. Ginger flavoring is not a thing with respect to medicinal uses so only real ginger should be used. In laboratory settings, there is evidence that ginger has some limited anticoagulant effects so speak to a holistic vet about bleeding risk if any surgeries are planned. 

Hopefully, you will have unique ways of experiencing ginger and sharing it with the humxns, dogs and cats in your household.  

Thoughts & Questions for Exploration of Ginger:                 

Are you familiar with the ancient medicinal beliefs & practices around ginger? Could the nature of what a rhizome does in plants have anything to do with its healing properties shared in pets?  Do the pets in your household have sensitivities to food? If so, what does that look like?

Foster Relationship & Knowledge 

I receive a lot of questions from pet parents on how to incorporate herbal or natural food options into a pet diet. Trying new things and ways of being can be difficult, and herbs can even be dangerous if used incorrectly, so building a relationship and then proceeding from an informed stance is important before introduction. I encourage people to follow their curiosity, to do research, be open minded but also trust their knowledge about their pet(s), learn the history behind medicinal-nutrition and how humxns, companion animals, and plants have previously collaborated. Finally, sharing the information with a vet care team for suggestions and feedback may be helpful.

I’ve shared a couple of remedies that helped my dogs live healthier, longer. I share now to encourage other pet-parents to start more conversations on pet-health, early in life. This blog is not to serve as medical advice. Hopefully the references below this discussion further aid you along the journey.

Wellness wishes, 



Thankful for each of these References: 

  1. Microbiota of Cats & Dogs
  2. Manuka, the Maori People, Appropriation
  3. More Manuka Considerations
  4. Gaps in Honey Research For Animals
  5. Effects of Nutrition on Microbiome of Cats & Dogs
  6. Read More on Manuka
  7. Vet Nurse on Manuka for Wound Care
  8. Ginger Per Cleveland Clinic
  9. Ginger Review
  10. Botany Culture
  11. Vet Dr. Rania Gollakner on Ginger

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