Fermented Foods For Dogs: Guts & Glory
Do One Thing: February 2019. This article is part of the 2019 "Do One Thing' series, which focuses on one small project we can do each month to support our dog's health.
The health benefits of fermented food is a big topic, so let's jump right in!
Your assignment for February....
Try adding one type of fermented food to your dog's diet.*
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods For Dogs
One of the best things we can do for our dogs is to make gut health a priority. Good gut health is the foundation for overall health. Gut health is much more than how well your dog digests and absorbs nutrients, and his stool quality. It's also about protecting the lining of the small intestines, the balance of 'good' to 'bad' bacteria, and the microbiome.
75 - 80 % of a dog's immune system is in his gut. Our goal is to create resilient healthy guts in order to reduce inflammation and support the immune system; important factors in disease prevention.
One of the ways we can support gut health is by feeding fermented foods. Fermenting, which is not the same as pickling, is an age old practice of food preservation. Fermentation is a process where microscopic organisms, such as yeast or bacteria, "digest" the sugar and carbohydrates in the food, producing billions upon billions of good bacteria (probiotics), B vitamins, lactic acid and enzymes.
For thousands of years people used fermentation as a way to preserve food. Along came pasteurization, refrigeration, chemical preservatives, and fermentation became less popular - that is, until the last number of years.
Interest in fermentation has increased greatly as scientific research shows very clear health benefits from eating a diversified diet that is rich in probiotics. Fermented foods contain significant amounts of beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria are frequently referred to as 'probiotics' and they keep the 'bad' bacteria in the gut in check.
Fermented foods are 'pre-digested' so to speak, and are reported to be well digested by many dogs - once they are past the introductory phase. Some examples of dog friendly fermented foods are fermented raw goat's milk, fermented vegetables (vegetables, raw sauerkraut, kimchi), kefir, and kombucha.
"All Disease Begins in the Gut" - Hippocrates
Research shows that gut health has an important relationship with skin and coat health, ear and eye health, allergies, digestive issues, urinary tract health, chronic and autoimmune diseases, mood and behaviour disorders.
How to Add Fermented Foods to Your Dog's Diet
Go Slowly - Choose one type of fermented food to introduce at a time. Good places to start are with fermented raw goat's milk, or fermented vegetables. Go slowly and add very small amounts of the new food at a time. If you overdo things, your dog might have digestive upset.
Respect Your Dog's Taste Preferences - Fermented foods have quite a strong, tangy taste and some dogs will not like them. If your dog continues to refuse the new food after a number of attempts, it's best to respect your dog's taste preferences, and move along.
Fresh and Fermented Veggies - If you are already feeding vegetables to your dog - and I hope you are - you can consider exchanging some of the fresh vegetables in your dog's diet for fermented veggies. For example, feed fresh vegetables 3 or 4 days a week, and fermented veggies the rest of the days, or try a combination of both. It's all about your dog's tolerance and preferences, and what you have in stock.
Where to Buy - You can buy fermented vegetables, or make your own. Check out the 'health food' refrigerated section of the grocery store or health food stores for fermented veggies. If you choose to buy fermented vegetables, read the label to make sure they don't contain onions, or another ingredient your dog shouldn't eat. Check the sodium levels (especially important for dogs with heart or kidney issues). I buy a fermented red cabbage, beet, and pear product that my dogs really enjoy.
Recommended Amounts - The standard recommended amount of fermented vegetables to feed is .5 - 1 tsp per 20 lbs of body weight. *It will take some time before you get to this amount. Go slowly and offer very small amounts to start. Find an amount that agrees with your dog.
Fermented Raw Goat's Milk - Fermented raw goat's milk for dogs is often available at pet food stores that sell raw dog food. The label on the bottle will have suggested feeding amounts, which may or may not be a fit with your dog, his caloric needs, or your budget. The suggested amounts to feed might provide too many calories and depending on your dog, you may need to feed less than suggested. I tend to buy a bottle of fermented raw goat's milk, add a few tablespoons to my two golden retrievers' breakfasts for two weeks, or until it's gone, and then wait a month or so before I buy another bottle. Fermented raw goat's milk often comes frozen. You can thaw the milk, portion it into ice cube trays and refreeze.
Do These Go Together? - This is not a rule, but I don't feed fermented raw goat's milk in the same meal as fermented veggies - I just don't think the two go very well together!
Diversify - Try to build diversity in the diet. Different foods produce different varieties of microbes in the digestive system, which is a good thing! Ideally you will feed a variety of fermented and fresh foods over the course of the month. Rotating foods will give your dog a variety of nutrients. Don't rush the process.
Probiotic Supplements - If your dog doesn't like, or doesn't do well on fermented food, you can use a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods are a much richer and more diversified source of probiotics, however a supplement is an option. Look for a canine specific, multi-strain probiotics with 5 billion colony forming units (CFU) per serving at an absolute minimum. Depending on your dog, you can still add a daily probiotic even though you feed fermented foods.
Fermented Foods For Everyone - Both kibble and raw fed dogs, and their owners, can benefit greatly from the probiotics, vitamins, and enzymes in fermented foods.
Caution - There is some debate, but it's recommended that dogs who are sensitive to histamines or who have mast cell tumors should avoid fermented foods.
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* These suggestions are for healthy dogs. Fermented food may not be a fit for dogs with certain health or dietary challenges, and should be considered as a bonus to a nutritionally balanced diet.
This article is for information purposes only. Every dog is different and has a different tolerance level for new foods. Please always do your own research when making health decisions for your dog. You are your dog's best health care advocate.