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Recent Posts Looking For Natural Dog Dental Care? Probiotics Can HELP!

By Dana Scott

Periodontal disease is the #1 health issue plaguing dogs today. It’s estimated to affect more than 80% of adult dogs. Because periodontal disease is so prevalent, chances are your dog is affected too … even if he’s raw fed.

In today’s post, we’ll take a look at the unsuspected cause of this epidemic disease … and how new research says we might be treating it the wrong way.

What Is Dental Disease?

Once it appears, dental or periodontal disease is usually progressive and there are several stages of the disease.

Stage 1. Gingivitis

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums (or gingiva) and is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. The pocket of the gum that surrounds the dog’s tooth contains a narrow space (called a sulcus) and plaque can begin to form there.

Plaque is a film made up of colonies of bacteria, along with special proteins from the saliva, sugars and immune cells. Bacteria are living creatures and some species can excrete by-products that can trigger an immune system response. These by-products damage the gums and will cause inflammation.

The main sign of gingivitis is a thin red line on the gums where they meet the teeth.

Stage 2. Tartar

As the bacterial populations produce more toxic by-products, inflammation will increase and start to damage the gum tissue. When this progresses, the sulcus around the tooth will become wider and deeper, allowing even more bacteria to live there.

Once the sulcus widens, plaque will move from the tooth down to the sulcus, below the gum surface. The bacteria in the plaque continues to produce by-products and trigger inflammation. This is the major driver of advanced periodontal disease.

Plaque begins to interact with minerals like calcium and phosphorus in your dog’s diet and when this happens, the film becomes hardened. This is called calculus or tartar. Like plaque, tartar will first accumulate on the teeth and then move below the gum surface as inflammation continues. The outer surface of tartar is hard and rough and plaque clings to the surface and quickly becomes mineralized, creating more tartar and more irritation to the gums or gingiva.

In this stage, you’ll see more inflammation and tartar. The gums will be red and irritated and there will likely be an odor to your dog’s breath.

Stage 3. Periodontal Disease

The accumulation of some bacteria in the plaque along the gums creates inflammation or gingivitis. If the bacteria colonies are allowed to grow, the severity of the gingivitis will increase and the bacterial colonies will continue to damage the gums. The immune response will invade the affected areas and release immune cells called cytokines, which will also damage the tissue. At this point, the bacterial toxins and cytokines can cause bone loss and there will be quite a bit of calculus around the teeth.

Once this stage is reached, the gums will bleed easily and pockets will form in the gums. There will also be obvious bad breath.

If left untreated, the gums will continue to recede from the inflammation, there will be more bone loss and the dog may have loose or missing teeth.

The longer your dog lives with dental disease, the greater the risk to his health … not just in his mouth, but in all his other organs. But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at the bacteria in your dog’s mouth …

A Closer Look At Bacteria And Dysbiosis

Until recently, dental disease has been thought to be the accumulation of bacteria in the mouth … but this is only partly true.

Your dog consumes well over a trillion bacteria every day. Some of these bacteria will move down to the gastrointestinal tract, where they’ll take up residence or be excreted by the body. Others will take up residence in your dog’s mouth and colonize in the plaque. But the bacteria that enters your dog’s mouth are continuously seeding the bacterial colonies that live in his gut … and this population of bacteria is critical to your dog’s health and immune system.

(Related: Are The Bacterial Colonies In Your Dog’s Mouth Causing Leaky Gut?)

So if the bacterial colonies in your dog’s mouth aren’t healthy, the bacterial colonies in his gut won’t be … and your dog won’t be either.

The bacterial colonies found in plaque are extremely organized and this speaks to their importance in your dog’s mouth. Scrapings of dental plaque reveal an organized metropolis made up of tiny, organized microscopic bacteria colonies.

Collectively, these communities of bacteria and other tiny microorganisms are called a microbiome. Microbiomes are found on most body surfaces. The microbiome in the mouth is the second largest microbiome, next to the one found in the gut.

The microbiome in plaque isn’t a random population of bacteria … they all live together in organized communities. Researchers have discovered that Corynebacterium is the bacteria found right next to the tooth enamel and it grows outward from the teeth, where it networks with the next layer or colony of bacteria. Corynebacterium are packed closely together and adhere closely to the tooth and this makes them hard to remove with food or brushing.

The colonies living in the outermost layer of the microbiome are mainly made up of friendly strains of Streptococcus. These bacteria releases carbon dioxide, which helps the colonies of Streptococcus to grow.

These bacteria all live harmoniously with the body … in fact, bacteria and other microorganisms outnumber the amount of the dog’s own cells by nearly 100 to 1. When the bacteria in the microbiome are healthy, they deliver health benefits to your dog. This is called symbiosis … which means the relationship between the bacteria and your dog is symbiotic or beneficial to both. These bacteria manufacture short chain fatty acids and vitamins. They form the bulk of the immune system and they even have a direct connection to the brain, called the gut-brain axis. These bacteria are essential to your dog’s health. But not all of the bacteria living in your dog are friendly …

 

If the colonies of bacteria are disturbed, and some species die off while others take over, their influence on your dog will change. Researchers are finding that when delicate bacterial populations in microbiomes are reduced or less diverse, the risk of disease rises.

A study in cats with irritable bowel disease (IBD) showed that healthy cats had a much higher bacterial population in their gut compared to cats with IBD.

Another study found that the skin of healthy dogs was inhabited by a much more rich and diverse bacterial population than the skin of dogs with allergies.

Research is also showing that dysbiosis in the plaque, not plaque itself, is the real cause of periodontal disease. When the bacterial populations are balanced, the immune system won’t be alarmed and activated. But if the balance of bacteria becomes unbalanced, some unwanted species of bacteria can grow out of control and initiate an immune response. When the sulcus is inflamed, the cells in the gums will be deprived of oxygen and this lack of oxygen favors the growth of harmful bacteria … and once their colonies grow, they can crowd out other friendly colonies of bacteria by competing for the same nutrients and dysbiosis will occur.

If this dysbiosis isn’t repaired and balance returned to the microbiome, colonies of harmful bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis will start to destroy the tissue of the gums. Once the gums become inflamed, the immune system delivers nutrients like iron to the infected area … but these bacteria have adapted to feed on these nutrients and they start to rapidly grow out of control while the immune system continues to feed them by pumping more and more iron and other nutrients into the infected tissue.

How much damage is done depends on a few factors. Small breed dogs and brachycephalic breeds like pugs and boxers seem to be more prone to dental disease. It’s also more likely to occur in older dogs, but the immune response is critical to how quickly and how severely periodontal disease develops.

Diseases like diabetes or other health issues related to a compromised immune response (like allergies, arthritis, hypothyroidism, liver, bowel and kidney disease), will ultimately cause exaggerated inflammation in the gums and further fuel the dysbiosis.

Not only can diseases in other organs have an affect on oral health, periodontal disease can cause damage in your dog’s organs as well …

How Dental Disease Causes Other Dangerous Diseases

If the microbiome in your dog’s mouth is balanced, the bacteria colonies will be balanced and healthy and they’ll stay in their normal environment. But when the populations of some strains grow out of control, the bacteria will find it harder to compete and will migrate out of the neighborhood. Bacteria can travel from the damaged gums to the lymphatic and blood vessel systems and migrate to the body’s organs. This is called bacteremia and it’s very similar to what happens with leaky gut.

In fact the colonies of bacteria in the mouth and gut are very similar … they share 45% of the same colonies and populations. So if the bacteria in the mouth grow out of control, that dysbiosis will seed the same dysbiosis in the gut. The toxic by-products from the harmful bacteria will also cause inflammation and erosion of the cells lining the gut wall, and more bacteria and toxins will enter the body, creating a cascade of chronic inflammation that will eventually reach the organs and cause disease there.

In humans, periodontal disease has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and stroke. Research in dogs also shows a link to heart, liver and kidney disease.

So can you prevent this from happening by brushing your dog’s teeth?

Why Brushing And Cleaning Might Hurt …

Because most of the bacterial colonies are found in plaque, many veterinarians recommend brushing your dog’s teeth … or even a yearly veterinary dental cleaning under anesthesia.

This will clear away most of the plaque, but the bacterial populations begin to colonize immediately after plaque is removed. Studies show that about a million little organisms already cover the tooth within a minute of cleaning. And if the populations are disrupted, harmful bacteria might take hold before the friendly populations grow and crowd them out.

And you have to think about where all of that bacteria goes … you’re not getting rid of the bacteria, you’re just brushing it off his teeth and it will travel someplace else.

Think of it this way .. a mouth that is sick with unbalanced bacteria will seed the entire gut with bad bugs every day. But brushing your dog’s teeth can cause bacteremia, especially if his gums are bleeding. The bacteria will move from his mouth to his bloodstream.

In a healthy dog, the immune system can handle and clear the surge of bacteria. But if your dog is already struggling with inflammation, dysbiosis, or other chronic disease, his immune system can reach the tipping point with brushing or cleaning because it introduces so much bacteria into the bloodstream.

So let’s summarize.

  1. Plaque is a biofilm of organized bacteria and other substances. This colony lives in harmony with your dog.
  2. If this colony is wiped out with brushing, it will grow back within minutes.
  3. If the colony is disrupted, harmful bacteria will overgrow and cause inflammation. If your dog suffers from chronic inflammation (and most dogs do), the bacteria will begin to enter the bloodstream as the bacterial by-products and immune cells break down the gums.
  4. Once this happens, the bacteria in the gut will be affected, and bacteria will further infiltrate the body and migrate to the organs, where it will cause more chronic inflammation and ultimately, disease.

So maintaining the health of your dog’s mouth is critical to his health … but traditional methods like brushing might not be enough and may even cause health issues in some dogs. Dental care isn’t as simple as getting rid of plaque because there are bacteria living there that keep unwanted bugs at bay.

So let’s look at how you can protect or restore the delicate community of bacteria in your dog’s mouth …

How To Prevent Dental Disease Naturally

The first step in preventing or treating dental disease is to protect the microbiome from damage. There are several causes of dysbiosis in dogs, including:

Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill all bacteria indiscriminately and will devastate the microbiome.

Poor Diet: A processed diet that’s high in starch or sugar can fuel unfriendly bacterial colonies. Genetically modified foods or foods with pesticides can also kill bacteria and create dysbiosis.

Drugs And Chemicals: Many drugs and chemicals will harm bacteria.

Processed Diets: Most processed pet foods are completely free of bacteria. If there isn’t a stream of bacteria entering the body, the bacterial colonies will die off, causing dysbiosis. The same applies to raw foods that have undergone high pressure pasteurization. (Related: The Disturbing Cause Of Dental Disease In Dogs)

In short, you must protect your dog’s microbiome as a first line of defense. This will make sure the bacterial populations in his plaque are balanced and healthy.

But what if your dog already has some dental disease or you think his bacterial colonies have been compromised? What if your dog has allergies or other immune-related health issues?

Treating Dental Disease With Probiotics

Probiotics are friendly populations of bacteria that compete with harmful organisms for places to live and for food … and these bacteria help to balance the immune response.

And as more research is being done on the microbiome, dental research is shifting its focus there as well.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association found that probiotics were effective in treating and preventing dental disease. And of course, this makes perfect sense.

Probiotics will easily colonize in plaque and compete for colonization sites and food with harmful bacteria. They produce anti-bacterial by-products that discourage the colonization of harmful bacteria. They can change the pH of the mouth and the amount of oxygen and they can support the immune system.

But not all strains of probiotics are able to colonize in the mouth. The study found that Lactobacillus species of probiotics were much more likely to colonize on the teeth and in plaque than Bificobacterium species. And other studies show that the populations of some species of Lactobacillus were larger in healthy people compared to those with dental disease.

Other research found that Lactobacillus species in the mouth are capable of reducing the damaging inflammation that can cause gingivitis and periodontal disease.

So how do you get more of these friendly bug species into your dog’s mouth?

There are two ways to do this.

  1. Probiotics In His Food
    Add probiotics to your dog’s food daily. This can be in the form of probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables or kefir or you can give your dog a probiotic supplement (or both). Because it’s so critical to protect your dog from dysbiosis, these should be added daily.
    If you’re adding a commercial probiotic product, make sure there are more than just a few strains of bacteria and make sure there are at least 10 billion CFU (colony forming units). Remember, your dog already has a trillion bacteria entering his mouth every day so you want as many probiotics as possible to maintain or restore the balance.
    You’ll also want to be sure your dog’s food contains plenty of prebiotics, which are insoluble fiber ingredients that feed probiotics. There’s no sense in putting the bugs in your dog if you don’t feed them or they will just die off!
    And finally, steer clear of dairy-based probiotics as they can trigger allergies in many dogs.
  2. Probiotics In His Mouth
    Probiotics in your dog’s food will go a long way to restore the balance in his gut bacteria. But dogs aren’t all that great at chewing their food, so many of the bugs will just get passed right to the gut. To introduce healthy bacteria into the mouth, you can put your probiotic powder in a small spray bottle with some filtered water (chlorine will kill the bugs so don’t use unfiltered tap water) and spray it in your dog’s mouth. Then you can put the rest in his food where they’ll help seed his gut too.
    If you do this, make sure you don’t store your probiotics in water. Make a new batch right at meal time because the bacteria won’t survive long in the water.
    If you brush your dog’s teeth, make sure you spritz his mouth with this mixture afterward to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria populations.

As researchers look into the microbiome as the true source of health and immunity, we’re finding that some old treatments just don’t stand up today. The same could apply to brushing your dog’s teeth and regular dental cleanings.  But for now, try adding some probiotics to your dog’s mouth every day and you just might be able to avoid those dental cleanings altogether!

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Megaesophagus – The “Regurgitation Disease”

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Bella’s story – VIDEO
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By Dr. Becker
video:  http://youtu.be/3riLt6CscP0

Today I’d like to discuss megaesophagus, which means “big esophagus.”  It’s a condition in which the esophagus, a muscular tube from the mouth to the stomach, is enlarged and malfunctioning.  Both dogs and cats can develop the disorder, but it’s much more common in dogs.

What Megaesophagus Is

When food or liquid is swallowed, it travels through the esophagus, which is designed to expand and contract rhythmically to move foods and liquids to the stomach.  When the esophagus is functioning as it should, food moves from the mouth to the stomach within seconds.

In megaesophagus, there are issues with nerve and muscle functioning that cause a motility problem.  The esophagus stretches out and muscular contractions aren’t efficient.  As a result, food doesn’t always reach the stomach.  It can build up in the esophagus, which eventually will cause the dog to regurgitate.

Regurgitation can occur within minutes of swallowing food, in which case the food looks exactly as it did going in.  If regurgitation occurs hours after eating, the food reappears in a tubular or sausage shape.

Constant regurgitation predisposes animals to aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when a dog inhales during an episode of regurgitation, bringing food into the lungs.  This can cause a terrible, potentially life-threatening infection.

Causes of Megaesophagus

Megaesophagus varies in terms of severity.  There can be a mild motility problem in just one area, or the entire tube can be enlarged and functioning poorly.  Megaesophagus can be congenital, which means present from birth, or acquired.

Congenital megaesophagus is more common than the acquired form, and certain breeds of dogs are predisposed including the Fox Terrier, German Shepherd, Great Dane, Irish Setter, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Schnauzer, the Newfoundland, and the Shar-pei.

Megaesophagus in cats is uncommon, but when it does occur, Siamese and related breeds seem to be predisposed.

The acquired form of this condition usually occurs in older pets and is almost always secondary to certain other conditions including autoimmune neuromuscular disease, Addison’s disease, and hypothyroidism.  It can also be caused by a problem in the esophagus like a foreign body, inflammation, or a tumor, as well as by exposure to toxins including organophosphates.

In acquired megaesophagus, it’s crucial that an underlying cause be identified and treated, if possible, in order to cure or control the condition.

In some cases, no cause for the disorder can be found and it is determined to be idiopathic, meaning we don’t know why it’s happening.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of megaesophagus include regurgitation of food and water. Remember, regurgitation is different from vomiting.  Vomiting is an active process where your dog’s sides start to heave and most or all of her stomach contents are purged.  Often with vomiting, there’s a short window of time during which you can get your dog outside before she throws up.

Regurgitation is very different.  It’s a passive and unexpected act.  Your dog’s just kind of hanging out and in a split second, up comes food.

Other symptoms of megaesophagus related to the loss of calories from regurgitation or secondary pneumonia include difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, coughing, a change in vocal tone, nasal discharge, bad breath, fever, weight loss, extreme hunger, poor body condition, and respiratory distress.

Puppies with congenital megaesophagus typically begin regurgitating as soon as they begin to eat solid food.

A dog with suspected megaesophagus should be seen promptly by a veterinarian for a thorough examination.  Megaesophagus can be fatal, especially if aspiration pneumonia develops secondarily to the condition.

Your vet will take a thorough history and pay particular attention to the symptoms your dog has displayed.  Blood work will be performed, and x-rays of the chest and abdomen will also be necessary to check for an enlarged esophagus that may contain air, fluid, or food.

A definitive diagnosis is usually made with either a barium study of the esophagus or fluoroscopy.  A more advanced technique called esophagoscopy can sometimes be used.  This is a procedure that allows visualization of the interior of the esophagus and can also be used to remove a foreign body if found or to evaluate any obstructions or tumors that are discovered.

Depending on your pet’s age and symptoms, other blood tests might include an acetylcholine receptor antibody test, antinuclear antibody test, which is called an ANA titer for immune-mediated diseases, and hormonal testing such as an adrenal stimulation test and thyroid function testing.

Treatment and Supportive Care

If the megaesophagus is acquired and secondary to an underlying disease, that problem must be identified and resolved if at all possible.

In cases of congenital or acquired idiopathic megaesophagus, treatment is focused on symptom management and supportive care.  There are a few drugs that are sometimes used in pets with megaesophagus, but they aren’t routinely effective and have significant side effects, as a lot of medications do.

Eating and drinking obviously pose the biggest threat to pets with megaesophagus, because these are the activities that prompt episodes of regurgitation, which is what leads to lack of nutrients and aspiration pneumonia.

Pets with megaesophagus tend to do better with small, frequent meals fed out of elevated food bowls or by hand, with the head in an elevated position.  With the body elevated, which means in a vertical position, gravity can do some of what the esophagus isn’t doing.

Many owners of dogs with megaesophagus encourage their dogs to hold a sit position for 10 minutes after eating or drinking anything, to allow the food and water to eventually reach the stomach with the effect of gravity.

Some pet owners use a “Bailey Chair,” which is a piece of equipment that functions like a high chair for dogs, keeping them in an upright position during meals.  You can maintain a dog in the Bailey chair for 10 to 30 minutes after a meal, allowing gravity to move the food down the esophagus and into the stomach.  See Bailey Chair videos here and here.

Many veterinarians also recommend thickening agents be added to water to reduce the likelihood of recurrent aspiration episodes.  Finding the best form of food to feed and method for feeding it is usually mastered through trial and error.

Acupuncture can sometimes be used to stimulate esophageal motility, and chiropractic care may help remove disruptions to the nerves in the esophagus.  There are some traditional Chinese medicinals and also homeopathics that have been used to stimulate esophageal tone, as well as nutraceuticals such as choline and whole food organic minerals that have proved to be somewhat beneficial for the megaesophagus patient.

Managing a dog with megaesophagus is obviously time-consuming.  But with the proper care, many pets live relatively normal lives with a disorder that used to be fatal in most cases.

 

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