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SIBO in dogs – what is worth knowing?


SIBO in dogs is an increasingly common condition. It is worth knowing what it is and how to counteract it.

What is SIBO?

SIBO is a difficult to diagnose disease of the small intestines. Its name comes from the English “small intestinal bacterial overgrowth“. In Polish it is called “dysbacteriosis of the small intestine” or, due to the method of treatment, “tylosin-responsive diarrhea”. The cause of this disease is not only the relative excess of bacteria in the intestines, but also their inappropriate species composition. Every animal and human has a complex microbiome in its intestines that works with the body to help maintain health. When something in this system does not work as it should, problems arise and, if left untreated, become even more serious over time. It is in such conditions that SIBO may develop.

Regarding companion animals, this disorder occurs in dogs, but is not considered to occur in cats. This, of course, does not mean that cats do not suffer from diseases of the small intestine. Some sources state that secondary dysbiosis of the small intestine can occur in both dogs and cats.

This is due to the specificity of the microbiome in the intestines of these species. It is believed that breeds predisposed to SIBO include the German Shepherd and the Shar-Pei. However, the detection of this disease in dogs of other breeds is also not excluded.

Bacterial overgrowth in dogs

SIBO syndrome in dogs is caused by an overgrowth of bacterial flora in the small intestine, currently called the microbiome or microbiota. This condition may be idiopathic, meaning there is no specific reason for its occurrence, or it may result from the presence of other diseases. Most often, the following factors predispose to the development of SIBO: reduced production of gastric juice and reduced intestinal motility. Too little gastric juice may be caused by genetic factors or the use of drugs that inhibit its secretion. However, decreased intestinal motility may be caused by diseases such as diabetes, viral infections, acute pancreatitis, ischemia of the digestive system caused by circulatory system disorders, chronic renal failure or myopathies. Other predisposing factors include abnormalities in the structure of the gastrointestinal tract – congenital and acquired (e.g. after surgical interventions) and frequent and uncontrolled use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

The microbiome in the dog

A proper microbiome in a dog helps maintain the intestines in a state of balance and regulates digestion and absorption processes. A countless number of various intestinal bacteria support the action of digestive enzymes, create short-chain fatty acids that are a source of energy for intestinal cells, and are also involved in the production of vitamin K and B12. Appropriate microflora also neutralizes some toxins and prevents the development of pathogenic bacteria.

Symptoms of SIBO in a dog

Symptoms of small intestinal dysbacteriosis in dogs are non-specific. They can be called general symptoms of digestive system diseases. There is bloating and pain in the abdominal area, recurrent diarrhea, weight loss and weakness, and sometimes vomiting. This is due to, among others, some undesirable bacteria metabolize bile salts into insoluble compounds, while others cause excessive production of fatty acids, which causes flatulence. There are also those that can produce toxins that damage the intestinal villi. After a longer period of the disease, additional symptoms may be observed resulting from deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and B12. This may result in disorders of the nervous system, loss of vision, or prolongation of blood clotting time.

How to recognize SIBO in a dog

Diagnosing SIBO is not easy. Symptoms may resemble food intolerance or IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). Currently, the diagnosis is made on the basis of excluding other diseases and examining the levels of folic acid and vitamin B12 in the blood. Unfortunately, these tests have low sensitivity, but other solutions used to diagnose SIBO in humans do not work in dogs.

It is also worth knowing the difference between food allergy and intolerance. More can be found in the article “Food allergy in dogs – diagnosis and prevention”.

Dog at the vet

How to treat SIBO

SIBO treatment is multidimensional. First of all, appropriate treatment should be implemented for any primary disease (the above-mentioned diabetes, pancreatitis, etc.), which led to the development of small intestinal dysbacteriosis. In order to eliminate excess harmful bacteria, the dog should be given an oral antibiotic (tylosin, metronidazole or oxytetracycline), usually for a period of 6 weeks, as well as probiotics and vitamin B12. This should be accompanied by symptomatic treatment depending on the animal’s condition. In case of vomiting and severe diarrhea, drips are used, and if a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins is detected, their supplementation should be implemented.

Treatment should always be consulted and adjusted on an ongoing basis in consultation with the attending veterinarian.

Diet for SIBO in dogs

During SIBO treatment, it is very important to maintain an appropriate diet. It must be easily digestible and usually low-fat or light-fat to increase the absorption of nutrients in the damaged intestines. It also aims to limit the formation of harmful bacterial metabolites and further damage to the intestinal wall. In many cases, a monoprotein diet also works.

It is true that there are commercial foods that may work well for SIBO in dogs, but in most situations, unfortunately, this will not be a good nutritional solution.

The best diet for intestinal diseases in dogs are home-made diets, i.e. cooked diets, and sometimes the raw BARF diet. However, it must be remembered that such a diet must be properly developed and individually adjusted. Proper supplementation is important here.

Therefore, in such situations, it is worth consulting a balanced diet for your pet with an animal dietitian and preparing it yourself at home. Then we can be sure that it will be perfectly tailored to the specific needs of our dog.

More about the cooked diet can be found in the article “What should I cook for my dog? – healthy meal for a dog”.

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