The Frustrating Gut

Losing weight was often the only obvious sign of illness.

Risa has a long history of gastrointestinal (GI) issues. They started 6 months after I adopted her. She experienced loose poops and significant weight loss. I had no idea what was going on. Fecals came back free of parasites. Metronidozole (a commonly used antibiotic for treating diarrhea) didn’t have any effect on her. The vet I was currently seeing blamed it on Risa’s diet despite Risa being in excellent health up until that point. We switched vets and ran several more tests. The Giardia antigen test came back negative. At the advice of many of my German shepherd owning friends, we ran the TLI/Cobalamin/B12 digestive panel through Texas A & M. This blood test determines whether a dog has EPI (endocrine pancreatic insufficiency) or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Risa came back positive for SIBO. We started her on a course of antibiotics (Tylan powder) and hoped for the best. I was happy to finally have some answers and began to see improvement within a month’s time. After several months on Tylan, I was able to stop the antibiotic without Risa ending up with diarrhea again. (Some dogs have to take Tylan for the rest of their lives to manage their SIBO.) During the course of her antibiotics, I also discovered that she was sensitive to salmon. Indeed, this may have been the food trigger that lead her into digestive upset as the treats I was giving her at the time were salmon-based.

Things were great for a while until spring rolled around again. Risa again experienced loose stools and weight loss. We ran the GI blood panel again and she was positive for SIBO. I started her on Tylan powder but, to my dismay, it didn’t help. The vet suggested B12 supplementation. I began with a supplement I purchased at the store to see if that would work. Unfortunately, it didn’t and we had to resort to B12 injections. As simple as they were to give, both Risa and I hated it. They seemed to have little effect as well leaving me more and more frustrated. My dog was skinny and not digesting her food properly. I wanted answers. I wanted to help her. Our vet wasn’t sure what else to do aside from exploratory surgery. I didn’t feel comfortable with that option and so I just hoped it would clear up on its own. It eventually did.

Just some of the various things I've tried to get Risa's gut under control. Herbs, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and supplements. Some from veterinarians and others I picked up to try.

Risa’s gut continued to flare up every year at some point or another. I tried several probiotics, supplements, and digestive enzymes on my own trying to straighten it out. I even tried some things our vet recommended with limited results. If any of the things I tried worked at all, the effect was only temporary. The only exception was slippery elm. However, slippery elm only coats the GI tract and eliminates symptoms. It didn’t get to the root of Risa’s GI problem.

I also discovered several more foods that she was sensitive to. Duck caused instant horrible poo. Soon jack mackerel began to bother her. Eventually, I had to stop feeding chicken and turkey. Finally, sardines were eliminated. I was in a difficult situation. Most of Risa’s raw bone sources were poultry-based and she could no longer eat them. The only alternative was pork which sometimes bothers her as well. I had to switch to premade raw (along with her usual muscle meat and organs) to keep her diet balanced and give her an edible red meat bone source. The premades are more expensive and many of the ones contain vegetables which I didn’t feel were necessary. It was difficult to find ones she could eat as well since many of them contain salmon oil!

I started off with Bravo Original beef formula and the lamb formula. Something in the lamb formula really set her system off so I stopped that immediately. The Bravo suited her well for a while but then, it too, started to bother her. I’m not sure if it was the vegetables in the mixes or not. I eventually switched to Answers Straight beef (which contains ONLY beef meat, organs, and bone; no veggies) and had some success with it at the time. Still, her gut was not okay. She’d been having digestive problems since September and it was now March. I’d never been able to get the answers I wanted through traditional veterinary medicine so I finally sought an alternative route.

Chowing down on a combination of 50% raw food (Answers Straight beef formula) and 50% home cooked food (a stew consisting of poria, celery, pumpkin, dates, and beef).

Risa saw a traditional Chinese veterinary medicine doctor in March this year. I instantly liked the idea of this methodology as I could easily relate it to the behavioral modification I’ve done with Risa. It’s all about treating the cause of the problem; not just suppressing symptoms! Over the last several months, Risa has had two aquapuncture sessions (it’s like acupuncture but instead of leaving needles in the points for several minutes, the vet injects a B12 solution into the points) and one regular acupuncture one to tune her meridians and restore the proper flow of chi to her gut. The veterinarian also designed a home cooked diet for Risa to consume as half of her daily ration. The original formulation contained barley which, it turns out, is another food Risa is sensitive to! (Can you feel my frustration?) Fortunately, we were able to eliminate the barley and substitute it with another food. The diet she created is supposed to purge the excess ‘heat’ from Risa’s system and restore balance to her body. We also tried some herbs along with the diet to see if we couldn’t get Risa’s gut back to normal.

At first, Risa’s poops were still inconsistent. She hadn’t lost weight (in fact, she gained about 8 lbs over the winter due to all the food changes!) and still looked fine. Except her poops were still soft. After we changed the gut stew to a version without barley, I started to see some improvement. Since things hadn’t been improving, the vet wanted me to put Risa on slippery elm again to calm her gut down. I did just that for 2-3 weeks and recently stopped it. I hate to jinx myself here, but Risa’s poops have been consistent and SOLID for about a week now!

I’ll admit, I never envisioned feeding my dog vegetables at any point in her life. I know a properly balanced raw diet is enough to meet her dietary requirements. For the most part, she did fine on a prey-model raw diet. However, I’ve decided that if she needs to be half and half, I’m completely cool with it. It’s possible that, once her gut gets back on the right track, I may be able to go back to feeding her a completely raw diet. Time will tell. All I know is Risa still looks great. Her teeth are no worse on this combination of premade raw and home cooked food than they were on a proper prey-model raw diet. Her coat and muscle tone is still excellent. Even better, her poops are GOOD! And, as much as I hate to admit it (as I believe dogs don’t need veggies), she absolutely LOVES the home made stew. 🙂

I just hope we’ve finally found a solution for Risa’s GI upset. It’s been a source of great frustration for me over the years. I mean, Risa would look completely fine and healthy excepting the fact that she was having horrible poo. I’ve never had answers and have struggled to get things under control. I felt utterly helpless in regards to her gut issues (unlike her behavioral problems which I have been able to successfully manage and fix). Here’s to hoping we’ve finally found the solution.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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