Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in dogs isn’t always obvious … in fact, even vets often don’t recognize it. So read on to learn about SIBO and its symptoms … and what you can do to manage it.
What Is SIBO?
SIBO is when there’s an excessive amount of bacteria in your dog’s small intestine. The bacteria in your dog’s digestive tract should mainly be in your dog’s large intestine and colon … with only low levels in his small intestine. When bacteria increase in the small intestine, it’s called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – or SIBO. SIBO can interfere with your dog’s digestion and nutrient absorption.
Bacterial overgrowth can also damage the protective mucus layer in your dog’s gut lining, which allows biofilms to grow. Biofilms are microbial cell “networks” that can stop your dog’s immune system from finding the bad bacteria, making them hard to get rid of.
The bacteria in your dog’s small intestine feed off undigested food. This triggers fermentation that creates hydrogen. In turn, hydrogen feeds organisms called archaea, that produce methane. Needless to say, your dog can get gassy and bloated from having hydrogen and methane in his small intestine.
Roger M Batt BVSc PhD told a WSAVA meeting that SIBO in dogs is more common than vets think. The causes aren’t well-known and SIBO is hard to diagnose. So, knowing the signs of SIBO in your dog can help you recognize it.
What Are The Symptoms of SIBO In Dogs
Here are some symptoms that suggest your dog could have SIBO.
- Chronic or intermittent diarrhea
- Weight loss or inability to gain weight
- Stunted growth in a young dog
- Extreme hunger, eating stools
- Gassiness (flatulence)
- Abdominal pain
- Intermittent vomiting
- Malabsorption issues like EPI, IBS or IBD
- Acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Food intolerances and sensitivities
- Skin issues
- Leaky gut
- Autoimmune disease
Which Dog Breeds Are Prone To SIBO?
SIBO can happen to any dog … but it’s more common in German Shepherds than others.
The suspected reason for this is that German Shepherds have lower levels of the autoimmune antibody IgA (immunoglobulin A) than other breeds. IgA supports mucosal health in the gastrointestinal tract.
What Causes SIBO in Dogs?
Conventional vets often don’t know the causes of SIBO in dogs. Some vets suggest renaming it antibiotic-responsive diarrhea (ARD) (even though not every dog with SIBO has diarrhea.)
Idiopathic SIBO In Dogs
SIBO is said to be “idiopathic” … meaning of unknown origin. Idiopathic SIBO can appear in puppies or young dogs … who’ll show signs of gassiness and diarrhea. Some won’t have much appetite and could lose weight (or fail to gain weight as they should).
Other Possible Causes of SIBO In Dogs
SIBO may also be a secondary complication of other intestinal diseases like …
- EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency)
- IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Acid reflux
So, if your dog has any chronic digestive issues, he could be at risk for SIBO. Unfortunately, over time, SIBO that’s not treated could aggravate your dog’s chronic problems.
How Do Vets Test For SIBO?
That depends on which kind of vet you ask … conventional or holistic. Because they have a different approach. Later we’ll explain how holistic vets view SIBO.
There are a few ways a vet may try to confirm SIBO. First they’ll do some basic tests to rule out other problems.
- Bloodwork (CBC and chemistry panel) to rule out other illness
- Fecal analysis in case of worms
- X-rays to check for obstructions
- Serum TLI (trypsin-like immunoreactivity) to test for EPI
Then they may move on to more complex testing, such as …
- B12 and folate tests – but many dogs with SIBO test normal.
- Leaky gut test – may help confirm SIBO as many dogs with SIBO have leaky gut.
- Breath hydrogen test – one of the best measures but most clinics don’t have the equipment for it
- Duodenal juice test – requires sedation for endoscopy. Considered the most reliable test for SIBO but again, many dogs with SIBO will test normal.
- Unconjugated Bile Acid (UBA) Test – dogs with SIBO have higher UBA, but it’s a difficult test to get.
- Antibiotics – this is often a fallback “test” just to see if antibiotics help.
How Is SIBO Treated In Dogs?
Conventional vets take different approach from holistic vets. Keep reading to learn about holistic views on SIBO in dogs.
Conventional veterinarians treat SIBO in dogs with antibiotics. But there are a couple of problems with that:
- They have to be given for a long time, likely damaging gut health in the process.
- SIBO often comes back, even after long-term antibiotics.
There are a few drugs vets use for SIBO:
Oxytetracycline. It’s an antibiotic that also respiratory infections and tick diseases. But it’s not good for dogs with liver or kidney issues. It can harm the kidneys and cause digestive problems, and it can also affect bone and tooth development.
Metronidazole (flagyl) or Tylosin/Tylan. These are common anti-diarrheal drugs that vets often prescribe long term for chronic diarrhea … or SIBO. Both these drugs have side effects, even short term. And one of them is chronic diarrhea! Long term use causes more problems.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Long Term Antibiotics For SIBO
- Avoid antibiotics when there are natural options (read on to learn about these).
- SIBO often reappears when you stop antibiotics. This means your dog could be on antibiotics for months or years! And that means you’ll need to repair the damage to his gut.
- Antibiotics can worsen GI problems. Antibiotics might eventually eliminate SIBO. But they can cause or aggravate leaky gut and other health issues.
- Antibiotic resistant bugs. Using antibiotics unnecessarily contributes to increasing drug-resistant bacteria.
It’s best to only use antibiotics when you absolutely have to. Some day they may save your dog’s life … but they aren’t a good option for chronic health issues.
Instead, use a holistic approach to SIBO.
What Holistic Vets Say About SIBO In Dogs
Most holistic vets won’t do any diagnostic testing for SIBO … but they treat overall gut health as a priority … so they’ll manage SIBO as part of that process.
Holistic veterinarian Dr Odette Suter finds that most of her patients have some level of SIBO. It starts with a weak microbiome, worsened by bad diet and environmental toxins. Add to that the damage from antibiotics, pharmaceutical pest prevention or deworming, vaccines and stress … and your dog is likely to suffer from bacterial overgrowth. Dr Suter considers SIBO one piece of a general microbial imbalance that she’ll diagnose based on the dog’s symptoms. Occasionally she’ll do microbiome testing so she can customize treatment.
Dr Dee Blanco also doesn’t view SIBO as a separate disease in dogs. To Dr Blanco, small intestinal bacteria are part of the overall gut health picture. They may lead to leaky gut or GI inflammation … but don’t always trigger GERD or burping like they do in people.
These two holistic vets agree that diagnosis is difficult … so their broad approach is more practical. Holistic vets treat the whole patient’s overall symptoms, not just one element of disease.
When vets plan to give antibiotics, they need to be more precise about diagnosis. Antibiotics can be harmful, especially long term. But natural SIBO treatments don’t have those risks!
So, if you think your dog might have SIBO, you can use several natural remedies to manage it at home.
Natural Remedies For SIBO In Dogs
A natural approach to SIBO in dogs begins with overall gut health. And that means the first step is diet.
What’s The Best Food For SIBO?
A fresh, whole-food, raw-meat based diet is the best approach. For dogs with SIBO, there are some extra rules to follow.
Foods To Avoid For Dogs With SIBO
- Fermented foods. These can contribute to gassiness in your dog’s GI tract.
- Fruit. Sugars in fruit also feed the intestinal bacteria.
- Dairy. Many dogs don’t tolerate dairy well, and dogs with intestinal damage produce less lactase … the enzyme that digests lactose in dairy products.
Foods To Give Dogs With SIBO
- Lean proteins.
- Leafy greens
- Other non-starchy vegetables.
- Prebiotic foods llike mushrooms, dandelion leaves, fresh garlic. These help healthy bacteria thrive.
With a solid foundation of a SIBO-friendly diet for your dog, you’ll want to add some probiotics. But not just any probiotics. Don’t skip this next part!
Probiotics For Dogs With SIBO
Probiotics are essential for dogs with SIBO. In fact, there’s research that shows probiotics are more effective than Metronidazole for SIBO … with no side effects. But make sure you use the right probiotics.
Which Probiotics Help SIBO In Dogs?
Choosing the right probiotic is the most important part of your dog’s SIBO treatment. The wrong probiotics will make SIBO worse.
When probiotics move through the small intestine to get to the colon, they’ll feed the small intestinal bacteria on the way. That just makes SIBO worse, because it increases the bacterial overgrowth.
To treat SIBO in dogs, you must use soil-based probiotics (SBOs).
SBOs are spore-forming bacteria. This means they have an outer layer than protects them while they travel through the small intestine. Once they reach the colon, they’ll start to support the good bacteria in your dog’s entire digestive tract. But that protective layer will prevent them from feeding the bacteria in the small intestine on the way.
Make sure you feed the right kind of probiotics so you don’t make your dog’s SIBO worse!
Digestive enzymes are often a good idea to relieve digestive problems in your dog … even if they’re not directly caused by SIBO. Dr Jean Hofve says digestive enzymes can help get rid of the excess bacterial overgrowth. They also help your dog absorb nutrients better, especially if he also has EPI or IBD.
Dose your dog’s digestive enzymes ½-1 hour before food if he has SIBO Mix the powder into a slurry with water. Then you can syringe it into your dog’s mouth, 3 times a day.
RELATED: Why your dog needs digestive enzymes …
When you use these natural remedies for SIBO, you won’t need to go through all the diagnostic testing. Instead, if your dog has SIBO symptoms … you can be confident that a good diet plus soil-based probiotics will help get the bacteria under control.