Podcast: How Microbes and Mammals Interact with Holly Ganz

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In this episode, host Angela Ardolino interviews Holly Ganz, Ph.D. Ganz is a microbial ecologist who studies how microbes and mammals interact. After creating KittyBiome in 2015, Ganz realized that digestive disorders are common in cats and dogs and that the gut microbiome plays an important role in some of these conditions. Ganz founded AnimalBiome in 2016 in order to create better diagnostics and therapeutics for cats and dogs.

What is a gut microbiome?

The gut microbiome is where most aspects of our, and our pets’ health and well-being. A healthy gut is often the most important thing to focus on when trying to heal your pet – and it all starts with the microbiome.

So what is a gut biome and why is it important? Microbiome is a collection of good bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that live on us and on our pets. Everything has a microbiome. The gut microbiome is important for the nervous system, the immune system, and even helps with healthy skin and hair. The gut microbiome is also important to the brain.

A healthy microbiome is often evident in the consistency of feces, but there can be underlying issues that do not immediately become apparent. It can be hard to tell if everything is right with your dog’s gut biome. Without vomiting or diarrhea you might not be able to tell that something is wrong with your dog. However, Ganz founded AnimalBiome, which takes a fecal sample and tells pet owners what is going on in your pet’s gut.

Is my pet’s poop healthy?

Ganz founded AnimalBiome based on research she conducted at UC Davis about the gut health of cats and dogs. She started by analyzing cat feces and found that a large number of cats were suffering from an array of gut issues.  Interestingly, through her research Ganz found that cats who go outside have more diverse gut biomes than a strictly indoor cat, and cats who lived in a home with a dog who goes outside also have a more diverse microbiome. Her studies have also found that people share gut bacteria with their dogs. Through the use of DNA analysis from fecal samples, Ganz found that certain breeds of dogs and cats have different microbiomes which may make them predisposed to diseases. For example, boxers and Frenchie’s are more prone to skin issues and allergies in their diets.

To test animal’s fecal matter, AnimalBiome sends users a test kit with gloves and a collection kit. This kit is then sent back to the lab in the mail, which takes the fecal sample and compares it to the results in a database of other cats and dogs. After the sample has been analyzed, the pet parent will receive a report which includes information on the imbalances in the pet’s microbiome, as well as the pet’s diet and recommends dietary supplements and modifications. The test is recommended for both pets who are experiencing GI issues and those who are healthy with potential issues.

So what should my pet eat?

“We can tell if a pet is not being fed enough,” says Ganz. “We can also tell if a dog is fed a raw diet.”

A healthy gut all starts with a healthy diet. Ganz recommends a lower carbohydrate diet for pets so that they can avoid microbiome issues. Cats should not be eating carbohydrates at all, beyond what is in a mouse or a bird (which would be a cat’s normal prey). Cats should not have potatoes or rice, but dogs can have those ingredients as they are scavengers and can more easily digest small amounts of carbohydrates.

The safest diet for your pet is raw or freeze-dried foods. This eliminates unnecessary carbs, helps eliminate too much of the Escherichia group of bacteria, and also keeps your pet’s diet as close to what they would eat in nature as possible. However, even raw-fed pets may need a boost of fiber. Yeast can also help alleviate symptoms of diarrhea and can support beneficial bacteria in the gut.

“Sometimes we find that some of the raw fed dogs and cats that we are working with are not getting enough fiber with their diet,” says Ganz. “So we recommend a small amount of fiber and that can shift things just enough. Cartilage and skin, or even feathers, in the raw diet serve the same function.”

My pet has an unhealthy microbiome, what do I do?

If your pet is experiencing a major gut imbalance, there are treatment options available. One of the strangest treatments for gut health in both people and animals with an imbalanced microbiome is a fecal transplant. It sounds unusual, but in humans it can treat problems like C. Diff (a very painful condition which causes diarrhea) and in dogs it can treat several issues. The procedure entails taking a fecal sample from a healthy individual and transplanted into the colon of an unhealthy person (or pet)! This transfers the positive microbiome to the person with issues in their microbiome. It is even thought that when a dog is eating another animal’s fecal matter, it is actually trying to get some of the natural bacteria to improve its own gut biome.

Ganz has also found that CBD can support a healthy gut microbiome, specifically in pets who may be suffering from GI issues. CBD has been known to reduce inflammation, which includes inflammation in the gut and when used in conjunction with a healthy diet, it can prevent future issues including tumors, IBD, and other common issues.

“I have found CBD to be quite helpful with these chronic GI cases,” says Ganz. “When we are trying to use the fecal transplant to restore diversity to the gut, we have to calm the inflammation to the gut first.”

To learn more about the benefits of CBD for your pet, and to learn more about healthy pet diets, visit www.cbddoghealth.com.