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The Secrets of Dog Gut Health: Essential Tips and Insights

Anna Bain, ProDogs’ canine nutrition writer, and raw feeding advocate, shares valuable insights into the world of canine gut health in this comprehensive guide.

Anna Bain

Author: Anna Bain

The Secrets of Dog Gut Health: Essential Tips and Insights

As you may already know, the gut is the foundation of overall health, influencing various organs, systems, and functions in the body. While digestive issues like dog diarrhoea or  dog constipation clearly indicate gut imbalance, you might be surprised to learn that poor gut health can also cause problems with the skin, mood and behaviour, joints, unexplained weight gain, poor appetite, allergy or intolerance symptoms, such as excessive itch, and much more.

The foundation of a dog’s gut health begins with their diet, making quality nutrition essential. In this article, you’ll discover why gut health is crucial for dogs, how to identify gut health issues, and natural methods to restore their gut balance.

The importance of gut health

Functions of the gut

Whilst the functions of the gut may seem obvious, it’s actually responsible for more duties than you might think. Though the digestion of food is a crucial process in itself, the gut plays a wider role in overall health than this. In fact, it impacts a variety of actions, processes, and functions throughout the body.

For example, the gut and brain are connected through the gut/brain axis; a direct line of communication involving the vagus nerve and various neurotransmitters, including those that influence mood and behaviour. It also communicates directly with the immune system, endocrine system, and inflammatory response, which all play major roles in the health of the canine body. 

Factors that contribute to healthy gut

The gut is home to a vast ecosystem of trillions of microbes, collectively known as the ‘microbiome’. This microbiome includes various types of bacteria, both beneficial and harmful. Like any thriving ecosystem, balance is essential. Maintaining harmony between these beneficial and harmful bacteria is crucial for a healthy gut environment.

Beneficial bacteria perform vital functions in the body. They produce essential vitamins, support metabolism, send signals to the brain, regulate hormones, communicate with the immune system, influence digestion, and determine how macronutrients are utilised and stored, among other functions.

Equally important is the gut wall, or gut lining, which houses this intricate internal habitat. The integrity of the gut lining plays a critical role in overall health. Experts often point to damage to the gut lining as a cause of immune dysfunction and systemic inflammation, which can lead to a host of unwanted and distressing symptoms.


  • Mammals have more microbes than cells in their bodies.
  • 70% of the immune system is located in the gut.
  • Most serotonin (the “good mood” neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut.[1]

Importance of maintaining gut health

Understanding these facts highlights why gut health is so integral to overall health and happiness. When the gut is balanced and functioning optimally, the rest of the body can more easily follow suit. Keeping the gut happy facilitates appropriate signals to be sent to the body’s other systems.

Balanced gut health is supported through feeding appropriate nutrients in a form that is most easily assimilated by the canine digestive system. A natural, high quality, meat-based diet provides the nutritional foundation that canines require to maintain gut health, as well as optimal overall health. This is the reason I advocate a BARF or raw dog food diet.

To discover more about raw dog food I suggest reading our articles, Benefits of Raw Dog Food and Beginners Raw Feeding Guide.

Signs your dog may need gut health support

Common symptoms of poor gut health

Though the signs of poor gut health in dogs may be subtle at first, you’ll likely notice if something’s changed with your dog’s digestion. Dogs with diarrhoea or constipation are likely suffering from a gut health imbalance; in fact, changes in a dog’s poo are often the first indicators of a problem in the digestive tract. 

Learn more about what your dog’s poo might be telling you in our article, Dog Poo: Unveiling The Clues into Canine Health.

Likewise, dog skin issues such as canine atopic dermatitis, general itchiness, dry, flaky skin, or dull, foul-smelling coats are also signs of gut problems in dogs. This is due to the immune system becoming overactive, which occurs when the gut biome is unbalanced and sending erroneous messages, leading to skin eruptions and disturbances. Read our article on How to Help Itchy Dogs for more information on dog skin issues.

Other signs of poor gut health in dogs include:

  • Excessive licking lips/drooling
  • Gurgling sounds coming from belly
  • Regular flatulence 
  • Lethargy/low energy
  • Joint/mobility issues
  • Lack of appetite/picky eater

Behavioural clues

Aside from the physical symptoms that may present with poor gut health in dogs, you may also notice some seemingly unexplained behavioural changes. This can be due to the simple fact that your dog feels unwell, which naturally makes some dogs crankier and less affectionate. However, it’s more likely due to the above mentioned gut/brain connection, which directly affects canine behaviour in a number of ways.

Feelings such as anxiety, depression, and high levels of stress have all been associated with gut health issues, in humans and dogs alike [2]. The communication of the gut to the brain (and vice versa) is so crucial that when signals are abnormal, multiple systems can be affected. This includes the cognitive functioning and behavioural centres of the brain, which obviously have a lot to do with dogs’ overall mood.

Causes of gut damage in dogs

Dietary factors

Whilst other factors can certainly be held responsible, the number one cause of gut problems in dogs is their diet. The commercialisation of dog food has removed many of the essential nutrients dogs require for balanced gut health, or at the very least replaced them with synthetic substitutes. Dogs require biologically available foods in order to absorb and assimilate their nutrients, which is why a raw, species-appropriate diet is ideal.

Dry dog food is high in carbohydrates, preservatives, and fillers; none of which are required for canine health. They’re essentially foreign substances to a dog’s gut, and can cause various physical/chemical changes to occur that are unnatural and therefore detrimental to dogs’ gut health

A diet evaluation with a canine nutritionist or holistic vet can help to shed light on what’s causing a dog’s gut health issues, and switching to a fresh, whole food diet can often aid in resolving them. To learn more about how to make the switch our article, Switching Your Dog to Raw,  provides a step-by- step guide.

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Genetic factors

Genetics can also play a role in dogs’ gut health, for example, Brachycephalic dogs such as pugs or French Bulldogs are more likely to struggle with digestive issues due to their conformation and digestive make up [3]. Likewise, some dog breeds are more vulnerable to other digestive issues, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Environmental and lifestyle factors

Although diet is the most common culprit in dogs’ gut health issues, their environment can also play a role. For example, exposure to pesticides (including chemical parasite control), pharmaceutical medications, and even household cleaners can cause disturbance to a dog’s gut biome, resulting in gut imbalance.

Medications, especially antibiotics, whilst at times necessary, overused will damage the gut microbiome. Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria in the process of eliminating the targeted bacteria. Meanwhile, stress, anxiety, trauma, and lack of quality sleep will also, over time, reek havoc on the delicate balance of the microbiome and vice-versa. Studies of the gut-brain axis are delivering mounting evidence of the intrinsic gut-brain connection.[4]

Puppyhood and birth

A healthy gut microbiome can be transferred from a mother dog (bitch) to her puppies, primarily during the birthing process and through her milk. Along with essential nutrients, the mother’s early milk, also called colostrum, contains antibodies and prebiotics that further support the puppies’ gut microbiome development.

If  mum has poor gut health, if the birth is via caesarean, or pups don’t have access to mum’s milk during those first few days of life, they are at a disadvantage from the start. 

The good news is if your dog’s gut needs a little TLC, there are lots of ways you can support them!

Natural tips to support gut health

Hydration, exercise, and stress management

Supporting dogs’ gut health can be done through a variety of methods. Aside from appropriate nutritional support, which I’ll discuss in a moment, you can also promote your pet’s well being through adequate hydration, exercise, and stress management. Any one of these can contribute to gut problems in dogs, so as with all areas of canine health and happiness, I highly recommend adopting a holistic, all-inclusive approach.

Adequate hydration is key for survival; the body quite literally cannot function without appropriate water intake. Whilst providing fresh drinking water is of course important, it’s also possible for dogs to consume moisture through their food, especially when they’re fed a raw food diet. Adding bone broths to food or water also serves to increase hydration and nutrient levels, whilst helping to encourage dogs with digestive upsets (and potential lack of appetite) to eat or drink.

Exercise is critical for dogs for a variety of reasons, including their physical and mental health. However, it also impacts their gut health, as regular movement allows the digestive tract to maintain its momentum throughout the digestion process. 

Stress management is also important, as feelings of anxiety, fear or nervousness can transfer to the gut through the gut/brain axis and vice versa (as mentioned earlier). 

Suggested reading if your dog displays signs of separation anxiety is, ProDog Behvaiourist, Caroline Spencer’s article, Overcoming Seperation Anxiety,  or for dogs displaying reactive behaviours my article, Cultivating Calm, may be helpful.  

Prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics are especially helpful for dog digestive problems. These are foods containing a specific type of fibre that feeds the friendly bacteria in your dog’s gut. This promotes the wellbeing of the “good guys,” thus contributing to improved gut health in dogs

Healthy prebiotic foods for dogs include mushrooms, asparagus, berries, leafy green vegetables, and seeds such as pumpkin, chia, and flax. I highly recommend ProDog’s Digest supplement which contains prebiotic fibre, amongst various other gut-friendly ingredients to help restore balance to your dog’s digestion.

Probiotics are the friendly bacteria themselves, and are also highly beneficial for dogs’ gut health [5]. Adding these to dogs’ diets is an effective way to restore balance to their digestive system, and can often help to rectify various gut problems in dogs. There are multiple strains of probiotics, each suited to different purposes. ProDog’s probiotics range includes a variety of options for each dog’s individual needs.

Natural approach to parasite prevention

Whether your dog shows signs of gut imbalance or you want to maintain their gut health, minimising routine chemical parasite treatments is a great step. These pesticides can harm your dog’s gut and overall health. Overuse has also been suggested as being detrimental to the environment [6].

It seems logical to me that chemicals meant to kill parasites could also be toxic to pets. Although these chemicals are given to dogs in small amounts that might not cause immediate problems, their accumulation over time can lead to health issues.

While chemical treatments may be necessary to address infestations, I prefer natural preventative measures, such as ProDog’s Repel food supplement.

For more on natural parasite prevention, read our articles, Natural Flea Prevention for Dogs, Worms in Dogs and Ticks On Dogs.

Role of nutrition in gut health

Essential nutrients for canine health

The essential nutrients that dogs require can be easily found in the core ingredients of a raw food diet. This includes appropriate ratios of lean animal protein, fats, bone, offal (organ meats), and small amounts of healthy plant fibre. Whilst the ratios will be slightly different depending on each dog’s individual needs, this is the basis of which the raw food diet is created. From this starting point, customisation based on individual likes/dislikes and health needs can be achieved.

There are exceptions to the above combination depending on the dog, such as when certain health conditions are present or there’s a genetic predisposition to consider. For example, dogs with pancreatic health issues should temporarily be fed lower fat foods until their condition resolves. Our article, The Truth About Fats for Dogs, is an informative and detailed read on the topic of fats.  

Also, breeds such as Dalmatians and other dogs prone to bladder stones  should keep purines low (natural chemical compounds found in offal and others foods), which their bodies cannot breakdown properly. Our nutritional advisors are available to help you figure out what works best for your dog.

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Dietary strategies for a healthy gut biome

There are various nutritional strategies to consider based on the individual needs of your dog. If you suspect food sensitivities, for example, you might want to try an elimination diet to identify foods responsible for your dog’s digestive upset. Likewise, dog skin issues may indicate a yeast imbalance, for which there is a different dietary strategy. 

Every version of dogs’ tummy troubles require a different approach in their dietary routine, as they each may call for specific nutrients in order to resolve them. However, one common change that can be made to improve any dog’s digestion is switching from highly processed, commercial pet foods to a natural, wholefood diet, and where possible, a raw, species appropriate diet. I’ll discuss how to accomplish this in a moment.

Benefits of a raw dog food diet for gut health

Raw dog food diet benefits

When dogs are fed their natural, instinctive diet, it provides the appropriate internal conditions for them to thrive. Starting in the gut, their digestive process is carried out optimally, allowing the nutrients within the food to be absorbed, assimilated, and directed to where they can provide the most benefit. 

Allowing the gut to function properly, as stated earlier, promotes the proper communication between the digestive system and the brain, as well as the immune system, endocrine system, and various other systems/functions.

This results in a variety of health benefits, such as improved digestive health, healthier bones and joints, optimal muscle function, skin and coat health, dental health, brain health and cognitive functioning (including behaviour), and a more balanced immune response, resulting in improved or reduced allergy symptoms.

As magical as all this sounds, it’s really just a dog’s body doing what nature intended it to do as a result of species-appropriate nutrition.

Discover more in our comprehensive article,  The Benefits of Raw Dog Food.

Transitioning tips/precautions

Though a wholefood, minimally processed diet is the most natural way to feed all canines, dogs with gut problems or other health concerns should be transitioned with caution. This is because any drastic change in their diet can potentially cause further digestive upset, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve! For this reason, slow and gradual is best. Read our article, Switching Your Dog to Raw for a detailed guide on how to transition safely.

As with any change in routine, there are factors to consider. For example, some dogs are allergic/sensitive/intolerant to certain proteins, whilst others may simply dislike certain ingredients. Because individual circumstances vary, I recommend consulting with your holistic vet and/or a canine nutritionist if your dog has significant symptoms to determine which foods best suit your dog.

ProDog’s nutritionist team are also available to provide FREE advice and guidance, so feel free to contact us with any queries as a starting point.

Natural ingredients and supplements for gut health

Beneficial ingredients and supplements

In addition to the basic ingredients found in a raw food diet, there are various natural resources that can aid in soothing poor gut health in dogs. Here are a few of my favourites:

Slippery elm

Slippery elm is a herb that creates a soothing effect within dogs’ intestinal tracts. It also contains high amounts of antioxidants, aiding the immune system in resolving whichever issue is ailing your dog’s digestion.

Marshmallow root

Marshmallow root is another soothing herb. It’s famous for its mucilage; or mucous-like substance that both soothes and protects the digestive tract, aiding in its healing.


Chamomile is a time-honoured digestive aid that helps to soothe the digestive tract whilst also calming the nerves and relieving stress.

Bone broth

Bone broth contains high amounts of various amino acids, collagen, and vitamins/minerals to soothe and restore dogs’ digestive systems, and also helps to maintain hydration when dogs are feeling unwell.

There are also various nutritional supplements that can aid in resolving gut problems in dogs:


Digest is ProDog’s advanced nutritional supplement, designed for dogs experiencing gut health issues. It’s a convenient dietary addition made with a blend of nutrient-dense, gut-friendly ingredients known for supporting digestive health. Digest contains soothing elements such as, slippery elm, chamomile, marshmallow root, psyllium husk, aloe vera, alongside chlorella, digestive enzymes and astaxanthin to promote a healthy microbiome and minimise digestive discomfort.


Colostrum is the “first milk” of mother cows, and is a nutrient powerhouse full of growth factors, immunoglobulins, proteins, and peptides, to name a few. It aids effective digestion and also supports a balanced immune response (amongst many other benefits), therefore is helpful in minimising allergies and food intolerances.

Read more on the benefits of colostrum in our article by ProDog’s Canine Nutritionist, Alison Frost.


ProDog’s Protect supplement is designed to relieve itchy dogs of allergy symptoms and the discomfort they cause. It contains antihistamine and, anti-inflammatory ingredients such as, curcumin, quercetin, and liquorice root, as well as antioxidants, probiotics, mushrooms, and nutrients to support overall skin condition. 

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Canine gut health: the foundation of your dog’s wellbeing

Whilst gut health issues in dogs can be worrisome, they don’t have to affect your dog forever. As gut health begins with what dogs eat, resolving digestive upsets may actually be more simple than you think. 

A fresh, species-appropriate diet, supplemental nutritional support, and a healthy, low-stress lifestyle all contribute to the gut (and overall) health of dogs. Try a sample pack, browse ProDog’s raw meal ranges or have a chat with our nutrition advice team

We’d love to hear from you!

Dog gut health FAQs

What causes diarrhoea in dogs?

There are various causes for diarrhoea in dogs, all of which involve a gut health issue of some sort. This can range from a simple, temporary digestive upset to a more serious condition. It’s advisable to consult your holistic veterinarian and/or a canine nutritionist if the issue is persistent.  

Discover more in-depth advice in our article, Diarrhoea in Dogs.

Why is my dog constipated and what can I do about it?

Constipation in dogs often occurs due to lack of moisture in the diet, but there are also other causes. Read our article on Constipation in Dogs for a detailed explanation and tips to help your dog feel better.

Are there any natural remedies for improving my dog’s gut health?

Yes, natural is best when it comes to canine health, and there are some natural remedies listed in this article. See the “Natural ingredients and supplements for gut health” section for my recommendations.

What are the signs of poor gut health in dogs?

Poor gut health in dogs is characterised by a wide variety of symptoms, some of which don’t appear to be related to the gut at all. Diarrhoea and constipation in dogs are the most obvious signs, however, more subtle cues are explained in the “Signs your dog may need gut health support” section above.

How can I improve my dog’s overall gut health?

Start with their diet. Whole foods that are compatible with the canine digestive system and provide essential nutrients for gut and general health are a great first step. Consult the “Role of nutrition in gut health” section, followed by the “Natural tips to support gut health” and “Natural ingredients and supplements for gut health” sections above.

Is a raw food diet beneficial for my dog’s gut health?

Absolutely. Not only is it beneficial for dogs’ gut health, but for their overall wellbeing, both physically and mentally. When the canine body receives the appropriate nutrients for overall health, all systems function optimally and dogs’ health benefits in various ways.

What are the best probiotics for dogs to improve gut health?

That depends on the dog’s unique circumstances, as each strain of probiotics serves a unique purpose. ProDog’s probiotics range includes a variety of options to suit multiple gut health issues.


  1. O’Mahony SM, Clarke G, Borre YE, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Jan 2015. Serotonin, tryptophan metabolism and the brain-gut-microbiome axis. Behav Brain Res. 15;277:32-48. Doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.07.027.
  2. Homer, B., Judd, J., Dehcheshmeh, M., Ebrahimie, E., Trott, D. Apr 2023. Gut Microbiota and Behavioural Issues in Production, Performance, and Companion Animals: A Systematic Review. Animals;, 13(9):1458. Doi:10.3390/ani13091458
  3. Freiche V, German AJ. Digestive Diseases in Brachycephalic Dogs. Jan 2021. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 51(1):61-78. doi: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2020.09.006.
  4. Sacoor C, Marugg JD, Lima NR, Empadinhas N, Montezinho L. Jan 2024. Gut-Brain Axis Impact on Canine Anxiety Disorders: New Challenges for Behavioral Veterinary Medicine. Vet Med Int. 23;2024:2856759. doi: 10.1155/2024/2856759.
  5. Lee, D., Goh, T., Kang, M., Choi, H., Yeo, S., Yang, J., Huh, C., Kim, Y., Kim. Y. Mar 2022. Perspectives and advances in probiotics and the gut microbiome in companion animals. Journal of Animal Science and Technology;, 64(2):197-217. Doi: 10.5187/jast.2022.e8
  6. Rosemary Perkins, Martin Whitehead, Wayne Civil, Dave Goulson. 2021. Potential role of veterinary flea products in widespread pesticide contamination of English rivers. Science of The Total Environment. Volume 755, Part 1. Doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143560.

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