Much of our overall health is predicated on a healthy digestive system. Current research indicates that around 70% of our immune system is located in or around the digestive tract, and that unhealthy systems are a contributing factor in the majority of chronic diseases.

For optimal health, dogs, cats, and people must have intestinal flora consisting of 80% beneficial bacteria. Healthy bacteria in the gut produce enzymes that improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients, decrease the risk of chronic problems such as colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, help detoxify the body, and protect against toxins. Poor nutrition, exposure to toxins and medications, and stress are some of the many factors that contribute to the destruction of beneficial bacteria. When an imbalance occurs, animals become more susceptible to constipation, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, skin problems, allergies, and poor immune function.

Diet is not the focus of this article; however, no discussion of optimal digestion would be complete without mentioning the importance of a natural and healthy diet. The most important thing you can do for the overall health of your dogs and cats is to feed them the freshest  and least-processed diet possible.

Here are just a few remedies that can be used for acute digestive upsets and for ongoing health maintenance. Chronic problems should be handled by a veterinarian, especially a good holistic vet, as there are many modalities such as homeopathy and acupuncture that can be restorative and curative.

One of the best supplements available to help restore and maintain beneficial intestinal bacteria is a good probiotic like Jarrow Pet Dophilus. There are many on the market. The best products will contain several different strains or species of good bacteria. Be sure to use a product with live and active cultures and keep it refrigerated. You can also add a live active yogurt to your dog’s food daily. This will be beneficial for any dog but is essential when giving antibiotics, which destroy much of the gut’s beneficial flora. Another product to consider for acute episodes of diarrhea is Immedicare GI. This high dosage probiotic paste (also known as Fast Balance) will very rapidly and reliably set things right.

Digestive Enzymes
Enzymes are helpful in breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for absorption in the small intestine, ensuring good digestion and enhancing assimilation of nutrients. They also help fight inflammation and swelling. There are many good enzyme products available, some combined with probiotics. Wobenzyme and Prozyme are two products to consider.

Slippery Elm
This herb, available in both liquid and powder forms, is made from the inner bark of the Slippery elm tree. It internally coats and soothes the mucous membranes while also absorbing toxins that can cause intestinal imbalances. Slippery elm is an effective remedy for gastritis, diarrhea, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

This amino acid helps stop inflammation of the large and small intestine and promotes new cell growth in the intestinal lining. It’s a great support for dogs with irritable bowel syndrome or other chronic intestinal disease. Improvement is not immediate, so plan to use it for several weeks or more.

Canned pumpkin
The fiber in pure organic pumpkin absorbs moisture in the large intestine and can be used to good effect in both diarrhea and constipation. Feed one teaspoon for small dogs, two teaspoons for medium dogs, and a tablespoon for large dogs. Too much fiber can cause problems, too, so don’t overdo it.

Homeopathic remedies
Arsen-icum and Nux-vomica are two great remedies for gastro-intestinal upset. Consult your holistic veterinarian or homeopath for an appropriate remedy for your dog’s individual condition.

Diarrhea and vomiting can be symptomatic of many conditions. All the above remedies can be helpful in restoring gastrointestinal health, but all acute conditions should be seen by your veterinarian. Consider an annual wellness check-up for your animal so you can catch any potentially serious problems early.