Bacterial diversity is considered the hallmark for evaluating our dogs’ gut health.
Bacterial diversity is considered the hallmark for evaluating our dogs’ gut health. The microbiome, the bacteria and other microorganisms in the gut, is complex and not fully understood, and it can be complicated to say precisely what constitutes a healthy microbiome. But one thing researchers do agree on: a diverse microbiome usually leads to a healthier body.
Having a wide array of different microbes makes your dog’s gut capable of processing and producing essential nutrients, and resilient against different types of diseases. If one microbe is unable to fulfill its function, another can step in. It’s like team work on a micro-scale!
Bacterial diversity lowers the risks of obesity and various health issues, from bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes and even depression. Research in human subjects even associates microbiome diversity with longevity. The study found that older subjects who had a more diverse microbiome also tended to be healthier and live longer than peers with a less diverse gut.
HOW DO WE DETERMINE GUT DIVERSITY?
We measure diversity by combining two aspects, richness and evenness.
Richness is just how many different types of bacteria are found in the sample. In the example below, we would say the sample on the right is richer because it has more types of different colors. The microbiome is more diverse when there are more types of different bacteria in the sample.
Evenness measures the proportion between each type of bacteria compared to the other types. In the example below, even though both samples have the same number of colors, we see that the blue bacteria on the left side far outnumber the other colors. We would generally say that the left sample is less even and therefore less diverse than the right sample.
This isn’t to say that all bacteria need to be evenly distributed. Healthy microbiomes are sometimes expected to have higher or lower concentrations of certain bacteria, specifically when referring to harmful types of bacteria
Stay’s researchers take your dog’s bacterial richness and evenness into account when determining if they have a balanced microbiome. There are different methods of evaluating them to determine your dog’s diversity. The most common one is called Shannon’s diversity index, named after the American mathematician and cryptographer Claude Shannon.
Your dog’s diversity levels are compared to the average diversity of healthy dogs. You should remember, though: diversity is important but it is only one aspect of your dog’s gut health, and we’ve met happy and healthy dogs with lower than average diversity.
It is also important to take a closer look at the specific types of bacteria and not only how diverse they are, and a few studies linked diversity also to negative effects. For example, a recent study about the influence of the microbiome on dog behavior found that aggressive dogs shared similar types of bacteria and that the diversity of aggressive dogs was higher than that of calm dogs.
On the other hand, the same research found that fearful dogs had the least diverse microbiome of the three groups studied. This study sheds light on the complexities of the gut microbiome and how positive and negative effects can be intertwined.
Each dog is unique, so we use our seasonal poop samples to track the changes in your dog’s diversity and learn more about the specific bacteria and their roles in your dog’s microbiome. And always remember that what is most important is not only the biological data, but how each of our dog members are feeling.
WHAT IMPACTS GUT DIVERSITY?
Human and dog health experts stress that physical activity and exercise are important in maintaining a diverse microbiome. Repeated stress and antibiotic treatment can severely damage diversity and open the way for harmful bacteria to become dominant in the gut.
Nutrition is key. Stay’s recipes are designed to enhance diversity. Our meals include a large variety of dietary fibers that feed different bacteria in the gut. The recipes are made with high-quality animal and plant-based proteins to meet the dietary requirements of distinct groups of bacteria.
Stay’s food is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, as well as minerals, vitamins and polyphenols, compounds that serve as fuel for these bacteria. We can help your dog achieve a healthy level of diversity in their gut with our meals, and keep them happy and active for a long time to come!