You’ll never walk alone – and neither will your patients. Celebrating World Microbiome Day

Posted on June 27, 2019 by Jan S. Suchodolski

When your client last fed their pet, did they realise they were also feeding several trillion bacteria living inside their pet’s gut? Luckily all those bugs don’t require as much individual love and attention as the animal they reside within, but it’s well worth paying attention to them as they have the potential to exert great influence on a pet’s health and wellbeing.

World Microbiome Day provides an excellent opportunity to focus on this fascinating topic. Awareness amongst the general public is growing, with the human microbiome an increasingly popular subject of discussion online, and in TV or radio programmes. In the world of research, things are also progressing. Studies of human skin have shown the skin microbiome to be quite different in certain skin diseases, compared with healthy skin. And whilst it may seem an obvious conclusion to think that the gut microbiome’s health impact would be only in the gastrointestinal (GI) system, this may not be the case – studies have proposed a connection to conditions as disparate as obesity and allergies through to mental health conditions

What do we know?

So, what do we already know about the microbiome of pets? Over the last few years, scientists at Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition have collaborated with specialist veterinary dentists to investigate the oral microbiome of cats and dogs, and have shown a pronounced difference between the bacterial communities in the mouths of pets and people. This has important ramifications for dealing with the bacteria involved in canine and feline periodontal disease. When it comes to the gut microbiome, we know that it changes during the early weeks of a puppy’s life. New research on this aspect – a collaboration between the National Veterinary School of Toulouse, Texas A&M University and Royal Canin, is being presented tomorrow at the European Veterinary Society for Small Animal Reproduction Congress. It’s also known that it varies between individuals and even within an individual (depending, for example, on the time of sampling and the location within the GI tract). Research has shown the composition can also be influenced by diet, antibiotics, GI disease, age, and other genetic and environmental factors. 

Vets have, of course, known about the importance of the microbiome of pets for some time. Those working with hindgut fermenter species such as rabbits or horses – utterly reliant on their gut microbes to digest their food - have long been acutely aware of the issue of dysbiosis, as the problem can often be more obvious or severe in its presentation in these animals. In all species the challenge has been - and continues to be - determining exactly what’s gone awry with the microbiome and, importantly, how to put it right.

Key challenges

One key challenge for the veterinary profession is that the therapies prescribed to combat some conditions may actually cause detrimental changes to the various microbiomes of the body. Medicated shampoos and other topical treatments may disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria on the skin, whilst systemic antibiotics can resolve one problem but create another, through overgrowth of normally outcompeted or contained species filling the void left when beneficial species are killed. This puts increased pressure on the prescribing clinician to try to deal with – or better still, prevent – these deleterious alterations.

I believe this is an exciting time for microbiome research in pets. We must build on what we know whilst seeking solutions to the unanswered questions. If we do this, the potential to have a positive impact on pet health is huge.  As we determine how diet composition, antibiotics and other drug therapies, breed and disease affect or are affected by the microbiome, this information can be used to enhance diets, identify disease biomarkers and develop targeted disease therapies – shaping the future of veterinary care. I wish you, your clients, and your patients, a happy World Microbiome Day! 

BVA and Mars Petcare are working together to examine the links between pet nutrition and human behaviour and healthy body weight in pets. Mars Petcare wants to make a better world for pets, this partnership is an important step on that journey. 

Jan S. Suchodolski

Written by Jan S. Suchodolski

Associate Professor and Associate Director of the GI Lab

Jan S. Suchodolski graduated with a veterinary degree from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria in 1997. After working for several years in a small animal specialty clinic he returned to academia and received his Dr. med. vet. degree from the University of Vienna, Austria in recognition for his research on potential diagnostic markers for canine gastric disease.

In 2005 Dr. Suchodolski received his PhD in Veterinary Microbiology from Texas A&M University for his work on molecular markers for the assessment of the intestinal microbiota. He is also board certified in immunology by the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (ACVM). He currently serves as Associate Professor and Associate Director of the GI Lab.