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Fermented Foods for Dogs and Cats

Lately, I have become obsessed with the gut microbiome – those trillions of bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract and play a critical role in the health of ourselves and our companion animals. So, when I continue to see so many dogs with digestive disorders, I naturally think about ways to heal them by supporting the beneficial bacteria in their gut. Enter fermented foods for dogs and cats.

Many dog and cat guardians know about the benefits of fermented foods for their personal digestive health, but did you know that there are a variety of pet-friendly fermented foods we can feed our dogs and cats to help improve their gut and overall health?

Despite their recent popularity, fermented foods have been around for thousands of years. Many different cultures used fermented foods as a way to preserve food, but also to support intestinal and overall health, which is what they are best known for today.

In this post, I will share the key points you need to know about fermented foods for dogs and cats and how you can start adding them to your pet’s diet.

fermented foods for dogs and cats

What are Fermented Foods?

Fermentation involves using a microorganism, such as yeast or bacteria, to break down a food substance and in effect “pre-digest” it in an anaerobic environment (without air). For example, when yeast “eats” sugar and gasses off sugar alcohols in bread dough, that’s fermentation. Fermentation also results from using lactic acid-based bacteria, such as lactobacillus, to ferment foods such as dairy and vegetables.

Pet-friendly fermented foods include:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Raw cheese (not for immune-impaired animals)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt

Why are Fermented Foods for Dogs and Cats Important?

Fermented foods are important because, quite simply, they support optimum gut health and, as Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Fermented foods offer many benefits to the gut, including:

  • Increased bioavailability of nutrients.
  • Increased digestibility.
  • Alkalizing to the body (anti-cancer).
  • Supply beneficial bacteria to the GI tract that are essential to immune and overall health.

Studies have shown that in dogs experiencing acute diarrhea, significant changes in fecal microbial composition were noted. An increase in harmful bacteria was observed, while the beneficial gut bacteria were reduced.

In dogs diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), gut bacterial changes were similar to those of humans who have been diagnosed with IBD. Fecal samples showed that dogs with IBD also suffered from dysbiosis, an imbalance of the bacteria in the gut.

What’s very clear is that alterations in gut bacteria are prominent in cases of gastrointestinal disease in both humans and animals.

Gut bacteria is also closely tied to immune health. A large majority of the immune system resides in the gut, so when gut health is imbalanced, it’s hard for the body’s immune system to function properly. There are also a number of factors common in modern life that can throw your dog or cat’s gut bacteria off, such as processed pet foods and antibiotics.

Dog and Cat-Friendly Fermented Foods

So, which fermented foods are appropriate for dogs and cats? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Kefir: Kefir is an excellent probiotic-rich fermented food option that can easily be added to your pet’s diet. Kefir contains live and active cultures to feed the healthy bacteria in the gut. You can make your own kefir by purchasing kefir grains and fermenting them yourself. Making kefir yourself is also a great way to decide if you want to make a dairy-free option while still giving your pet all the wonderful benefits kefir has to offer. Try the homemade kefir recipe (below) using goat’s milk. If your pet is sensitive to dairy, you can purchase water kefir grains.
  • Fermented Vegetables: Fermented vegetables are excellent for the health of the digestive tract. Just be sure to start out giving your dog just a little bit to avoid digestive upset.
  • Cabbage Juice: If your pet is fussy about eating fermented vegetables, you can mix a little cabbage juice into your dog or cat’s food for a probiotic boost. Again, begin with just a little, such as a teaspoon of cabbage juice mixed with a teaspoon of water added to the meal.

Kefir Recipe

Try whipping up some probiotic-rich kefir to supercharge your pet’s diet.

Kefir

Directions:

  1. Place 1 Tbsp. of kefir grains into a glass mason style jar and then add 2 cups of goat’s milk. (not cow’s milk).
  2. Stir.
  3. Next, cover the jar with a cheesecloth or towel and place the jar in a cabinet away from direct sunlight.
  4. Leave the jar to sit for about 24 hours. This is considered the fermentation process.
  5. Strain and then you can preserve the grains by submerging them in milk in a separate glass jar and storing them in the fridge for one week before using again.
  6. Store the prepared kefir in the fridge and add a small amount, about 1-2 teaspoons to start with your pet’s food. Give smaller amounts to small dogs and more to larger dogs.

If you want to get adventurous and try making other recipes, I recommend starting with fermented vegetables, which are great for dogs and cats. I came across this cool Web site about fermentation called Phickle, that I have been having a great time exploring! The site’s author also has a wonderful book called Ferment Your Vegetables.

If fermenting your own foods isn’t your thing, you can of course purchase fermented products at the grocery store. Just be sure they have not been cooked, which would destroy the beneficial bacteria.

Conclusion

Pet-friendly fermented foods are an excellent addition to your dog or cat’s diet. A question that often comes up when talking about gut health and fermented foods is probiotic supplements. I always recommend a high-quality, live probiotic supplement as it is not always convenient to feed fermented foods, however fermented foods are a wonderful “whole food” addition to probiotics supplements.

When incorporating fermented foods for dog and cat’s into your pet’s diet, begin with a small amount over the course of a week or two to avoid any potential stomach upset. Too much at one time is not a good idea as it can actually cause digestive upset, including diarrhea.

I hope you have found this post on fermented foods for dogs and cats informative. If you feed your four-legged companion fermented foods, please share your experiences in the comments section below. I’d love to hear!

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