There are thousands of pet parents out there who are frustrated in finding a solution to their pet’s digestive or skin conditions. They’ve switched food, researched extensively, and administered prescribed medications or supplements. And while many dogs and cats will positively respond to changes in diet or treatments, other pets experience only minor improvement (if at all) or their symptoms recur. A key factor that may impact how a pet responds to treatment may reside in the status of their gut microbiome.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Chronic diarrhea. Allergies. Atopic dermatitis. Ulcerative colitis. Antibiotic resistant Clostridium and Clostridioides infections. There is scientific evidence that all of these conditions have a common correlation; an imbalanced gut microbiome. Therapies to balance and strengthen the gut microbiome of dogs and cats include diet, prebiotics, probiotics and fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). Today we are going to focus on fecal transplants. For those frustrated pet parents, there is a growing body of research evidence that fecal transplants can help improve several different gastrointestinal disorders (as well as many other conditions) by changing the gut microbiome.
So what exactly is a fecal transplant? Also called Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT), a fecal transplant is the process in which stool from a healthy donor is transferred to the intestines of a sick recipient. The stool from the donor contains a functioning and healthy community of bacteria that can take up residence in the sick recipient’s gut.
Here we answer some common questions about fecal transplants and what options are available for your cat or dog.
How do I know if my pet needs a fecal transplant?
If your pet is relatively healthy, there are many simple changes you can make to improve your pet’s gut health without a fecal transplant. Fecal transplants can support a pet’s gut health through recovery from a big change, such as taking a course of antibiotics, but usually these bacterial communities eventually return back to normal on their own.
Fecal transplants are most effective when the gut bacterial community is so out of balance that it can’t recover on its own. Scientists typically ask two main questions to determine the balance of a bacterial community: (1) ‘who is (and isn’t) there?’ and (2) “How much of each species of bacteria are there?’. If bacteria known to be beneficial are missing and/or too many bad bacteria are present, the community can be considered out of balance.
Additionally, there are many species of bacteria in the gut that have specific functions in supporting your pet’s health from their immune system to their metabolism. A gut microbiome with low bacterial diversity may suggest that some of these functions might be absent or incomplete, and therefore out of balance. A simple Gut Health Test kit can help you learn about the state of your dog or cat’s bacterial community.
Bacterial imbalances can manifest in many ways, such as chronic digestive issues, atopic dermatitis, or inflammatory bowel disease. A fecal transplant may be able to improve these conditions by restoring balance back to the bacterial community.
What is the procedure?
The most common procedure veterinarians perform is a colonoscopy. This is a ‘bottom-up’ approach (pun intended) where a tube is inserted up the rear into the large intestine and liquefied donor feces is deposited throughout the large intestine as the tube removed. This method has proven to be an effective technique for treating a variety of conditions and can be done in just one visit. However, a colonoscopy is an invasive procedure that requires sedation. And not all veterinarians perform fecal transplants because it can be logistically complicated to obtain fresh, prescreened donor feces for the procedure.
This ‘top-down’ fecal transplant approach targets delivery into the small intestine. Liquefied donor feces is delivered by a tube that runs through the mouth or nose, through the stomach, and into the top of the small intestine. This method isn’t as common as a colonoscopy, but does give the bacteria a lot of time to travel through the intestines to find a place to take up residence.
A far less invasive ‘top-down’ approach involves ingesting capsules that are designed to release a community of viable gut bacteria once they reach the small intestine. AnimalBiome has pioneered the development of an oral fecal transplant supplement derived from freeze dried fecal material from prescreened healthy dog and cat donors. This option is more affordable and less invasive than a procedure in a vet’s office.
Are fecal transplants safe? What are the risks?
Yes, but there are risks. If donor feces is not properly screened, it is possible that pathogens and/or parasites could be passed on to your dog or cat. If you choose to have a fecal transplant procedure performed by a veterinarian, make sure to ask them about their screening process for the donor feces. At AnimalBiome, donors must pass a rigorous selection process for microbiome composition and all donor material is extensively screened for pathogens and parasites. Additionally, there are risks and complications from sedation, which is necessary for colonoscopy and nasogastric FMT procedures.
Does FMT work? How long will it take to start seeing results?
Yes, but not always. There are dozens of scientific papers that show fecal transplants can resolve symptoms of several different conditions in a variety of different species. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there too, most of which supports current scientific findings, and you can learn more about some of these stories and professional insights throughout this article on fecal transplants in dogs.
However, FMTs don’t always work. It is possible the bacteria from the donor doesn’t grow in the recipient's gut, and even if they do, that symptoms will be improved. AnimalBiome conducted a study on 40 dogs and 72 cats who had inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Each pet was given an AnimalBiome Gut Restoration Supplement twice per day, for 25 days. After the supplement course was finished, 80% of the dogs and 83% of the cats in the study had improved clinical symptoms of IBD. In addition to symptom relief, about half of the dogs and a quarter of the cats in this study also had an increase in appetite. This study highlights that even though FMT can’t cure IBD, it can be an effective tool to improve symptoms and quality of life for pets. This is true for other diseases, and scientists are continuing to learn about the therapeutic benefits of FMTs for many different conditions.
How much does it cost?
The cost of a fecal transplant for your pet varies greatly, depending on the type of FMT procedure, donor feces acquisition and screening, and other tests your vet will want to run. Most fecal transplants cost between $500-$1500, but the price can also fall outside of this range too.
AnimalBiome’s Gut Restoration Supplements for dogs and cats cost far less than this and some cats and dogs only require a one-month supply. The supplements can also be purchased with two microbiome Gut Health Test kits in order to see how a dog or cat’s gut bacterial community shifted.
Fecal transplants show a lot of promise to be an effective tool to improve symptoms of many different conditions linked to imbalances in the gut microbiome. AnimalBiome’s Gut Health Test report can help you and your veterinarian stay informed about the health of the gut bacterial community in your dog or cat. We will work with you and your veterinarian to determine if a FMT may benefit your pet. We also encourage you to talk with your vet, who can further help you make informed decisions specific to your pet’s health.
Want to learn more about what science has reported about the correlation between fecal transplants and disease? Check out these recent publications on allergies in mice, atopic dermatitis in humans and dogs, parvovirus-related diarrhea in puppies (and AnimalBiome’s blog article about this study), inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, and multiple sclerosis in humans.
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