In a word, absolutely.  As a matter of fact, almost every dog and cat in America has it.  Unfortunately, it is an illness that doesn’t manifest as a conceptual disease.  Instead, it creates problems that in time manifest as specific diseases.

The gut and its associated organs, stomach, liver and pancreas, all work together to convert nutrition into components required by the physical body.  Its magic converts simple food into body component parts, energy for the cells and building blocks for all tissues, cells and vital fluids such as blood and lymph.  Nothing in the physical body could not exist without a properly functioning gut.  Not only does it do its precise work, but it is forgiving as well.  It has enough flexibility to keep you from dying if you eat too many Lay’s potato chips.

It isn’t hard to imagine that if the gut isn’t working properly, that the body would suffer in many ways.  That is exactly the situation with leaky gut syndrome.  This syndrome was recognized in people many years ago and there has been a lot of attention focused on preventing it and resolving it if it is already happening.  Unfortunately, the focus on this syndrome in dogs and cats has been greatly overlooked.  

There are many factors that involve gut function, but two are primary.  One is the genetics of the gut and the other is the diet.  In medicine, we have historically overemphasized the role of genetics and the function of the cells (the body).  Even though we now know that it has little to do with day to day function of the cells, the development and replication of cells is greatly influenced by its genetic structure.

Research in both people and pets has indicated that there have been several genetic mutations that have occurred in the cells of the gut.  This basically means that most children, puppies and kittens are born with imperfectly functioning guts.  From the beginning of their lives, their gut is not doing its job like it should. 

What caused these genetic mutations towards imperfection?  Inappropriate diets.  It seems that both people and pets have been eating diets that harm the gut for generations and in time, gut genetics have changed, and not for the good.  This is called vertical genetic expression, where the genetics are passed from mother to child and so on.  Even though the genetic expression is now a factor, the inappropriate diets were the initiating cause.

Since the underlying cause of leaky gut syndrome is primarily feeding an inappropriate diet, let’s look at how that happens.  We can start by imagining that we get a new puppy or kitten.  We pick up the little cutie when she (or he) is about 8-10 weeks.  The breeder, adoption people, etc. let you know what they have been feeding and you might opt to continue the diet.  It is likely a puppy or kitty kibble diet as it is easy to store and easy to feed.

Now that you have the new pet, you decide that you want to feed the best food that is available.  Maybe you go to your trusted veterinarian for advice.  He might have a diet that he likes.  He might recommend a diet like Science Diet or Royal Canin or he might just tell you to buy a high-quality kibble from the pet store.  I even know one vet that tells his clients that all of them are about the same and that the diet does not make that much difference.  Ouch.

You might also go to the pet store and ask the clerk her advice.  She leads you to the back of the store and picks out a puppy food that she has been told is a high-quality puppy food.  You read over the list of ingredients and they look good.   You have been told that the kibble is good for keeping the teeth clean.  You buy it with great confidence and you go home and start feeding it. The food that you are now feeding, and the food that the breeder has been feeding the pet, has started creating problems that will lead to leaky gut syndrome.

One of the primary functions of the gut is to keep unwanted material out of the body.  It does this by maintaining a normal gut wall.  The gut protects the body from unwanted material by maintaining a fine porous membrane that allows only normally processed food material to move into the blood stream.  

Kibble, or any other heat-processed pet food, causes inflammation of the gut.  Dogs and cats are carnivores and when they are fed starch in their diet, the starch converted to sugar and sugar causes inflammation.  All kibble has large quantities of starch.  It starts in the gut.  When inflammation of the gut happens, the porous lining of the gut is damaged and unwanted or improperly digested food particles enter into the body via the blood portal system and is transported to the liver for metabolizing.  

These are identified as toxins by the body.  The liver may try to store it in the liver in fatty deposits.  If it can’t do this, the toxin will continue throughout the blood vessels to other parts of the body, causing damage either acutely or chronically.  Sugar in carnivores creates chemicals that are inflammatory in nature and they move throughout the body causing low-grade inflammation that will eventually show up as a chronic disease such as IBD, arthritis, organ failure and cancer.  Protein, required by dogs and cats as their primary energy source, is broken down into utilizable amino acids.  When the gut is not functioning properly due to inflammation and leaky gut, the process does not work properly and amino acid production often produces toxic chemical byproducts that pass through the gut into the blood stream, pass the blood-brain barrier, disturbing normal brain function.  This can be the cause of many seizures in young pets and is often misdiagnosed as epilepsy.

When the diet is inappropriate and the gut becomes inflamed, there becomes an abnormal imbalance in the gut microbes.  The gut requires a normal, healthy population of gut bacteria to process the food normally.  The increased sugar in the diet causes an over proliferation of unhealthy bacteria and yeast.  Yeast thrive on sugar and in a short time, the yeast over-populate, move through the damaged gut wall and spread throughout the body via the blood stream.  Since they are opportunistic in nature, they present themselves as a component involving recurring urinary infections, skin and ear infections.  Even the gooey eye discharge from most pets has a large yeast component.  Yeast also pass through the blood-brain barrier causing mental sluggishness.

It doesn’t stop there.  When improperly processed food (called macrolides) pass through the damaged gut, the body’s immune system recognizes them as foreign invaders and mount a defense against them.  It forms antibodies to these macrolides, creating dietary intolerances and food allergies.  The pet’s immune system is working overtime trying to stop these perpetual invaders and the immune system becomes hypersensitive.  When it does this, it overacts to almost everything that it becomes exposed to.  It soon starts producing antibodies to environmental substances that are taken into the body via the respiratory system.  Dust, pollens, molds and many other environmental contaminants trigger a response by the hypersensitive immune system, developing more allergies.

In time, the chronic inflammation and leaky gut lead to many imbalances that persist throughout the pet’s life.  These will manifest as recurring or chronic health problems.  Without correcting the underlying problem, the imbalances will progress into other imbalances and in time, will manifest as terminal diseases such as heart disease, kidney and liver disease, autoimmune disorders and cancer.  

Leaky gut is not only a problem in pets, it is perhaps the primary problem in pets.  And, it all starts with the diet.  Are you feeding an inappropriate diet to your pet?