More than half of all dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, a reality that puts their health at risk in much the same way as their human counterparts. And, also like humans, scientists believe it may have a lot to do with a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut—which is impacted by what they eat.
A new study published in the journal mBio followed more than 60 normal weight and overweight or obese dogs for two months. The dogs started out eating the same “baseline” diet for the first half of the study, after which they were separated into two groups and fed either a primarily protein diet or one that consisted mainly of carbohydrates.
Based on their findings, researchers determined that changes in diet impact the microbial balance in a dog’s gut, in part by altering the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes—two types of bacteria associated with weight management. (In humans, individuals with more Bacteroidetes tend to be leaner, while higher numbers of Firmicutes are often seen in heavier people.) And, the changes in microbial composition were more pronounced in overweight and obese pets.
“That seems to suggest that obese dogs and overweight dogs are more susceptible to dietary intervention,” said study author Qinghong Li in a news release. He and his colleagues believe that while additional studies are needed to explore the link between diet and the canine microbiome, adding probiotics and prebiotics to pet food may help promote a healthy weight in dogs by increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut.