Early in my veterinary career I had to perform emergency surgery on a dog to remove pieces of a Jacuzzi control box, complete with wiring, from the intestine of a young Siberian husky. The wires and metal fragments he had eaten had been in the intestines long enough to cause infection throughout the intestines. A large area was dead so I had to remove a long segment of the small and large intestines. After he recovered, he was unable to form normal stool and often had uncontrollable diarrhea when fed normal dog food. His shortened bowel did not allow thorough digestion and absorption of his food. His short bowel syndrome (SBS) needed to be controlled. But how?
What is Short Bowel Syndrome?
SBS is a decrease in the length of the intestines. Dogs with this problem have undergone lifesaving surgery that required large segments of the intestines be removed.
There are three main reasons for this type of surgery:
~Dead intestinal tissue caused by eating foreign objects (like my patient)
~Aggressive cancers or tumors of the intestines
~Injury wounds with large sections of decaying intestines trapped outside of the abdomen (either hanging outside the body or trapped in the chest from a ruptured diaphragm)
As carnivores or meat eaters, dogs have evolved with a naturally short digestive tract and food moves through quickly. That is why owners often see pieces of carrots or berries pass whole in the stool of their dog. The intestines aren’t long enough to digest these foods.
For dogs with short bowel syndrome, the time for digestion is even shorter. Food is only partially digested and acts as a sponge to hold water in the intestines. The colon doesn’t have time to reabsorb the water. All of this liquid makes it difficult to make formed stool and these patients have constant diarrhea. Dogs with SBS often remain thin after surgery because they are not getting enough calories and nutrients. Much of what they need is leaving the body with the liquid stool.
Changing the diet is the only way to treat short bowel syndrome.
How to Feed Dogs with Short Bowel Syndrome
Homemade dog food works the best for dogs with short bowel syndrome. Recipes with finely ground, lean meat and highly digestible carbohydrates work well for the short intestines.
Examples of highly digestible carbohydrates are:
~Macaroni (small salad type)
~Potatoes and sweet potatoes (finely diced or mashed)
SBS patients need a diet low in fat. Unabsorbed fat in the shortened bowel makes the diarrhea worse. The fat can also become rancid and weaken intestinal health, particularly in the colon, and contribute further to the diarrhea. SBS recipes need less than 25% of total calories from fat as a starting point with even more reductions if necessary to control diarrhea.
Soluble or partially soluble fiber (fiber that easily mixes with the water in the intestines) helps the colon to absorb water and binds rancid fats that contribute to diarrhea. It also supports intestinal health by promoting the production of “good bacteria.” Psyllium (Metamucil) and wheat bran are the fibers that best help patients with SBS. The amount of fiber in the diet depends on the amount and location of the removed intestines. Some patients may require fiber supplementation up to 10% of the diet.
Dogs with short bowel syndrome may also need vitamin B-12 and vitamin K supplementation. These vitamins are made by bacteria in the intestines and absorbed by the body. Vitamin B-12 is necessary to prevent anemia and vitamin K is essential for the proper clotting of blood. If large parts of the colon are removed there is less bacteria to produce these important vitamins.
SBS patients do better when fed multiple small meals per day. Less food in the intestines allows for more complete digestion and absorption. 4-6 small meals a day are best.
If you need a diet for your dog with SBS, Hearthstone Homemade can help. These are lifelong diets that need special formulation and proper supplementation.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN