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Leaky Gut in Dogs: Causes, Signs, & Treatment - PawSafe

Leaky Gut in Dogs: Causes, Signs, & Treatment

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

leaky gut in dogs

Leaky gut in dogs is a growing concern among pet owners. This condition can affect your dog’s digestive health and overall well-being. In this article, we will explore what causes leaky gut in dogs, the symptoms to watch for, and how to manage this condition.

We will provide the best information from experts in the field, like Dr. Elisa Scarsella, to help you understand and support your dog’s gut health. Whether your dog is experiencing diarrhea, allergies, or other digestive issues, understanding leaky gut is crucial for their health and happiness.

Dysbiosis is another term that refers to an imbalance of the gut bacteria. In a healthy gut, there is a balanced mix of good bacteria that help digestion and keep harmful bacteria under control. This is important because the good bacteria in the gut make something called short-chain fatty acids or SCFAs. 

SCFAs are vital to make the mucosal lining in the gut that keeps the lining of epithelial intact and keeps the gut “leaking” or being too permeable. So, without enough good bacteria in the gut, a dog can quickly develop a leaky gut.

The Role of a Healthy Gut Barrier in Dogs

A healthy gut barrier is very important for your dog’s health. The gut barrier is a single layer of cells that line the intestines. This layer acts like a gatekeeper, allowing important nutrients and water to enter the body while keeping harmful substances out.

Here’s how a healthy gut works:

1. Nutrient Absorption

The gut barrier lets nutrients from food enter the bloodstream. These nutrients include vitamins and minerals that keep your dog healthy.

2. Protection

It keeps harmful things like toxins and bad bacteria from entering the bloodstream, helping to prevent infections and other health problems.

3. Immune System Support

The gut barrier helps the immune system by blocking harmful substances and allowing the body to fight off infections more effectively.

When the gut barrier is damaged, as in the case of leaky gut, these functions don’t work properly. This can lead to symptoms like digestive problems, allergies, and even chronic diseases. Keeping the gut barrier healthy is key to making sure your dog stays well.

Is Leaky Gut in Dogs Real?

Beagle sleeping with bloated big swollen hard stomach

Leaky gut in dogs is still being studied by scientists. However, the idea of gut health is important. When the gut lining gets too permeable, it can let harmful things through. These harmful things include endotoxins from bad bacteria and bits of undigested food. When these get into the bloodstream, they can cause an immune response, leading to allergies and inflammation in the body.

Remember, acute inflammation, such as when the body is fighting off infection is good. But chronic inflammation in the body is linked to a number of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. 

So, the gut is a big part of the immune system — about 70% — because its job is to let nutrients into the body but keep the bad stuff out. If the gut isn’t working well, inflammation levels in the body go up and if the gut health isn’t fixed, over time, it can cause stress on your dog’s whole body. So, keeping your dog’s gut healthy is very important for their overall health.

Signs of Leaky Gut in Dogs

Chihuahua dog with leaky gut syndrome

Now, let’s look at the early and late signs of canine leaky gut syndrome:

Early Signs

  • Loose stool or diarrhea: Your dog might have occasional loose stool or diarrhea. This can happen on and off.
  • Gas and bloating: Excessive gas and a bloated belly can be signs of digestive trouble.
  • Abdominal discomfort:  Your dog may show signs of discomfort, like restlessness or whining, indicating they might have a stomach ache.

Advanced Signs

  • Skin problems: Itching and allergies can develop if the gut is unhealthy.
  • Food sensitivities: Your dog may start reacting to foods they used to eat without problems.
  • Weight loss or gain: Unexplained changes in weight can be a sign of a leaky gut.
  • Fatigue: Your dog may seem tired and less active than usual.
  • Autoimmune conditions: In some cases, a leaky gut can contribute to autoimmune conditions, where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues.

By watching for these “dog leaky gut symptoms,” you can help catch and address gut health issues early.

Causes of Leaky Gut in Dogs

Leaky gut in dogs, also known as increased intestinal permeability, can arise from various factors. Here are some common causes with explanations:

DietProcessed foods, Saturated fat,  high starch, and sugar intake can irritate and damage the gut lining.
Chronic stress or anxietyOngoing stress can disrupt gut function, decrease blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, and cause damage. Heat stress can lead to hyperpermeability and endotoxin release, promoting inflammation.
AntibioticsWhile necessary for treating infections, antibiotics can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, leading to dysbiosis (imbalanced microbiota).
Intestinal parasitesParasites like worms can damage the gut lining, increasing its permeability.
Certain medicationsSome medications, including NSAIDs, can harm the gut lining over time.
Underlying health conditionsConditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) involve chronic inflammation, immune cell infiltration, and genetic factors. Cytokines like TNF-α and IL-13 contribute to barrier dysfunction.
Stress-Induced Barrier DysfunctionPhysical restraint, exercise, and stress can alter intestinal permeability. This can decrease blood flow to the gut, causing damage and increased permeability.
Gastrointestinal Ischemia-Reperfusion InjuryIschemia (blood supply interruption) followed by reperfusion (restoration) can cause significant oxidative stress, cellular damage, and increased permeability.
Pathogen-Induced Barrier DysfunctionPathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridium, and mycotoxin-producing fungi can bind to epithelial cells, disrupt tight junctions, and produce toxins, leading to increased permeability.

Understanding these causes can help in protecting and managing your dog’s gut health effectively.

How to Fix a Dog’s Leaky Gut

If you suspect your dog has a leaky gut, it’s essential to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Here are some potential treatment options that a vet might recommend:

Dietary Changes

Start with a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice to ease the digestive system.

Identify and remove potential food allergens or intolerances from your dog’s diet. This helps in determining which foods might be causing the problem.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Canine Probiotics can help restore the balance of gut bacteria. However, it’s important to use probiotics specifically designed for dogs. Dog probiotics are different from human ones because dogs have much more acidic stomachs. Most human probiotics, like those found in yogurt, are not suitable for dogs as they may not survive the acidic environment or contain enough live colony-forming units (CFUs) to be effective.

Prebiotics like fructooligosaccharides and inulin can help feed the good bacteria in your dog’s gut, promoting a healthy microbiome.

Addressing Underlying Causes

If parasites are identified as a cause, your vet will prescribe appropriate medications to eliminate them.

Finally, reducing stress and anxiety in your dog’s environment can also help improve gut health.

By following these steps and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help manage and improve your dog’s gut health effectively.

What to Feed a Dog with Leaky Gut? Supplements and Home Remedies

Border Collie eating food for leaky gut syndrome

A bland diet consisting of boiled chicken and rice can be beneficial for soothing your dog’s gut in the short term. But make sure your dog does not have an allergy to chicken or rice. If your dog has a chicken allergy (you can find out with ELISA testing or elimination diets), you can try a fish-based diet instead. This gentle diet helps reduce inflammation and allows the digestive system to rest and heal.

Here are some more supplements you can give your dog for a leaky gut:

Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs)

  • Butyrate: SCFAs like butyrate have anti-inflammatory properties that support gut health. Butyrate treatment can improve intestinal permeability and reduce inflammation.

Amino Acids

  • Glutamine and Arginine: Amino acids such as glutamine and arginine are essential for protein synthesis and gut health. Arginine improves barrier function and reduces intestinal damage, while glutamine supplementation decreases intestinal atrophy and enhances growth performance.

Other Nutrients

  • Zinc: This trace element supports cellular turnover and repair, enhancing intestinal function.
  • Selenium and Vitamin E: these nutrients reduce oxidative stress and improve intestinal permeability.

Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics

  • Probiotics: Beneficial microorganisms like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium improve intestinal barrier function and reduce inflammation. It’s important to use dog-specific probiotics as they are designed to survive the acidic environment of a dog’s stomach.
  • Prebiotics: Non-digestible food ingredients, such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin, stimulate the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Synbiotics: A combination of probiotics and prebiotics that provides synergistic benefits for gut health.

By incorporating these dietary changes and supplements, you can help manage your dog’s leaky gut effectively. Always follow your veterinarian’s guidance to ensure the best outcomes for your pet’s health.


Leaky gut in dogs is a complex condition that requires a comprehensive approach to manage effectively. Understanding the causes, such as diet, stress, and underlying health conditions, is crucial for addressing the issue. Consulting a veterinarian for a tailored diagnosis and treatment plan is essential.

Implementing dietary changes, such as a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice, can help soothe your dog’s gut in the short term. Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics are valuable for restoring gut bacteria balance and enhancing intestinal health. Nutrients like zinc, selenium, and amino acids support overall gut function and reduce inflammation.

By working closely with your veterinarian and making informed choices about your dog’s diet and health, you can help manage and improve your dog’s leaky gut, leading to a happier, healthier pet.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.