In general, faecal microbial phylogeny (e.g. predominance of Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria) and functional capacity (e.g. major functional groups related to carbohydrate, protein, DNA and vitamin metabolism; virulence factors; and cell wall and capsule) of the canine and feline gut are similar to those of the human gut. Initial sequencing projects have provided a glimpse of the microbial super-organism that exists within the canine and feline gut, but leaves much to be explored and discovered.
Recent molecular studies have revealed complex bacterial, fungal, archaeal, and viral communities in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats. More than 10 bacterial phyla have been identified, with Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, and Actinobacteria constituting more than 99% of all gut microbiota. Microbes act as a defending barrier against invading pathogens, aid in digestion, provide nutritional support for enterocytes, and play a crucial role in the development of the immune system. Of significance for gastrointestinal health is their ability to ferment dietary substrates into short-chain fatty acids, predominantly to acetate, propionate, and butyrate. However, microbes can have also a detrimental effect on host health. Specific pathogens (e.g., Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, and enterotoxigenic Clostridium perfringens) have been implicated in acute and chronic gastrointestinal disease.
Recent studies have revealed a genetic susceptibility for defective bacterial clearance in Boxer dogs with granulomatous colitis. Differential expression of pathogen recognition receptors (i.e., Toll-like receptors) were identified in dogs with chronic enteropathies. Similarly to humans, a microbial dysbiosis has been identified in feline and canine IBD. Commonly observed microbial changes are increased Proteobacteria (i.e., Escherichia coli) with concurrent decreases in Firmicutes, especially a reduced diversity in Clostridium clusters XIVa and IV (i.e., Lachnospiraceae, Ruminococcaceae, Faecalibacterium spp.). This would indicate that these bacterial groups, important short-chain fatty acid producers, may play an important role in promoting intestinal health.
Changes in the immune function of the respiratory tract are (at least in theory) linked to the immunomodulatory activity of the gut microbiota via the concept of a "common mucosal response". The gut microbiota shapes systemic immunity, thus affecting the lung mucosa. Alternatively, changes in the gut microbiota may reflect alterations in the oropharyngeal microbiota, which may in turn directly affect the lung microbiota and host immune responses via microaspiration.
Alterations in composition and function of the microbiota have been associated with several gastrointestinal diseases (inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, or irritable bowel syndrome), as well as extra-intestinal pathologies, such as those affecting the liver, or the respiratory tract (e.g., allergy, bronchial asthma, and cystic fibrosis), among others. Species of Bifidobacterium genus are the normal inhabitants of a healthy human gut and alterations in number and composition of their populations is one of the most frequent features present in these diseases. The use of probiotics, including bifidobacteria strains, in preventive medicine to maintain a healthy intestinal function is well documented.
The major bacterial groups are similar to those found in other mammals, with Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria and Proteobacteria constituting more than 99% of intestinal microbiota. Several nutritional studies have demonstrated that the feline microbiota can be modulated by the amount of soluble fibers (i.e., prebiotics) and macronutrients (i.e., protein content) in the diet.
Probiotics have been shown to be effective in varied clinical conditions- ranging from infantile diarrhoea, necrotizing enterocolitis, antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, relapsing Clostridium difficle colitis, Helicobacter pylori infections, inflammatory bowel disease to cancer, female uro-genital infection and surgical infections. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG has proven beneficial affects on intestinal immunity. It increases the number of IgA and other immunoglobulins secreting cells in the intestinal mucosa. It also stimulates local release of interferons. It facilitates antigen transport to underlying lymphoid cells, which serves to increase antigen uptake in Peyer's patches.
In the last years, successful attempts have been reported to make infant formula more breast milk-like by the addition of fructo- and (primarily) galactooligosaccharides.
First, prebiotic compounds should be re-defined in the sense that they should enhance the ecological biodiversity rather than stimulating single species. Recent studies highlight that structurally different polysaccharides require specific primary degraders but also enhance a similar network of secondary degraders that benefit from cross-feeding. A faecal transplantation is a second approach to restore biodiversity when the microbiota is severely dysbiosed, with promising results regarding C. difficile-associated disease and obesity-related metabolic syndromes. A final strategy is the introduction of key microbial network units, i.e. pre-organized microbial associations, which strengthen the overall microbial network of the gut microbiome that supports human health.