It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how the digestive tract can affect general health, but if gut health is poor it can lead to a range of other problems. Even chronic diseases such as arthritis and skin disease can have digestive disturbances as an underlying cause. Similarly, the digestive tract is sensitive to an entire range of factors. Stress, anxiety, and depression can have a negative effect, as can medications, lack of dietary fibre, parasites, food allergies or dysbiosis or disturbances in the gut microbiome. Maintaining a healthy digestive system The basic principle in maintaining digestive health is to feed a good diet. A real food diet can be commercial or home- made with a variety in ingredients to ensure a broad range of nutrients. There are health advantages to a diet comprised of whole foods rather than highly processed foods, but your veterinarian might prescribe a special diet if necessary. A veterinary nutritionist or integrative veterinarian can help to ensure a home-made diet is nutritionally balanced. Ideally if you are using a premium quality pet food look for one with added supplements like fibre, antioxidants, and probiotics. When making any changes to the diet, particularly when shifting from dry foods to fresh foods -where the form is quite different, do this over 4-5 days, gradually decreasing the existing diet and increasing the replacement diet. It is important to include probiotics in the diet if your pet has undergone surgery or a stressful event, following any course of medications or if the stools are inconsistent. Probiotics help balance the microbiome in the gut, and their byproducts provide nutrition for cells lining the gut. If your pet is stressed, have this addressed as stress and anxiety frequently underlie chronic and recurrent gut problems. Some animals will even get diarrhoea when stressed. An effective way to monitor digestive health is to monitor stool quality. Check the kitty litter tray or follow your dog and check the poop on a regular basis. They should be easy for your pet to pass, easy to pick up and dispose of, well formed and consistent. Your pet should also be regular. The volume and frequency will depend upon their diet. Avoid fasting unless your pet is unwell. In the wild animals fast because they cannot find food or because they are unwell or are digesting a large meal from the day before. It is not fair to enforce a fast on pet that has no choice and is otherwise normal. It can be stressful and counterproductive. However, there is evidence that pets can benefit from once daily feeding- a form of intermittent fasting which can improve metabolic health. If you are not worming routinely, submit a poop sample to your vet. Where they can run a test and let you know what the worm status is. When to call the vet Always consult your vet if there is: VomitingDiarrhoeaPain, crying or pantingStraining to go to the toiletBlood evident in the stoolDark tarry stoolsMucous in the stoolDistended abdomen Signs of Digestive system problems Bad breathMucous or jelly in the stoolBloatingFlatulenceNoisy gut rumblingsWeight lossFussy appetiteBurpingColour change in the stoolLarge volume of stoolLoose stoolDifficulty in passing stoolPale tongue with or without white coating Supporting digestion and health can be as simple as modifying the diet and or adding in a dietary supplement such as Fibiotic pro – with probiotics and fibre sources to enhance the natural microbiome in the gut and therefore the health of the digestive system. Maintaining the health of the gut reaps rewards in improving overall health and wellbeing. Who would have thought that the gut has such a significant role to play!