A dog’s indiscriminate taste is not always a positive trait. In fact, it can lead to gastrointestinal infections and consequent ailments such as diarrhea and vomiting that come from eating spoiled food.

Other dogs develop gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, that are not directly attributed to the diet, but are influenced by intestinal bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Illinois are working to devise dietary interventions to combat these infections through advanced DNA pyrosequencing technology.

This new method of DNA sequencing has helped researchers uncover the phylogeny in a healthy dog’s gut. The goal was to obtain a standard that could be used as a comparison to diseased states in the future.

“It’s a first step toward making progress in our understanding of how diet affects gastrointestinal infections,” said Kelly Swanson, PhD, University of Illinois associate professor of animal science. “Dogs do not rely heavily on microbial fermentation as it pertains to energy requirements, but a balanced and stable microbiota is critical for maintaining gastrointestinal health.”

More than 80,000 DNA sequences were evaluated in the first study to reveal that the highest number of bacteria present in the gut were Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes. Fusobacteria, while not as common, were also among the highest number of bacteria found.

In a follow-up study, using approximately 1 million DNA sequences, the team identified the metabolic pathways that exist in intestinal bacteria of healthy animals including nutrient metabolism, virulence and stress response, Swanson said.

Swanson and his teammates are interested in continuing to learn how dietary intervention, pharmaceuticals and age affect microbial populations.