Unknown Speaker 0:00
Welcome to the Naturally Healthy Pets podcast. Let's get to it.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Welcome to this week's episode of Dr. Judy Morgan's Naturally Healthy Pets. And this week we're going to focus on kitty cats who are so often overlooked. We get so caught up in talking about things with dogs. We tend to head more that way. And I think that we need to pay special attention to our little furry four footed purring kids. So my guest today is Holly Ganz, PhD. She's the Chief Science Officer and Co-Founder of AnimalBiome. Great, great stuff going on at AnimalBiome. A former academic scientist, Holly has translated her research in the microbiome into solutions for pets. She started by assessing 10s of 1000s of micro biomes to reveal common imbalances. And then she developed better approaches to maintain and restore gut health, including screened fecal microbiota transplantation material via oral capsules. So there's a lot of big words in there. Holly, thank you so much for joining us today, we're going to have you tell us what all that just meant. So first of all, what is the gut microbiome? Why should we care?
Holly Ganz 1:14
Exactly. So yeah, so So it turns out that there are a lot of bacteria that live in and on us and on our pets, and livestock and other other animals that play important roles. And we just didn't tell we were able to, you know, do DNA sequencing, and we couldn't really characterize them. We knew a lot about the bad bugs. But we didn't know that there are all these host of good ones that are helping with digestion and more.
Holly Ganz 1:40
And so the microbiome or bacteria, fungi, and other little tiny microorganisms that live on and in us, and they play, we should care about them, because they like they help with digestion, they make nutrients more available for us, they produce neurotransmitters, they interact with the immune system. And the more we learn about it, the more critically, we find that they engage with all the body systems.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Exactly. And do you so you've studied 10s of 1000s, of micro biomes. And I assume, when you have looked at these, you've looked at healthy animals, you've looked at sick animals, and you're able to make comparisons of where we would what the ideal scenario would be, versus the Oh, my gosh, this is a mess.
Holly Ganz 2:27
Yes, I mean, it's a complicated system, right? So we like to say it's like our rain forest in your gut. And so, you know, it's not simple. Like, there's like three things. And if you don't have them, you're sick. And, you know, so everybody's a little bit different. It's like a fingerprint. But we like to focus on the what were the core members of the community that are found in most healthy cats and dogs. And, and trying to understand why they might be so common, in healthy individuals, and then why they may be absent in ones that are sick.
Dr. Judy Morgan 3:00
And so what kind of what kind of things affect the the makeup of the microbiome? Is it all diet related or age related? How do we, how does the microbiome change what things affect it?
Right? I mean, so first off, like when we're born like, we aren't, don't have a gut microbiome yet. So we start to colonize, you know, with humans it is during birth. With pets, right? They come a little bit encased so it's, it's after the mother licks them and starts to nurse them, that you get the first microbes colonizing. And then from the environment, right, and from the other puppies and kittens. And, and then so that's where it starts off. So that and when they're nursing, right diet plays a huge role. So there's a completely different microbiome for nursing. Yeah. And then when they, you know, get weaned and it does su stabilize. And then later in life, things start to drop off and it declines with age. So it is a promising target to look at trying to like help maintain and support health longer.
Dr. Judy Morgan 4:11
And do we just how much effect does the diet have? So we're talking kitty cats. And a species appropriate diet for a cat is going to be a there obligate carnivores, it's going to be a very high meat diet with a little bit of fiber. But we know that probably the majority of cats are fed high carbohydrate dry kibble. How? How does the microbiome change? Probably like a textbook textbook full of information that you could give me. But how does the microbiome change and what differences for better or worse do you see in a kibble fed cat versus maybe a raw fed cat? Does does the microbiome shift based on what they're being fed?
Holly Ganz 5:01
Absolutely. So the so we recently did publish a study that's everyone can look at if they're interested on the cat microbiome. And one of the things we looked at was diet, in healthy cats, and there's a tremendously strong effect of diet.
Holly Ganz 5:16
And like in when we surveyed sort of, through a citizen science project, like many healthy cats in North America, a lot of them are on kibble. But yeah, biologically appropriate diets would be like for for a cat would be like eating the whole mouse or the whole bird, right? The whole carcass nutrition like one of my friends likes to talk about.
Holly Ganz 5:35
We know that many cats are fed commercial foods, and these foods are having a big effect on what we see. We don't really know like, long term like what's healthiest, right? Like, there's, it's like, food is sort of political for people. Because we don't in the absence of data, right, we have our beliefs. And, um, but what, what I've seen is that I think some of some kibbles, probably more like affordable budget ones maybe don't have as much protein as cats really need. They're obligate carnivores. And but I think because maybe so much research focused on dogs, dogs are a little more flexible, you know, in what they eat, than cats, some foods don't, I think, have as much protein as we would like to see. And then there's sort of the other extreme, where people are maybe making their own raw diets, and they're forgetting to put some fiber in there. And like, normally, like if a cat is killing its prey, they're gonna get exposed to fiber from fur and feathers and cartilage and other things that are harder to digest.
Holly Ganz 6:31
That you know, most people aren't going to put in if they're grinding up muscle meat to feed.
Holly Ganz 6:35
So we see an effect, I think, on both ends, like I think some of the kibbles do include some nice high quality fibers, that the microbiome is very responsive to.
Holly Ganz 6:46
And so what I would through the best of all worlds, I think, would be to have through the whole carcass nutrition. Plus, you know, a little bit of a supplement of some nice fiber blends too just help add a little diversity.
Dr. Judy Morgan 6:59
Have you studied the microbiome? And I'm not advocating this? I'm really against this. But have you studied the microbiome in vegetarian cats, cats that are fed a vegetarian diet?
No, but you know, it's a huge topic for humans. And of course, humans are omnivorous, and very different. So we know that the microbiome is very responsive to vegetables. And like the more one of the big things that came out of the American Gut Project, which was a UC San Diego study was like, the more vegetables people ate that, like, more diverse their microbiomes were.
Holly Ganz 7:31
So I mean, I think there are some vegetarian cat foods on the market, but we haven't yet done a study. I was coming I in a past life I was working on like cheetah microbiome. So I was coming more from a sort of Wildcat perspective. And so haven't done a study on that yet. But it is there are people who have, you know, have their values around the food chain, and I want to do that. So I think that it would be we did do a study on a vegan dog food, but not cat.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Yeah. So for those who are listening, I'm really not a fan of vegan and vegetarian kitty cats. It is just not what they are meant to eat. It is not the way that we should feed them, it's really hard to keep them at their peak of health on a vegetarian diet, because that's not what kitties eat. So what is the Kitty Microbiome Project?
Right? So it's really how everything got started. For me. I was a researcher at UC Davis. And I tried to get some funding just to understand like, how does the cat microbiome get established and the meaning of life? And how does it vary across life. And this was like, a decade ago, and it was really hard to get funding for that kind of work.
Holly Ganz 8:41
So I decided to do a Kickstarter, which I called the Kitty Microbiome Project. And I just said, Hey, people, I want to do science for cats.
Holly Ganz 8:50
And I asked my friends and family to help me and get this project started. Because, as you probably know, like, there's just not a lot of funding for academic research on pet health. It's just a big gap. We care about human health, and not as much for pets in terms of our research dollars. So I actually had this pretty successful Kickstarter, people said, like, their cats had chronic problems, and they were like, I've tried everything. Please help me and so that's sort of what I was born out of was like, just send us your cat food. We are going to sequence the bacteria and we're going to subscribe what we see and I asked like a million questions about what diet they were on and even like, did they go outside and kill kill prey and what prey and I couldn't get any farm pets because nobody could find their poop. Go outside.
Holly Ganz 9:43
You know where they're well. I'd love to start one. Shelter cats and house cats and farm cats and sort of trying to add start to answer some of the questions that people have been asking for humans about how lifestyle and diet affects the microbiome and then look at disease as well. So this was really the beginning of it. And this initial paper, which took a while to come out is really trying to look at like, what are the bacteria associated with health. And then we're going to start to publish additional papers on different disease states, which you know, there's so many, and it's very complicated. The main thing that we had to do really carefully here is that the microbiome does change with disease and change with age. And so all of the cats that we ended up reporting on here didn't have any health conditions. And we had like, we didn't have a lot of very old cats, because they ended up with something by the time they're, they're geriatric, so and that can affect the microbiome.
Dr. Judy Morgan
So in this study, you only wanted to look at younger, healthy cats without complicating. So if we have a cat that no matter what age, if it has something like kidney disease, that is going to change the microbiome.
That's right. And that's really one of the things we're going to be looking into this year is conditions like CKD, and seeing how the microbiome is altered. Because, you know, that will help us to come up with ideas for how like, you can better support kidney function, because we think that the microbiome plays a role there. Like it's been said, It's like another kidney. I mean, just as all these things. But first, we need to see, you know, what, what it looks like in healthy individuals in order to understand these other conditions.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Yeah, absolutely. I know that. Years and years ago, we started using as Azodyl, which is basically probiotics for kidney failure animals, because to help bring the BUN down, because the bacteria would utilize some of the nitrogen waste products, and then it would be excreted instead of being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. So I think this, the more information we can glean on how the microbiome plays into that, and how we can support it is really, really critical. So this is, this is pretty cool. And so you said in another lifetime, you worked with cheetahs. So do you and I think you came out with like, the the animal biome was, at least what I knew originally was focused more on the dogs. Did you start out the the AnimalBiome company focusing on dogs?
No, we start at we started with cats. Cats were first but you know, people care more about dogs. I mean, it's the people who care about cats care way more about cats, but like, we started with, well, we start with cats, we added dogs pretty quickly. But yeah, and I did a doggy biome Kickstarter the summer after. So it's just that it was a couple years later than the kitty bio one.
Holly Ganz 12:51
And that might have been where people started to be aware that we even existed.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Yeah, I think it just became a little more mainstream and a little more well known. I think that I think I met yo initially down in Texas. You were talking about the doggy biome at that point, I think? I think not really sure.
Holly Ganz 13:12
Yeah, at a conference. I remember meeting you.
Dr. Judy Morgan
This is really cool stuff. So this is, we all have certain things that we geek out about. And it's really funny, because I joke about the fact that in my email, or on my messenger in my phone, or through social media, I get poop pictures, pretty much daily. And you know, my friends make fun of me. And they say, Well, you're the only person I know who has to open their email every day to pictures of poop. Except you're even better. You actually get poop in the mail. So I don't get samples in the mail.
Holly Ganz 13:50
I have gotten my share of poop pictures. And then yeah, I love them. We made our own poop chart with some of them. I'm sure you could do your own.
Dr. Judy Morgan 14:00
I probably could. All right. So so how, what kinds of things. So we talked about? Actually, we're gonna take a break in just a second. So I want to talk when we come back about, we talked about disease, kidney disease and aging can affect the microbiome. But I definitely want to get a little more into other things that can affect the microbiome for the worse, and then how do we support the microbiome? How do we repair a microbiome that has been destroyed by whatever so there's a lot more that we need to dig into. And we'll be back in just a minute.
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Dr. Judy Morgan 15:38
Welcome back to the Naturally Healthy Pets podcast. With me today is Dr. Holly Ganz, and we are discussing kitty cat micro biomes. Basically kitty poo.
Holly Ganz 15:49
Dr. Judy Morgan 15:51
So what kinds of things will cause imbalances in the microbiome in our kitty cats?
Actually, I'd say the most important thing is probably antibiotic exposure. But why do they end up needing antibiotics, parasitic infections, pathogenic infections, where they end up needing to go on it? And then, I mean, like, we find certain parasites are pretty common in cats. I don't know, where do you find our problems? Where you are? It does depend somewhat regionally.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Well, I mean, certainly, intestinal parasite problems, but for our house cats, we don't find that to be as big an issue. Certainly antibiotic usage for dental problems, urinary tract infections, that kind of thing. I think antibiotics are overused, but that's a different conversation.
Dr. Judy Morgan 16:46
But so the definitely a lot of antibiotic usage. But I think that, I mean, in my mind, the microbiome gets kind of messed up every time we give any kind of drug or chemical, whether that's a non steroidal anti inflammatory, we're gonna do an anesthetic procedure for anything. So I would think that any of those kinds of stressors on the body is going to cause a change in the microbiome.
That's right. And yeah, I mean, I think with the kitty biome project, a lot of people reported that their cats hadn't had a dental and were given, like clavamox, or some other pretty strong antibiotic prophylactically. And then they ended up with diarrhea that didn't resolve despite everything that they tried. And that's why they were like, coming into this project where I was like, I don't know, if I'm gonna tell you anything useful. We just want to understand what's normal for cats. And they're like, We need more data and research on cats. So here's my cat's poop.
Holly Ganz 17:50
Yeah, and so what happens is that some of these antibiotics are not just knocking back the bad bacteria, but they kill off some of these good ones. And you can't get them in any mainstream probiotic today. So, you know, sometimes they like just go to low levels, and they can recover. But more and more, we're finding that like, some individuals, like they just never get them back.
Dr. Judy Morgan 18:13
Yeah, I have to say that, we saw that a lot in practice, where something changes, they they go on an antibiotic for a parasite problem or for an infection, and then it's just we can't get them back to that level of perfect poop. Or it takes a really long you would think, okay, I gave the antibiotic for 10 days, the diarrhea happened, the vomiting, whatever. And then you're like, Okay, good. Well, I finished the antibiotic, and we're not back to normal. So if that happens, what's what's the best thing for people to do?
Holly Ganz 18:55
I mean, really, I think that you can give it some time. But um, the best the gold standard, I would say, is to do a fecal transplant. So those are those poo pills that, you know, were a mouthful in the beginning.
Holly Ganz 19:08
And it's totally a weird idea. But it's actually been practiced, you know, like Chinese medicine for more than 1000 years and in veterinary medicine, at least in like Europe, where we like more recent history, like for livestock, they've been doing it for over 300 years, right? Like, if you have a sheep, yeah, who can't digest their food, but you can imagine they have all these microbes, helping them digest plants that are really like, cellulose, it's very hard to digest that. So veterinarians notice that pretty early on. Of course companion animal medicine is right. It's a little over 100 years old, it is more recent.
Holly Ganz 19:42
But so basically, it's healthy individuals have all these good things, and some of them that we find that most disease states in both people and pets, they're missing things. And the only way to get them back right now is a fecal transplant. There are people developing cocktails for humans and we're doing them for pets. Our first one is going to be for cats. We have new ones, but right now it's but that's a whole research project that takes multiple years. And, and I think also fecal transplants are way more promising for veterinarians, because they can, they can do them for today. Whereas in human medicine, doctors can only do them for a C Diff infection. So it says there just not as accepted, accessible for people, which is really sad, because there a lot of people with some of these same problems.
Dr. Judy Morgan 20:32
Absolutely. So when we see cases of IBD I mean, clearly, there could be some food intolerances. But I think that food allergies are a lot less common than then people like to think. So if we have an animal with inflammatory bowel disease symptoms, or diagnosed IBD, would that be an animal who has a microbiome imbalance? And would we be able to get a lot of those animals straightened out and back on a good path with fecal transplants?
So we do have a paper that's in, in revision right now, where we looked at that for cats. And like, more than 75% of the people whose cats took a 30 day course of these capsules did report improvement in some of those symptoms, like diarrhea, vomiting, constipation. Um, but when we look at the microbiome, we do see, like we saw small but significant changes towards healthy but I would say like, right, you know, chronic inflammation it takes, there's other factors at play. And so it's complicated, but it really is helpful for alleviating some of the symptoms. And some individuals, it's like one and done, some of them have to keep doing it. It's we tried to like see what's the like, minimum amount that they need to sort of keep supporting things, it's it is really complicated. We there's data support, suggesting that some individuals, their immune system is actually targeting these healthy bacteria and killing them off.
Holly Ganz 22:05
And that came out of Colorado State. But um, but it is like, it's a simple thing to do. It's I think, relatively low risk for cats and dogs right there. And their GI transit time is way faster than ours. They can eat dead things that we can't eat. And it's it's I think nature's first probiotic is a poobiotic.
Dr. Judy Morgan 22:25
So Holly is the person who will mail you poop pills to give your cat or your dog. But we've we've seen great results with it. I know in practice. So our options if we want to do a fecal transplant are as a veterinarian, I can make a fecal slurry and I can put it up the back end of the animal, or I can make a fecal slurry and tube itdown the front end of the animal. Or we can buy fecal capsules, really a lot easier. And it doesn't require an anesthetic procedure or a trip to the veterinarian. So how, how do you how do you make the poop pills?
Yeah, this is a great question. So for starters, we were running a stool bank, we're always recruiting healthy animals for it. We pick up poop six days a week, we process it carefully so that we're trying to protect as many of the bacteria from the freeze drying process. So we're freeze drying it? Well, first, we scrape off any contaminants, right? We mix it with something to protect the bacteria, then we put in a freeze dryer. I mean, this is actually after we bank it for a month and test it. So there's we know that there are parasites and pathogens in it, because that's the last thing right, a sick pet. Right? I mean, we don't want to do harm, but we're trying to help and not hinder.
Holly Ganz 23:47
And then we powder it. We actually have these big, like large coffee grinders, every donor has their own, we clean we're very careful about cleaning, for obvious reasons. And this is a job that, you know, only certain people are willing to do and they do it because because it really is game changing. So it's you know, I view it as very much a labor of love.
Dr. Judy Morgan 24:09
Yeah, absolutely. But, but it's cool. It's really cool science. So I think this is kind of my last question. But is there a is there a big difference between the microbiome of dogs versus cats versus people because I actually read one study where they looked at human microbiomes and the dogs that lived in the house with them and found that they kind of started matching each other but is there a big difference in dogs and cats and people's microbiomes?
I love that paper that song it all came out a few years back probably 2015 or 14 or so but um yeah, so they that was a study out of Colorado and they actually had sort of, they were looking at like people and how much they share their bacteria in couples or married people and and and, and then they sort of included the dogs as like a control or something and then they what they didn't realize is their people spend time a lot of time petting the dog. And so they were sharing microbes with the dogs. And I think people who had dogs shared more microbes, because there were more interactions between all three of them than if they didn't. So it was very surprising. An interesting finding, right, but it sort of makes sense. I have a very affectionate dog. So I'm sure we're sharing all kinds of things.
Holly Ganz 25:24
Yeah, so I think I've gone down. Is there something else that you wanted me to talk about in terms of what cats and dogs just right?
Dr. Judy Morgan
Are they different cats and dogs? Are their microbiomes similar? Are they really different.
So all our microbiomes are different. And they're different enough that actually, this is just a geeky thing. But like for the primates, they have actually looked at the composition of bacteria in the gut. And they've been able to redraw the phylogeny of all the primates based on gut bacteria. So there's a, like a signature like, right, we get our first microbes from our mom, and they got it from their mom. So there's this really cool lineage, that's still traceable, if you look deep enough at the data. So cats and dogs are different. One really large, obvious difference, is like future bacteria in place is more prevalent and more abundant in dogs and people. That's my dog.
Holly Ganz 26:10
And so there are so we need to and there are other groups that are more cats than dogs. And, you know, we don't really know why, just that they are, they are different. And then the other study was, there was another study on IBD in people and dogs and they Yeah, and basically bacteria was actually bad in people, and it's kind of a Goldilocks group and dogs where if it's absent, it's associated with IBD in dogs.
Dr. Judy Morgan 26:37
Pretty awesome. I'm really glad that there's people like you that love to study this stuff, because it's definitely not my wheelhouse. Holly, thank you much. So anybody who wants more information about this project or fecal transplants for your animals or testing your animal for fecal for their microbiome? Go to AnimalBiome.com We'll put links in the show notes. Holly, thank you so much for agreeing to be a guest. You are a wealth of information.
Thank you so much, Dr. Morgan.
Dr. Judy Morgan
Thanks for listening to another great Naturally Healthy Pets episode. Be sure to check out the show notes for some helpful links. And if you enjoy the show, please be sure to follow and listen for free on your favorite podcast app. We value your feedback and we'd love to hear from you on how we're doing. Visit DrJudyMorgan.com for healthy product recommendations, comprehensive courses, upcoming events and other fantastic resources. Until next time, keep giving your pet the vibrant life they deserve.
The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. It is no substitute for professional care by a veterinarian, licensed nutritionist or other qualified professional. You're encouraged to do your own research and should not rely on this information as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Dr. Judy and her guests express their own views, experience and conclusions. Dr. Judy Morgan's Naturally Healthy Pets neither endorses or opposes any particular view discussed here.