The one who demystifies the microbiome
Dr Jan S. Suchodolski, member of our Puppy & Kitten Expert Board, of Small Animal Internal Medicine Gastrointestinal lab at Texas A & M University. Dr Suchodolski’s area of expertise is the microbiome - the invisible ecosystem of microorganisms that make up much of our bodies, including bacteria to the tune of around 30-50 trillion cells - its relationship to health and disease in kittens and puppies, and how it is affected by environmental factors (diet, weaning, and antibiotics).
The animal microbiome operates similarly to that of humans. It is still a young science in the veterinary world and highly complex. However, to speak to Dr Suchodolski about microbiota is to walk away with a clear understanding that gut health is as important to the overall and long-term health of companion animals as it is to their owners. He refers to the microbiome as a big metabolic organ and believes the gut is the major driver for other diseases and disturbances in cats and dogs later in life.
The very beginning of an animal’s life is of particular interest to Dr Suchodolski. All animal species, humans included, are born without bacteria. They don’t stay that way for long, however.
Immediately after birth, micro-organisms start moving into the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, from those in the birth canal to other environmental bacteria. Over time, as young animals mature, the GI tract changes. For instance, when food is introduced or a diet is changed, digestive enzymes develop to break that food down. Through all this, the gut’s microbiome develops. As Dr Suchodolski explains, there are so many dramatic changes that occur in the first 8 weeks of life in the intestinal tract, that kittens, puppies and other young animals can be quite vulnerable during this time - to GI upsets and infections, for example. Adult animals are more stable long-term. All are equally important in the eyes of Dr Suchodolski and his team.
“There are so many dramatic changes that occur in the first 8 weeks of life in the intestinal tract... Puppies and kittens are quite vulnerable then.”
— Dr Suchodolski, Veterinary Gastroenterologist
His love of animals can be traced back to his childhood in Austria. Dr Suchodolski’s grandparents had a farm, and every summer and much of his youth was spent there interacting with all manner of animals. Even now, he has a veritable menagerie at his home in Texas, where the family pets include critters of the egg-laying, flying and barking varieties.
Dr Suchodolski joins the Puppy & Kitten Expert Board as its microbiome and gut health expert. Royal Canin’s longstanding and continued investment in science was what convinced him to take the role. As he says, “Science can help us understand all the complexities of early life and build models from our many different observations”. To Dr Suchodolski, working together as a collective to meaningfully impact the future health of kittens and puppies feels like the perfect use of each member’s expertise.