Jan Suchodolski portrait

Credentials: Veterinary Gastroenterologist • Animal gut health specialist • Dr. med vet, PhD, DACVM, AGA (Fellow)

Homebase: Texas A&M University Small Animal Clinical Studies Gastrointestinal Laboratory   

Where in the world: College Station, Texas

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.

5 questions with Dr. Suchodolski


Do you have pets of your own?

We certainly do. We have 3 dogs--- a German Shepherd who is 12, a Boston Terrier, and a 2-year old mixed breed. A ‘Heinz 57’. The last two are rescues, and we got the German Shepherd from a breeder. We also have 7 chickens, 7 Guinea Fowl and a Pionus parrot who is 25 years old. They all get along really well. Whenever we get a new dog, we take it slow. The chickens stay in the coop for a while, though the parrot wanders around. Once everybody is acclimated, they all see it as normal. We like cats too but with all the birds and open fence-free land, it might be complicated to add them to our environment.

Who in your home names your pets?

Without a doubt, it is my kids. They get free reign, too, so we are often pleasantly surprised by the creativity behind the names – or, on the other hand, the total simplicity. But we have always wanted the kids to care for the animals as much as we do and this is a great way of making sure they are really implicated. So yes, the kids are in charge of naming at my house.

What's the weirdest work of your everyday work life?

No one word, but anything to do with poop. For me it is so normal - I see a poop sample as good bacteria and a healthy microbiome - so I am always surprised that people are grossed out by it. And they are. For us in the lab, poop is the key to understanding the microbiome. We know why it can be important. And speaking of normal for us but with a big ick factor for non-scientists: fecal transplants...

What would change for our animal friends if you had a magic wand?

The complexity of a new field would be made simpler and easier to understand so we could advance more quickly. Medicine has so many facets to it, there is no one simple solution, especially in GI disease and working with puppies and kittens. We want to help pet owners keep their pets healthy. Know where I can get one of those magic wands?

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

I could not imagine doing anything else. I have colleagues who are wistful, there are other things they might have enjoyed studying. But I love what I do so much. Looking back on my career, I have enjoyed every step of the way. If I could go back, I would still be a scientist, I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s no hope for me.

“Science can help us understand all the complexities of early life - and help change outcomes later.”

— Dr Suchodolski, Veterinary Gastroenterologist

Meet other members of the team

Virginie Gaillard and Franck Peron portraits

The ones who brought the idea to life

Virginie Gaillard & Franck Peron

Doctor of Pharmacy and Pharmacology & Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

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Cecilia Villaverde portrait

The one who feeds pet health

Cecilia Villaverde

Bachelor in Veterinary Medicine -
Specialist in Companion Animal Nutrition

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Oliver Forman portrait

The one who investigates pet genomes

Oliver Forman

Geneticist - Specialist in Inherited Diseases in Companion Animals - Wisdom Health 

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A Healthy Start in Life

Puppyhood is a time of massive physical and behavioural change, and a steep learning curve for new owners. Find out how you can provide your puppy with the best start to life so they develop into strong, healthy dogs.

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