Although there is paucity of research data concerning the development of intestinal microbiota of dogs and cats, it can be considered to follow a similar pattern as known for other mammals. Intestinal colonization is a gradual process starting immediately after birth. In newborn puppies and kittens the alimentary canal is sterile but is quickly inhabited by bacteria from birth canal and environment. The dam usually licks the newborn thoroughly thus transferring its own indigenous bacteria to her offspring. Within 24 hours the numbers of bacteria in various parts of the gastrointestinal tract of a newborn puppy are similar to those of an adult dog (2).
The indigenous intestinal microbiota is considered an integral part of the host defense mechanisms. It forms a barrier against pathogen colonization and also influences the host's immunological, biochemical, and physiological features (6).
Once the microbiota has become established, it is relatively stable. Oral antibiotics may have a marked effect on the homeostasis of intestinal microbiota. However, these changes will be re-established relatively soon (7-9). Disturbances in the gut microbiota may result in diarrhea, malabsorption, and chronic intestinal inflammation (10). Acute diarrhea may be fatal as pathogens may invade the host's tissues resulting in bacteremia and sepsis.
Ageing has documented effects on the constitution of intestinal microbiota in dogs. Numbers of bifidobacteria and peptostreptococci diminish with ageing whereas Clostridium perfringens and streptococci are more prevalent in the large bowel of elderly dogs (1).
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