How to Make a Simple Ferment: Step One to Better Gut Health for your Dog

The Gut Immunity Science

The gastrointestinal tract, or gut, is the largest immune organ in a dog’s body. The gut receives and then transports, and absorbs or prepares to eliminate what enters it. Because the gut is open to the environment with Epithelial cells as the only barrier between environment and bloodstream, its contents are not actually inside of the dog’s body until they are absorbed.

The gut immune system is continually processing what microbes are good and what are bad, while tolerating the neutral and harmless substances. Gut microbial populations are dependent on the dog’s age, genetics, environmental exposures, and diet. Gut microbes stimulate the immune system and it responds accordingly.

The Raw Notes: The intestinal microbiome influences nearly every tissue in the body. When there is a disturbance in the dog’s gut (gut imbalance) there can be misdirected immune responses to harmless substances. It’s said this breakdown of communication contributes to inflammatory bowel disease and food allergies. An example of this communication breakdown is when the gut barrier becomes permeable & the internal contents of the gut leaks into the bloodstream. #leakygut

Because these components don’t belong outside of the gut, the immune system views them as a threat & it attacks. If not corrected, this results in reoccurring dysfunction, which creates chronic inflammation; which can contribute to allergies, disorders, and diseases.

How Naturally Fermented Foods Work

By providing therapeutic modifications via naturally fermented foods (NFF), the multitude of microorganisms provided have been shown to outweigh the use of isolated prebiotics and probiotics. Ingestion of the bacteria contained in fermented foods, is found to cause marked improvements in balancing intestinal permeability and barrier function.

The Raw Notes: Naturally fermented foods generally contain beneficial probiotic bacteria types such as Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium; these are two that are specifically beneficial to canines.

Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are the dominant microorganisms and are important for correct fermentation; they produce organic acids, bacteriocins, vitamins, and other nutritional content. In the absence of oxygen, fermentation changes sugars into organic acids, alcohols, gases, & carbon dioxide.

Fermenting provides increased availability of nutrients such as, linoleic acid and bioactive peptides while removing unwelcome constituents like phytic acid; and it helps with the inhibition of food borne pathogens.

Synbiotics for Gut Issues… What’s That?

When we discuss the use of prebiotics and probiotics we often leave out the powerful combination of the two which is called a synbiotic. This is a food that offers both prebiotic and probiotic benefits. Synbiotics are often used as a therapeutic method to treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), and Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) in dogs from both holistic and integrative approaches.

When a prebiotic food is lacto-fermented, it takes on probiotic properties. This makes this naturally fermented food so similar to a synbiotic, that many people refer to them as synbiotics but because NFFs do not offer an isolated species of bacteria they are not considered to be synbiotic by many textbook descriptions. 

While there aren’t exhaustive studies done on naturally fermented foods, enough have been conducted to successfully show that naturally fermented foods have a better result long term in the support and treatment of gastrointestinal issues in dogs than an antibiotic only approach. While antibiotic responsive diarrhea (ARD) and a few other GI issues are of course more quickly corrected, these issues tend to return when the antibiotics run out or shortly thereafter and sometimes the issue is worse. This has been said to be attributed to the manner in which antibiotics work; being that they take a wide and broad swipe at all bacteria present, wiping out mass amounts of beneficial bacteria. Because long-term use of antibiotics is less than ideal, using naturally fermented foods is a better approach from a whole body perspective.

Make It Part of Your Feeding Regimen

By proactively feeding naturally fermented foods, we provide reoccurring support to the gut and immune system. However, the use of NFFs can be used as an integrative approach if an owner desires and this would call for the implementation of NFFs to begin promptly after the discontinuance of antibiotics. *A situation specific herbal protocol used in conjunction with NFFs would be a suggested way to go.

The Raw Notes: Some breeds are predisposed to Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) such as German Shepherds. This is due to their breed being highly reported to be deficient in secretory immunoglobulin A also known as IgA deficiency. When experiencing GI issues, GSD generally respond to antibiotics briefly but the return of issues is typical if an IgA deficiency is present. German Shepherds tend to need long-term gut & immune support because dogs suffering with reoccurring/chronic SIBO experience permanent functional damage to their intestinal mucosa. 

A Simple Ferment Packs a Whole Lot of Gut Support Oomph

Fermenting doesn’t need to be overly complicated to get the “good stuff” into your dog. For this recipe I choose purple cabbage for a few reasons:

Purple cabbage is a soluble fiber (prebiotic) rich in carotenoids and antioxidants that when fermented, are more bioavailable to a dog to utilize. The fermented prebiotics act as “food” for the bacteria strains.

Fermented purple cabbage makes for a great “starter” when reaching for one to use to start a new ferment. *the fermented juice from the purple cabbage is “the starter.”

Purple cabbage is fun! I mean, let’s be honest, it sure is a lot prettier than green cabbage.

How To Do It

Step One: Chop a head of purple cabbage into small pieces, the shape doesn’t matter as long as you chop the cabbage down into smaller pieces; sometimes I chop squares and sometimes I slice thin strips. 

Step Two: Help your cabbage brine. Cabbage calls for a 2% brine and it is a vegetable that “self-brines.” This means that when it is rubbed with salt, it creates its own juice by releasing its natural water content. Measure 3.5 g of pink salt and add it to your chopped head of purple cabbage. Rub your cabbage for about 5 minutes and cover it with a paper towel and walk away for 20 minutes. When you return, give it another massage for a couple of mins (2-3). Ideally, it will have created a noticeable amount juice that will be pooling in your container. This is your brine.

Step Three: Add your brined cabbage to your glass jar or fermenting crock. You need to stuff the cabbage into your fermenting container of choice and tamp it down so that there isn’t any gaps. This removes air pockets. The key to fermenting cabbage is lack of oxygen. I like the tamper pictured at the beginning of the article; I got it as part of this pickle-lid fermenting system I bought on Amazon.

As you tamp your cabbage into the fermenting container, you’ll notice the moisture begins to really draw out of the cabbage. If you are able to successfully cover the cabbage fully with brine, then there isn’t a reason to add more salt. If you didn’t obtain enough brine from the initial brining, then you can add 2 cups of water and another 5.5 g of salt. Keep your salt at a total of 9 g per 2 cups of water. Remember that you started with 3.5 g in the beginning when you first added salt. You can always add salt but you cannot take it away. Typically, your cabbage will have created enough of its own brine so you don’t generally need to make more with water + more salt.

Step Four: Clean up the interior of your container and if you are using a mason jar then drop a glass weight in.

If you are using a fermenting crock, then follow the steps needed for you to seal your crock. If using a mason jar, then this glass weight acts as the barrier/seal between the cabbage and the air. As these weights cannot be air-tight (or how would you be able to get them into the jar?), they will leave a very thin space around the parameter. This is where a pickle lid, an air-lock lid, or even a regular ‘ol plastic (BPA-free) lid comes in. We want to use a lid that doesn’t allow for air to get in so the correct fermentation that was outlined earlier in the article can occur.

Pickle-pipe lids do have a tiny pin-hole in the tip but this hole doesn’t typically impact the ferment as long as the hole hasn’t been enlarged in any way beyond the size that was originally left in it. Air-lock lids are great because they release the trapped gases. Sometimes a ferment will want to bubble over due to the live action occurring inside of the container and air-lock lids help keep this at a minimum. I use both the pickle-pipe lids and air-lock lids for my small ferments and I use my fermenting crock for large scale ferments.

Step Five: Walk away for 17 days. Now, you will likely have some maintenance to do during the next 17 days. You’ll probably have some scuzz to clean out that was created as the cabbage ferments. The scuzz tends to escape the glass weight and bubble up. You can easily wipe this out and remove any air gaps that may have been created during the movement of the cabbage (remember, it can move since there are live organisms at work).

Cabbage ferments quickly and can be ready as soon as 14 days. I prefer a 17-21 day time frame for my cabbage ferments. Once your ferment is ready, you can begin feeding it to your dog. Start with just a bit to see how it goes and then increase each day until you are at the called for amount of fiber you feed your dog.

Fermenting Crocks •  Gärtopf Crocks

If you aren’t familiar with fermenting crocks, they are gorgeous and amazing fermenting tools.

A fermentation crock, also known as a gärtopf crock and called a Harsch crock, is a crock for fermentation.

These crocks have a gutter style rim you fill with water so that when the top is put on an airlock is created, which prevents the food within from spoiling due to the development of surface molds.

Ceramic weights may also be used to keep the fermenting food inside submerged (mine has ceramic weights).

I had my crock made for me by a Ceramist out here in California, up north in Humboldt County, by the name of Mark Campbell. He’s “fermenting world” renowned and I highly recommend if you want to have a fermenting crock made, that he is the artist you commission to create it for you!

Recommendations when it comes to feeding fermented foods to puppies

The immunity a puppy has from its mother begins to dwindle once the puppy is weaned from their mother’s milk and exposed to more environmental factors. Once a puppy reaches about twelve weeks of age, most of its mother’s antibodies have faded and it is important to provide immune system support i.e., gut support.

Probiotics have shown to gently stimulate mucosal immunity. A study was conducted on six beagle puppies that focused on finding the effects of E. faecium SF68 (a lactic acid bacteria/LAB) on puppies. Puppies fed probiotics demonstrated higher phagocytic activity of neutrophils which is indicative of enhanced immune response. The probiotic fed puppies also showed higher IgA levels between weeks two through four.

Another study was conducted on large breed Labrador Retriever and small breed Shih-Tzu, and Miniature Schnauzer puppies who were fed probiotics from three weeks old through one year of age and findings reflected an increased level of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli compared to the control puppies.

The Raw Notes: Puppies need prebiotics and probiotics both as their systems need to be provided much through the diet while in a constant phase of growth. Puppies do not have as efficient of a digestive system as an adult dog. While carbohydrates should be limited in growing puppies, prebiotic fiber is important to help maintain a healthy gut microbiota.

Gut Support and the Aging Dog

The predominant bacteria found present in dogs is lactobacilli. It’s been found that the species composition of lactobacillus changes with age and it increases. Additionally, clostridium perfringens and enterococci both increase; while the presence of bifidobacteria begins to decrease during the transition from middle aged to the senior years. Providing correct gut support to an aging dog is crucial in supporting their immune system which isn’t as strong as it once was when they were a younger adult dog.

The Raw Notes: Providing added support to an aging dog’s gut is of importance. To learn more about the changes and how we can best support our aging dogs, visit my favorite guide by Fed to Thrive: Nutrition & Wellness for the Senior Dog.


Microbial Community Analysis of Sauerkraut Fermentation Reveals Stable and Rapidly Established Community

One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota

Canine and Feline Nutrition, Third Edition

Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

Balanced Diet Formulation for Adult Dogs | Canine Nutrition Course

Effects of E. faecium SF68 on Fecal Microflora in Puppies

Transition of the Intestinal Microbiota of Dogs with Age

Nutritional Needs According to Life Stage and Physiological Status | University of Illinois 

Understanding the Canine Intestinal Microbiota and its Modification by Pro-, Pre-, and Synbiotics | What is the Evidence

Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics and Naturally Fermented Foods: Why More May Be More | Department of Medicine, University of Maryland, USA

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