High-throughput DNA sequencing techniques allow for the identification and characterisation of microbes and their genes (microbiome). Using these new techniques, microbial populations in several niches of the human body, including the oral and nasal cavities, skin, urogenital tract and gastrointestinal tract, have been described recently. Very little data on the microbiome of companion animals exist, and most of the data have been derived from the analysis of the faeces of healthy laboratory animals. High-throughput assays provide opportunities to study the complex and dense populations of the gut microbiota, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoa and viruses. Our laboratory and others have recently described the predominant microbial taxa and genes of healthy dogs and cats and how these respond to dietary interventions. In general, faecal microbial phylogeny (e.g. predominance of Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria) and functional capacity (e.g. major functional groups related to carbohydrate, protein, DNA and vitamin metabolism; virulence factors; and cell wall and capsule) of the canine and feline gut are similar to those of the human gut. Initial sequencing projects have provided a glimpse of the microbial super-organism that exists within the canine and feline gut, but leaves much to be explored and discovered. As DNA provides information only about potential functions, studies that focus on the microbial transcriptome, metabolite profiles, and how microbiome changes affect host physiology and health are clearly required. Future studies must determine how diet composition, antibiotics and other drug therapies, breed and disease affect or are affected by the gut microbiome and how this information may be used to improve diets, identify disease biomarkers and develop targeted disease therapies.
Keywords: Canine; Feline; Health; Microbiomes.