More and more products with prebiotics, probiotics, or both are popping up on grocery store shelves. What exactly are these “biotics” and why are they so popular? Have you ever wondered whether or not your pet needs them too?
1. What are probiotics?
The term probiotic means “for life”. Probiotics are the good microorganisms (bacteria or yeast) that when provided in adequate amounts can improve the health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Stress, antibiotics and poor diet can upset the balance of the microorganisms in the GI tract leading to illness in your pet. Supplementing your pet’s diet with probiotics is a means to improving GI tract health.
Probiotics need to be taken daily in order to maintain consistent levels in the GI tract, so feeding a pet food that contains probiotics is an ideal way for your dog or cat to get a daily dose.
2. What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics contribute to the GI health of your pet because they feed the good bacteria (probiotics) in their digestive tract. The most common examples of prebiotics in pet food are chicory root extract, inulin, oligofructose, and fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Studies have shown that pets fed a diet that contains prebiotics have higher levels of beneficial bacteria in their stool, particularly Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Prebiotics have also been shown to improve regularity and improve stool quality.
The prebiotic found in many GO! SOLUTIONS™ and NOW FRESH® products is inulin made from dried chicory root. For most pets, no additional supplementation of pre- or probiotics is necessary, though some circumstances may require higher doses.
3. What is the microbiome and what affects it?
The microbiome is the community of microorganisms that inhabit a human or animal’s body. Some scientists consider the microbiome to be a new “organ” because of its importance to the immune system and overall health. In humans, it has been reported that there are more than 10 times as many microbial cells than human cells. Diet, antibiotics and illness can disturb the composition of the microbiome. Fortunately, the microbiome is quite resilient and can restore itself when it has been disturbed, though this could take several months or even years.
An imbalance in the composition of the microbiome has been associated with digestive disorders, such as gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Ingredients such as prebiotics and probiotics in pet food are a way to improve the balance of the microbiome.
4. Should dogs and cats be fed yogurt as a source of probiotics?
Yogurt may provide benefits for your dog or cat since new evidence suggests that consuming a variety of probiotics from food is beneficial. However, probiotics are not the same as the “live and active cultures” found in yogurt. These refer to the Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles that are used to ferment milk to make yogurt. The majority of yogurt in the marketplace is made with these two starter cultures. A known benefit of these cultures is that they break down the lactose found in milk for easier digestion.
Some yogurts have added probiotic strains. Since yogurts are generally sold for human consumption, the probiotic strains are those shown to be beneficial in humans, but not necessarily pets. Research in dogs and cats on the benefits of each probiotic strain used in yogurts is still required.
5. Will feeding probiotics help my pet with allergies?
Although it is believed that there is an association between the gut microbiome and allergies, more research is needed. According to the World Allergy Organization “probiotics do not have an established role in the prevention or treatment of allergy”.
Written by the Health & Nutrition Specialists at Petcurean. Reviewed by Natasha Haskey, MSc, RD, specialist in pre- and probiotics.
1.Fiocchi A, et al. World Allergy Organ J 2012;5:148-167.
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