What are Probiotics?
The word probiotic means “for life,” the Latin preposition pro means “for,” and the Greek word bios means “life.” Probiotics are living microorganisms that are essential to your pet’s overall well-being. They are not only found in the digestive tract but also all over your pet’s body in places such as their nose, ears, genitals, skin, and mouth.1 Some foods contain probiotics, or they can be given in powdered, capsule, or liquid form.
Why Give Them?
Your pet’s digestive tract has its own unique microbiome (aka an “ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms” 2). These microorganisms are beneficial for helping with digestion, nutrient absorption, the production of B vitamins and enzymes, and for dealing with diarrhea, ear infections, and possibly even behavioural issues 3, just to name a few.
In fact, “ studies regarding the biological consequences of probiotics in host immunity suggested that they regulate the functions of systemic and mucosal immune cells and intestinal epithelial cells. Thus, probiotics showed therapeutic potential for diseases, including several immune response-related diseases, such as allergy, eczema, viral infection, and potentiating vaccination responses.” 4
So clearly probiotics in and of themselves are important. But why do we need to supplement our pet’s diets with them? Aren’t they already inside their GI tract?
- While it is easy to understand why a sick animal may need to be given supplemental probiotics why do healthy animals need them?
- The answer lies in the everyday stresses the average companion animal is exposed to nowadays. These stresses can cause a pet’s beneficial bacterial levels to suffer and remain below ideal levels.
- Examples of Common Stressors
- Inappropriate food
- Insecticide-based flea and tick treatments
- Chemical dewormers
- Toxic household cleaners
- PBDE exposure from bedding and carpets
- Antibiotic use
- Chlorinated Water
- Examples of Common Stressors
Why Different Strains of Bacteria are Important
Studies have shown that the strains of bacteria vary greatly throughout the digestive tract of mammals. “In general, bacterial number and diversity increase gradually along the GI tract.”5 Therefore supplementing your pet with only one or a few strains is less likely to bolster bacterial counts throughout their GI tract as certain strains of bacteria only thrive in certain parts of the digestive tract.
I mention this because one very popular probiotic that is recommended by most conventional vets (*cough* FortiFlora) contains only one measly bacteria strain and no prebiotics. Not to mention its chock full of chelated minerals and animal digest which are problematic enough on their own.6 & 7
What About Prebiotics?
“Prebiotics are food ingredients that travel undigested to the colon where they ferment and are converted into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, acting as a source of energy for colon cells and preserving electrolyte and fluid balance; this allows the intestine to move properly. When present in the bowels, prebiotics can promote and support healthy digestive flora.”8
Think of prebiotics as the food for the probiotics living in the GI tract. Some healthy options for prebiotics include raw dandelion greens, raw garlic (yes it is safe in small amounts 9), and larch tree fibre. There are probiotics available on the market that contain both prebiotics and probiotics. The one I use is made by The Adored Beast and is called “Love Bugs.”
Sources of Probiotics
As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many different sources of probiotics. Some of my personal favourites include:
- Raw goat’s milk
- Fermented foods
- Note: When looking at probiotics make sure to look for products with no fillers and a CFU (Colony Forming Unit) count in the billions.
How often should you give probiotics?
I recommend giving probiotics or probiotic-rich foods daily to help keep your pet’s various microbiomes in optimum condition. However, you need to do whatever works for your lifestyle and budget. If you can only do once a week right now do that! Some good bacteria is better than none!
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