Everywhere we look we see products that include probiotics or prebiotics. They can be in supplements, known as nutraceuticals, over-the-counter foods or therapeutic diets.
According to many claims about probiotics and prebiotics, they can improve the immune system and gastrointestinal function. But if you're confused by the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, you're not alone.
One of the differences is that prebiotics feed intestinal bacteria, while probiotics are one type of those bacteria -- the good type. Prebiotics are billed as feeding only beneficial bugs in the gut, but research indicates they feed both good and bad microorganisms.
Another confusing thing about prebiotics is they are commonly referred to as fiber because they are non-digestible. Prebiotics are actually complex sugars, and the most common source for them in inexpensive pet food is dried beet pulp. In better quality brands, they're often listed as fructo-oligosaccharide, chicory root, or garlic.
The Quality of Probiotics is Key
Another distinction between pre- and probiotics is that prebiotics are commonly added to pet food, but probiotics can't be (or shouldn't be).
If you do happen to run across a pet food claiming to contain probiotics, I recommend you leave it right there on the shelf. Probiotics are sensitive to moisture and heat, so if they're added to a pet food formula – especially kibble – they will be long dead and virtually useless by the time they make it into your dog's or cat's digestive tract.
Tests on dog foods claiming to contain probiotic micro-organisms showed the manufacturing process kills too many of the live bacteria, rendering the probiotic effect useless by the time the food is packaged and shipped. High quality pet probiotics have some important things in common, including:
The correct strains of bacteria beneficial for pets, not people
Easy to give to your dog or cat
The ability to survive the acidic environment of your pet's stomach
Enough live organisms to colonize the intestines
Product stability under normal storage conditions
Do Vets Use Probiotics?
Many vets who practice holistic and integrative veterinary medicine have known of the benefits of probiotics for decades. But because probiotics are a supplement rather than a drug, the traditional veterinary community and those it serves have been slow to incorporate it into pet health care protocols.
Fortunately, things are changing for the better. An increasing number of traditional vets, pet owners are using probiotics to:
Help animals in shelters manage the stress of abandonment and confinement
Alleviate stomach upsets while pets are being boarded
Reseed the gut with beneficial bacteria after a round of antibiotics
Calm digestive upsets caused by travel and dietary changes
Improve digestion and stool quality in large and giant breed dogs
Boost immune system function, especially in pets that are very young, elderly, or have compromised health
A puppies intestinal bacterial balance begins forming when their mom licks them. The bacteria accumulated in the first couple of weeks of an animal's life can ultimately affect their long-term bacteria colonization. When animals are orphaned or even when they have loose stools, a probiotic can help remedy the situation.
In an Ideal World......
We already know that humans shouldn't eat over processed foods and that we should be eating a variety of fresh, whole foods and the same is true of our pets. It is much healthier for your pet if you feed natural, whole food (Bones and Raw Food) as part of a balanced, species-appropriate diet rather than a commercial pet food formula with a list of 'extras' like added prebiotics, cereals they can't metabolise, sugars (fructooligosaccharides and mannanoligosaccharides) and colourants.
Jumping on the bandwagon
The next concern, is that pet food companies will use the growing interest in probiotics by pet owners and vets to create food formulas containing substandard, essentially useless probiotic additives. Then of course, their marketing people will get busy positioning these ‘new-and-improved’ formulas in such a way that consumers will believe they are providing high quality probiotics conveniently contained in the food they serve their dog or cat.
It’s troubling to know that some of the very biggest pet food giants responsible for the poorest quality diets available – formulas that have largely contributed to the compromised health of millions of companion animals -- are the same ones now leading the industry’s charge to get probiotics-related pet products to market.
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