You’ve heard the old adage, you are what we eat, but more accurately, you are what you feed the trillions of microbes that live in your gut… And the same applies to our cats and dogs. Today, researchers are looking into how gut bacteria and other gut microbes are impacting our pet’s health. What we already know, is that the intestines are seen as the largest part of the immune system in the body, comprising ∼70% of the total system and that having the right gut bacteria has been linked to health benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, enhanced immune function, healthier skin and a reduced risk of allergies and other diseases.
In short, prebiotics are specialized plant fibres that act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth and proliferation of healthy bacteria in the gut. Typically, prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides (FOS, GOS, MOS, inulin to name a few) and are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fibre and resistant starch. Because these carbs aren’t easily digested by the body, they pass through the digestive system mostly intact, and instead become the perfect food for gut bacteria and other important microbes.
What to use
Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), inulin, mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) and others. That being said, currently, there isn’t a consensus about the parameters for use of nutraceutical products containing these and many foods rich in these compounds can be toxic to our pets. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist before incorporating any of these into your pet’s diet. At ECVC, we often recommend soluble fibres such as 100% pumpkin, oat bran, barley, psyllium husks, rice bran, flaxseed, SAFE fruits and vegetables (carrots, apples, etc.). Remember to start low and go slow (and always under the supervision of a veterinarian!).
Probiotics in turn, are live microorganisms (in most cases, bacterial). They are often referred to as “friendly bacteria” or “good bacteria”. These specific strains of bacteria are believed to somehow add to the population of healthy microbes found in the intestines.
What to use
Like prebiotics, you can add probiotics to the diet through both food, and supplements. One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers of probiotic products is “survivability” of the bacteria. Most commercially available products have been found to suffer loss of activity during storage. For these reasons, we recommend Fortiflora and Proviable brands, which have been proven to be reliable veterinary options available. Remember to keep the packaging in a cool, dry environment away from air exposure, sunlight or heat.
As directed by your veterinarian. Unlike prebiotics, the use of probiotics is more of a short-term therapy based on need rather than a long-term therapy. Probiotics should be used any time a pet is on antibiotics, they should stay on probiotics until at least three days after the completion of antibiotic therapy (remember not to give probiotics at the same time as the antibiotics.. 2 hours before or after is best!). Prebiotics are considered more beneficial long term to help keep naturally occurring gut probiotics healthy and in sufficient numbers. That being said, make sure not to go overboard, too much of a good thing can add unwanted calories and even cause diarrhea.