Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Animals and bacteria have a symbiotic relationship, meaning they are mutually beneficial to each other. Without bacteria, animals could not survive. For example, the majority of the immune system is found in the gastrointestinal tract, which contains 70% of all immune cells. Therefore, a healthy GI system is essential to a patient’s overall health.
Disclaimer: Always consult a veterinary professional before starting probiotics, supplements, essential oils, or any over the counter medications.
Good vs Bad
On average, animals can have up to 4 pounds of bacteria in their body, depending on size. The majority of bacteria is found within the gastrointestinal system and is made up of both “good” (beneficial) and “bad” (harmful) bacteria. Both are necessary, but need to have the correct balance.
There are many different causes for an imbalance in the good/bad bacteria ratio. Stressful situations (boarding, grooming, traveling, etc), antibiotic use, steroids, surgery, parasites, diet changes, toxins in food or water (chlorine for example), and dietary indiscretions and other factors can all cause a decrease in good bacteria.
The advantages of probiotic use have been more widely studied in human medicine. Recently the ideas have been applied to veterinary medicine, though holistic veterinarians have proclaimed the value for many years. Here are some of the possible benefits:
- Treating or preventing diarrhea
- Inhibit growth of harmful bacteria (E.coli, Salmonella, Clostridium, Helicobacter, etc)
- Regulates bowel function
- Support healthy immune system
- Decreases gas
- Increase absorption of nutrients such as Magnesium
- Produce enzymes to aid in digestion
- Manufacture vitamins (Vitamins B & K, for example)
- Lower cholesterol
- Maintain proper pH levels
- Maintain a healthy mucosal lining which prevents bacteria and toxins from entering the blood
- Help control populations of yeast and bacteria that may lead to infections
Probiotics can be found in many forms; including powder, capsules, tablets, liquids, pastes, and in treats or food. Powders have been found to be most effective. Not all probiotic products are created equal. Often the bacteria are killed during the production process. Some products may not contain the correct organisms or exact amounts that they claim. It is important to consult a veterinary professional; they can help choose which product is right for the pet and their condition.
It is important to follow the directions specific to the product. Some may need refrigeration, have an expiration date, must be given with a meal, etc. If given incorrectly, the organisms may be killed by stomach acid before reaching the intestinal tract, which defeats the purpose. Side effects are rare when used as directed. More is not always better; the dose given should be determined by the veterinarian based on the patient, condition, and product.
Human vs Pet Specific
The answer to this depends on who you ask. A few sources have seen some benefit of human probiotics given to pets. Others argue that the organism should originate from the species it is intended for. The truth is, information and studies of both the human and companion animal microbiome (GI bacteria and environment) are still evolving. New research is concentrating on developing species specific products and their beneficial secondary effects. Purina® has released a probiotic product called Calming Care®. This particular strain of bacteria helps pets maintain calm behavior, promote positive behavior, and promotes a positive emotional state.
Based on the information we have, specific strains of these bacteria have been shown to be beneficial:
- Enterococcus sp.
- Lactobacillus sp.
- Bifidobacterium sp.
- Acidophilus sp.
- Bacillus sp.
- Streptococcus sp.
Could you pet benefit from adding probiotics to their diet? Your pet’s annual exam is an opportune time to ask questions. Give us a call at 444-5797 to schedule an appointment.