Probiotics and prebiotics seem to be all the rage over the last couple of years, but what do these buzzwords mean, and how can you incorporate them into your pet’s lifestyle? Better yet, should you even incorporate them?
Let’s start with probiotics, which are live microorganisms that can benefit the host when present in adequate amounts. These “good” bacteria act to aid digestion and keep out the “bad” bacteria.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers probiotics that are labeled with medical indications for animals to be unapproved, they have been shown to have powerful benefits. They not only enhance immune function, but they also play an important role in the treatment of animals with gastrointestinal conditions.
In humans, probiotics have proven useful in many conditions such as recurrent urinary tract infections, prevention and treatment of allergies, pancreatitis and bladder stones. There is no reason to believe that they cannot be of benefit to our pets as well!
Probiotics for pets come in a variety of forms, ranging from palatable pastes to powders applied to food to tablets. Most are quite tasty and are easily given to both cats and dogs. Your veterinarian may sell them in his or her office or may recommend an over-the-counter brand to you. Because probiotics are not regulated by the FDA, their quality varies greatly from brand to brand. If you decide to buy over-the-counter brands, be sure to consult your veterinarian first for recommendations, otherwise you may be wasting your money.
You can think of prebiotics as food for probiotics. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not living organisms at all. They are actually soluble fiber sources that are used as food by the good bacteria in the intestines. The digestion of fibers by bacteria results in the formation of volatile fatty acids and vitamins, which have a beneficial effect on the lining of the bowels and on the patient as a whole.
Some prebiotics are available in supplement form, though more commonly, pet food producers are working to incorporate them into high-quality diets.
Much of the knowledge we veterinarians have regarding prebiotics and probiotics stems from their use in human medicine, and we hope that they will prove as beneficial to our pets as they are for us. However, remember that the intestinal microflora of our pets is quite a bit different from our own, so steer clear of supplements made for humans, as they will likely be of no benefit to our pets.
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