The gut microbiome
Our pet’s gastrointestinal tract contains a complex population of microorganisms (aka the microbiome). Depending on its composition, the microbiome may be helpful or harmful to the host. As such, research into probiotics has grown within the last 10-15 years. Originally used for pets with diarrhea or adjunct therapy for pets on antibiotics, we are now using it for chronic illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, anxiety/behavioural issues, autoimmune diseases, and even as a means to prevent or treat obesity. It seems that a stable community of gut flora is important not only for gastrointestinal health, but for overall pet health.
What is a probiotic?
The FAO/WHO definition of probiotics is: “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. While fermented foods, such as yogurt, have benefits, the benefits of the food could not be separated from those of the microorganisms, therefore these foods cannot be considered probiotics.
Uses of probiotics
- Acute or antibiotic associated diarrhea
- Chronic diarrhea
- Boosting immune function
- Dental disease
- Weight management
- Chronic kidney disease
- Bladder stones (oxalate)
- Atopic dermatitis/allergies
- Prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections
Choosing a probiotic
There are a multitude of pet probiotics on the market and choosing one can be quite difficult. Because probiotics are not considered a medication, the regulations are extremely lax. There are certain parameters that one must consider before deciding. These are:
- Can the company guarantee the safety and efficacy of the product?
- What studies have they performed?
- How many colony forming units are in the probiotic?
- Are they actually alive and functional?
- What specie(s) are in the probiotic?
- What is the shelf-life of the probiotic? Does it need to be refrigerated or is it freeze-dried?
The nutritional management of the balance between beneficial and pathogenic bacteria within the GI microbiome is an important tactic that both pet owners and veterinarians can use to manage certain conditions, and also support the general health of the animal. If you are interested in trying probiotics with your pet, your friendly neighbourhood veterinarian can help walk you through the different choices and brands.