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Probiotics and Prebiotics

Ever wonder what all the hype is about concerning Probiotics and Prebiotics? Confused about what health claims are fact and what is fiction concerning this new natural supplement? Not sure what the difference is between a probiotic and a prebiotic?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria which are in a state of hibernation until eaten by the consumer. These microbes are in a state of suspended animation, much like common yeast, becoming active when the reach the intestinal tract following consumption. Upon colonizing the intestinal tract, these beneficial bacteria help us to digest our food, and help us to absorb nutrients and minerals, they produce beneficial vitamins, chemicals, as well as enzymes while preventing the colonization of disease causing bacterial invaders we are exposed to on a daily basis. These same “good bacteria” then help stimulate our immune system, and regulate metabolism. In the dog, more than 70%of the immune system has been shown to be located in the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract of the individual. No wonder that even minor disturbances of the GI tract can affect the overall health status of the pet.

A prebiotic is necessary fiber that feeds the beneficial microorganisms present in the gut or that are provided in the prebiotic.

Humans and animals are born without any bacteria in our system. Our intestinal tract eventually becomes host to approximately 100 trillion of these tiny micro-organisms. In the average human this can amount to 2 to 6 pounds of microbes. Even small disruptions in our micro flora has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Once pathogenic or disease causing bacteria take hold of an intestinal tract they will pass through the intestinal wall to invade the rest of the body. The trick is to make sure your gut and that of your pets contain primarily beneficial bacteria. These native microorganisms will be affected by your diet, age, exercise, and especially the use of antibiotics. As our lives change, so do the bacteria in our guts. Today our GI tracts contain only two-thirds the bacterial species found in individuals who have never taken antibiotics.

To date most commercially available probiotics formulations contain mixtures of Gram positive Lactobacillus, Enterococcus faecium and/or Bifidobacterium bilfidum. All are lactic acid producing bacteria commonly seen in fermented foods such yogurt, cheeses, beer and animal feeds. All are believed to help prevent the colonization of the gut with aggressive Gram negative bacteria that can cause disease. Bifidobacteria is a type of bacteria transferred in breast milk.

Studies to date substantiate that certain pet probiotics help to ease chronic digestive ailments, prevent stress-related diarrheas and help boost the immune system. Most of these products consist of capsules, chews, powders and pastes sprinkled or squeezed on foods. Not all supplements available are created equal, in this currently largely unregulated market. The Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario Canada, tested 25 pet probiotic products and found that most were not accurately labeled and did not contain the bacteria type and/or the concentration of beneficial bacteria promised. Three supplements that were correctly labeled include: Purina FortiFlora for Dogs and Cats and Nutramax Laboratories Proviable for Dogs and Cats as well as Horses. Nutramax has conducted studies showing beneficial effects of their products to ease the clinical effects and duration of diarrhea. Purina-funded research has found FortiFlora to boost immune-system activity at a cellular level in pets.


  • http://phys.org/news/2014-12-explores-role-gut-bacteria-obesity.html
  • Beck, Melinda. “In the Gut: The Mix of Bacteria Can Affect Weight.” The Wall Street Journal. Tuesday, November 18, 2014. Pp. D1 and D4.
  • Johannes, Laura. “Probiotics to Help Pets with Digestive Woes.” The Wall Street Journal.
  • “Probiotics Can Transform Your Health.” Newsmax. October 2014. Pp. 78-79.
  • Tremayne, Jessica. “Prebiotics, Probiotics and Intestinal Health.” Veterinary Practice News. July 2011.
  • Wonderling, Laura. Henry Schein Animal Health. June 2013. P. 16
  • Yersin, Andy. “Probiotics 101: How to pick Supplements. Veterinary Practice News. November 2014. P. 34.
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