Sounds counterintuitive right? But probiotics are widely recognized as offering significant health benefits for people and pets alike.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria, yeast, or other microorganisms that produce a health benefit if given in appropriate quantities.
Inside our pets’ bodies (just like our own) live many microorganisms, both helpful and harmful. This collection of microorganisms all living together is called the microbiome. The microbiome is necessary for daily functions including the digestion of food and the production of some essential vitamins.
In a healthy body these microorganisms live in harmony with each other and with their host (our pets/us). When the body is sick, that balance is disturbed with more harmful-than-good microorganisms being present. By giving the body probiotics, the goal is to restore the balance of microorganisms and normal function.
When are probiotics recommended?
Research is currently ongoing to determine what type, combination, and quantity of microorganisms are best for certain diseases. Conditions where probiotics have shown that they may be helpful include feline upper respiratory infection, acute gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea), antibiotic-related diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease in dogs and possibly cats, and anxiety in dogs. Other conditions being investigated include dental disease, weight management, chronic kidney disease (CKD) and atopic dermatitis (allergy). Our veterinary team can make specific recommendations for your pet based on their health status.
Can I get probiotics at a pet store?
Similar to vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, which can be used to enhance a pet’s diet, probiotics are considered dietary supplements. While many probiotic supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions for administering probiotics to your pet may be significantly different from those on the label.
My friend went cross-border shopping and brought back probiotics for my pet. What should I know about them?
There are differences in how countries regulate supplements like probiotics. In both the United States and Canada, these substances are not regulated like medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label. In the United States, products bearing the seal of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) are believed to be reputable.
Can probiotics be harmful?
Because there is little to no regulation of probiotics, adverse effects are not required to be reported; however, they are believed to be generally safe. Patients who are severely ill or have compromised immune systems may be more likely to experience side effects. There is a risk of harmful bacteria in unregulated probiotic supplements and there are concerns that probiotics could increase antimicrobial resistance in other bacteria.
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
While probiotics ARE living organisms, prebiotics are not. They are non-digestible food ingredients, such as specific fibres that feed the desirable microorganisms (“good bacteria”) in the intestine. The intent of feeding a prebiotic is to increase the number and health of a microbiome’s good bacteria. Of note, a symbiotic is a combination of prebiotics and probiotics.
Our veterinary team keeps up to date on the latest research on using probiotics in our pets, so ask us what our recommendations are for your pet.