Gut Health for Pets: A Guide to Supplementation

Prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics… Do they work? Are they safe? Here’s a practical guide to supplementation and gut health for pets!

Gut health and gut supplementation walk side by side these days.  Everywhere we look there are a bunch of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics that claim to be effective in promoting health and wellbeing. But is this really the case? Even though there is strong scientific evidence that proper supplementation benefits gastrointestinal health, not every product does its job right.
It is time to acknowledge how efficient each supplement can be and what lies beyond their shinny label. Here’s your practical guide for optimal gut health for pets!

The stomach is packed with bugs

Not all microorganisms are bad. In fact the good ones harboured in every pet intestine, also known as microbiome, are important allies to keep the body healthy and to enhance a competent immune system. Because most pathogens enter the body through the mouth and arrive at the gut, the resident microflora must be working optimally to cope with the onslaught of foreign substances and pathogens to which the intestines are constantly exposed to.

This is where prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics jump in as helpers in modulating the intestinal microflora.

Prebiotics: always setting a cozy environment

They are nondigestible food ingredients powered with the ability to significantly modulate the colonic microbiota by creating favorable conditions for the growth of beneficial bacteria over harmful ones. These friendly bacteria will then produce nutrients favored by the intestinal cells, resulting in a healthy gut and happy pet. 

The most frequently used prebiotics are dietary soluble fibers, like FOS (fructooligosaccharides), easily obtained from soybeans, oats, beets or tomatoes.

Probiotics: the bacteria themselves

Since it is quite challenging to efficiently add them to foods, probiotics are mostly available as supplements or nutraceuticals. They include a strain or a small group of strains of living microorganisms, being the most common ones lactic acid–producing bacteria (Lactobacillus spp., Enterococcus spp., Streptococcus spp. and Bifidobacterium spp.). Specific strains of Escherichia coli and some yeasts like Saccharomyces boulardii are also known to make some magic.

Scientific research suggests that probiotics are a great weapon in treating gastrointestinal problems like acute diarrhea, antibiotic-associated gastrointestinal signs and even some conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or chronic enteropathies.

Be aware that not all probiotics are suited for the same problem as they are strain-specific and each strain may have unique functional and immunologic properties. They do not follow the lead “one fits all”, so avoid buying without previously seeking for advice with our Vet Care team or your own vet. We’re here to help you guarantee optimal gut health for pets!

Synbiotics: the best combo

Synbiotics are a balanced combination of prebiotics and probiotics, in which the first ones enhance the role of the second ones. So the prebiotic will improve the conditions in the gut, increasing the probiotic survival rate by enabling optimal proliferation and adherence of the beneficial bacteria. 

Benefits can also be obtained by using 2 separate products given at the same time.

Get a quality product

Take the US as an example: prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics are not regulated by law… So ensuring you get a quality product depends on knowing what they are and how they work. Most commercially available probiotics suffer tremendous loss of activity during storage… Which turns them into a very expensive and non-effective pool of bacteria.

Besides, studies have shown that many product labels do not provide enough information about the probiotic strain and amount. Some even state incorrect scientific names of the bacteria! This indicates potential poor quality control and makes it difficult to choose the appropriate product for clinical use.

What about safety?

Generally speaking, gut supplements are quite safe for both dogs and cats. The most common side effects of prebiotics are flatulence and abdominal discomfort due to increased intestinal gas production. They can also lead to some degree of constipation or loose stools, like what happens with probiotics. 

These side effects might be easily overcome though, just by reducing the dose for the first few days. 

Fortunately, more severe symptoms are very rarely reported. Still, that does not mean you should give supplements to your buddy without contacting a vet in advance! Especially if your pet already has a chronic disease. 

So let’s cut to the chase. By now you are fully aware that the great majority of prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics available are not effective. So if you want to provide the best product to support a happy and healthy intestinal tract with a hard-working and friendly population of beneficial bacteria… Get proper medical advice. There’s noone better than a vet to fully guide you throughout this puzzle, and help you achieve optimal gut health for pets!

And as a matter of curiosity… So far no studies have shown that supplementing pet diets with yogurt or other fermented food products, such as kimchee, benefits the pets themselves.


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