Probiotics and Your Pet's Happiness
Probiotics are live, natural products given by mouth (oral) in the hope that they will colonize the gut and so improve the balance of the resident micro-organisms, thereby restoring or maintaining normal gut function. Their use is indicated in a wide range of situations, e.g. in times of stress and in old age. But perhaps the strongest indication for their use is when normal gut bacteria levels are severely damaged. Antibacterial therapy, heavy parasite burdens causing the gut damage and gut infections all have the effect of depressing bacterial populations and may create conditions which favour the growth of pathogens. Use of probiotics at these times will replace the lost beneficial bacteria.
There are a number of products and herbs available; some supplements consist of bacteria alone, others include yeasts, for example Brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast has traditionally been used as a supplement for dogs and cats and is a good source of thiamine. It is often recommended that dogs are given yogurt as an aid to recover from gastrointestinal upsets. This contains beneficial Lactobacillus species, but it needs to be a live culture to be effective.
In many cases, the addition of live yogurt or other probiotics to the diet does appear to have a beneficial influence on the gut bacteria populations despite the fact that the validity of the exercise has been questioned by those who doubt the ability of the organisms to survive in the acidic environment of the stomach. However, gastrointestinal upsets caused by ingestion of contaminated material would seem to imply that if the contamination is sufficiently high, some micro-organisms will survive the acid onslaught in the stomach and pass through to the intestines to cause problems there. If this is the case, then provided that the food is seeded with a high number of live beneficial bacteria, sufficient will pass through to colonize the small and large intestines.
As reported in Bacteria in the Gut: Friends and Foes and How to Alter the Balance, by R. A. Rastall [ref], there are few studies on probiotics in companion animals. One recent study investigated the application of Lactobacillus acidophilus DSM 13241 in canines. The researchers concluded that feeding of the probiotic resulted in positive changes in the gut microbiology and in systemic effects that suggested immune system stimulation as observed in humans after they consumed Lactobacillus spp [ref].
Probiotics have been investigated as dietary management tools for many years in human as well as livestock animal studies. The concept is that ingestion of beneficial bacteria leads to colonization of the gut with the added strain, and this then strengthens the gastrointestinal (GI) barrier to disease. Although bifidobacteria are the most significant health-positive organism in the colon, their obligate anaerobic nature has hindered commercial development.
Probiotic cultures naturally occur in certain fermented foods. Below is a list of different beneficial strains of probiotic bacteria:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum — the most dominant probiotic in infants and in the large intestine. Supports production of vitamins in gut, inhibits harmful bacteria, supports immune system response and prevent diarrhoea [ref];
- Bifidobacterium longum — supports liver function, reduces inflammation, removes lead and heavy metals [ref];
- Bifidobacterium breve — helps colonize healthy gut community and crowd out bad bacteria [ref];
- Bifidobacterium infantis — alleviates IBS symptoms, diarrhoea and constipation [ref];
- Lactobacillus casei — supports immunity, inhibits h. pylori and helps fight infections [ref];
- Lactobacillus acidophilus — relieves gas, bloating, improves lactose intolerance. Shown 61 percent reduction in e. coli, lower cholesterol levels [ref] and creation of vitamin K. Also, important in GALT immune strength;
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus — a powerful probiotic strain that has been shown to fight harmful bacteria that invades your digestive system and is stable enough to withstand the acidic digestive juices of the stomach. It also neutralizes toxins and naturally produces its own antibiotics [ref];
- Lactobacillus brevis — shown to survive the GI tract, boost cellular immunity, enhanced natural T-killer cells and kill h. pylori bacteria [ref];
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus — supports bacterial balance and supports healthy skin. Helps fight urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and reduce anxiety by reducing stress hormones and GABA neurotransmitter receptors [ref]. Also, survives GI tract;
- Bacillus subtilis — an endospore probiotic that is heat-resistant. Elicits a potent immune response and supports GALT [ref]. Suppresses growth of bad bacteria like salmonella and other pathogens;
- Bacillus coagulans — an endospore probiotic that is heat-resistant and improves nutrient absorption. Also has been shown to reduce inflammation and symptoms of arthritis [ref];
- Saccharomyces boulardii — a yeast probiotic strain that restores natural flora in the large and small intestine and improves intestinal cell growth. It has proved effective in treating inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s [ref] disease. It’s been shown to have anti-toxin effects [ref], be antimicrobial, and reduce inflammation [ref].
It should be noted that many of the possible health benefits of probiotics still require more scientific research to be proven for humans, but also more so for our fur kids. Probiotics have been linked to benefits in healthy people. Some strains of probiotics are used for the following prevention / management situations for humans:
- Reduce incidence or duration of common respiratory tract infections;
- Improve blood lipid profiles;
- Improve digestion of lactose in lactose malabsorbers;
- Help improve immune function and inhibit pathogens;
- Reduce crying time in colicky babies;
- Manage mild digestive symptoms or intestinal regularity [ref];
- Reduce antibiotic-associated side effects.
Due to the similar natures of canine and human digestive track, we are making the assumption that probiotics will yield similar results when used as part of daily dietary routine with your fur kids. However, very little research is currently available, and we therefore, other than the articles below, the most supportive references can be found published through WebMD [ref].
Other natural sources ...
Similar to yogurt, this fermented dairy product is a unique combination of milk and fermented kefir grains. Kefir [ref] has been consumed for well over 3,000 years, and the term kefir was started in Russia and Turkey and means “feeling good”.
Kefir is created by the fermentation of milk by the bacteria, and yeasts in kefir starter breaks down lactose in the milk. That is why kefir is suitable for those who are otherwise lactose intolerant.
It has a slightly acidic and tart flavour and contains anywhere from 10 to 34 strains of probiotics. Kefir is similar to yogurt, but because it is fermented with yeast and more bacteria the final product is higher in probiotics.
If you want to learn more, check out this article [ref] on how kefir benefits your and your fur kids' health.
Made by fermenting the juice of young coconuts with kefir grains. This dairy-free option for kefir has some of the same probiotics as traditional dairy kefir but is typically not as high in probiotics. Still, it has several strains that are great for your and your fur kids' health.
Coconut kefir has a great flavour and you can add a bit of stevia (for human consumption only!), water and lime juice to it and make a great tasting drink. If you are going to make coconut kefir for your fur kids, please do not flavour it with anything.
Possibly the most popular probiotic food is live cultured yogurt or greek yogurt made from the milk of cows, goats or sheep. Yogurt [ref] in most cases can rank at the top of probiotic foods if it comes from raw grass-fed animals. The problem is there is a large variation on the quality of yogurts on the market today. It is recommend when buying yogurt to look for three things. First, that it comes from goat’s, sheep milk or A2 cows milk; second, that it is grass-fed; and third, that it is organic.
Goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and A2 aged cheeses are particularly high in probiotics, including thermophillus, bifudus, bulgaricus and acidophilus. Always buy raw and not pasteurized or you will not be getting any of the probiotic benefits.
There are many probiotic supplements available on the market today. Pet parents and guardians should pay specific attention when selecting or purchasing supplements for their pets, or purchasing food that claim to contain probiotics. Our approach is the inclusion of reputable probiotic sources, in live (liquid) culture form, through supplementation. What we do know is that many of the off-the-shelf supplements make claims they cannot defend and that in high temperature processed foods, probiotics seldom survive the process.
Additional Articles and Videos
Good reference articles & videos further reading available at:
- Probiotics: The Single Greatest Thing You Can Do to Enhance Your Pet’s Health (Mercola)
- The 6 Best Probiotics For Dogs, By Patricia Jordan DVM, Dogs Naturally Magazine (Dogs Naturally Magazine)
- Probiotics: Even Your Traditional Vet May Now Recommend This Pet Supplement (Mercola)
- Why Give Antibiotics When This Natural Supplement Works Just as Well? (Mercola)
- Probiotics: The One Supplement Every Pet Should Be Taking (Mercola)
- Probiotics in the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, by Kevin Whelan, Eamonn M.M. Quigley (PubMED
- Dr. Peter Dobias on Probiotics are much more than digestive support" (YouTube)