The bacteria that live in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract are critical in maintaining health and vitality. This population of bacteria goes by many names including gut flora, intestinal flora, microbiome, microbiota and many more. The gut flora helps digest food, modulate the immune system and can even influence hormonal balance and brain chemistry (think mood and mental health). Those are big and important jobs!
Dysbiosis (Lack of balance)
The types of bacteria in this population are vital. There is a spectrum of good and bad bacteria. Simply put the good bacteria promotes health and the bad bacteria promote inflammation and disease states. When the population of bacteria becomes out of balance, there are more bad bacteria compared with the good bacteria. This state is called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis, is caused by many things that are common in our modern world including the following:
- Long term use of steroids
- Processed foods
- Chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, etc.)
We can’t always avoid these conditions. Antibiotics are needed to fight life-threatening infections. Steroids may be needed to save your pet’s life. I am in no way suggesting that you can always decline medical therapy that can cause dysbiosis.
The Benefits Probiotics
Here is the good news! If your pet does need antibiotics or has dysbiosis for any reason, there are many things we can do to promote a better, more balanced microbiome. In this article we are going to focus on how adding probiotics to your pet’s diet can have a positive impact on their health.
The body of research on how bacteria affect health is growing every day. Here is a brief overview of some of the benefits researchers have already discovered:
- Allergies: People that suffer from allergies have a higher likelihood to suffer from intestinal dysbiosis. Research has suggested that certain strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium may prevent certain food allergies. A study done in dogs with allergic disease showed improvement after taking a certain type of Lactobacillus.
- Bacterial Infections: Certain strains of probiotics such as Lactobacillus have been shown to have antibacterial properties against deadly bacteria like Listeria and E.coli. Think of it as a natural antibiotic.
- Diarrhea: A study done in a group of shelter cats showed a decrease in the number of cases of diarrhea when given E. faceium. Probiotics have also been shown to decrease the duration of acute diarrhea in dogs.
How do I give my pet probiotics?
There are two simple ways to feed your cat or dog probiotics. First, you can buy an over the counter supplement. I am going to outline a few of the most common brands on the market. The second way is to make your own probiotics with fermented foods. The benefit of fermented foods is the number and variety of live bacteria can be much higher compared with purchased probiotics.
OTC (Over The Counter) Probiotics
To simplify, there are five types of bacteria that are beneficial to your pet’s microbiome that are commonly found in commercial probiotics:
- Enterococcus (generally limited to faecium)
- Beneficial yeast such as Saccharomyces.
- Beneficial bacteria from soil
Here is a comparison of four commercially available probiotics for cats and dogs. There are three important questions you want to ask when selecting a probiotic. First, what type of bacteria are present? Second, how many CFU (colony forming units) aka the number of bacteria per serving are present? What are the other ingredients present?
RxBiotic by Rx Vitamins for Pets (Powder)
- 2 Billion CFU per ⅛ tsp
- Multistrain: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium infantis.
- Other ingredients: fructooligosaccharides, larch arabinogalactin
- My opinion: This is also a favorite for small dogs and cats. The ability to measure out small, concentrated doses is extremely helpful. I like the addition of the prebiotics as well as the clean ingredient list.
- 2 Billion CFU per capsule
- Single Strain: Lactobacillus sporongenes or Bacillus Coagulans (bacteria from soil)
- Other ingredients: cellulose, hypromellose (derived from cellulose) capsule, silicone dioxide
- My opinion: Bacteria from soil has many advantages. Not only is it inexpensive but it doesn’t require refrigeration. I have seen great results with this probiotic.
Fortiflora by Purina
- 100 million CFU/packet
- Single strain: Enterococcus faecium
- Other ingredients: animal digest, dried yeast, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Vitamin E supplement, beta-Carotene, zinc proteinate, taurine, salt, manganese proteinate, ferrous sulfate, copper proteinate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite.
- My opinion: Having a single strain can have benefits for sensitive animals. I would like to see more CFU per dose.
Proviable DC by Nutrimax
- 5 billion CFU/capsule
- Multistrain: Enterococcus faecium, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Enterococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Latobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum
- Other ingredients: Fructooligosaccharide, gum arabic, maltodextrin, gelatin, magnesium stearate, ascorbic acid, titanium dioxide.
- My opinion: I like the number of live bacteria in this probiotic. The variety of strains can be helpful for some pets. This is a reputable company that does regular testing to ensure that you giving your pet live bacteria. I don’t love all the extra ingredients.
VetriMega Probiotic Capsules by Vetriscience
- 5 Billion CFU/capsule
- Multistrain: Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus Brevis, Bifidobacterium longum, Enterococcus thermophilus.
- Other ingredients: microcrystalline cellulose, fructooligosaccharides.
- My opinion: This is one of my favorite probiotics. It has a high number of bacteria per capsule and not too many extra ingredients.
While commercial probiotics can be therapeutic and easy to give, homemade probiotic can be more powerful and even more beneficial. Fermented foods (homemade probiotics) often have a higher count of bacteria and a greater variety of good bacteria and yeast. Another bonus for fermented foods is that they are so inexpensive. For my patients that have been given antibiotics or are suffering from chronic disease, I often suggest using both over the counter preparations plus fermented foods.
Fermenting foods at home might feel intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will see how easy it can be! Check out my tutorial on fermented blueberries.
That was a lot of information! While I could write page after page after page about the benefits of probiotics, here is a quick summary of what we just covered and next steps to get started!
- Probiotics are beneficial for both animals that are healthy and those that are experience disease. These beneficial bacteria can improve digestive and immune health.
- You can use over the counter preparations or make your own probiotic foods at home. Why not do both?
- My favorite commercial preparations are Bacillus CoagulansVET and RxBiotic.
- You can get started fermenting with this free tutorial!
Do you use probiotics for your pet? Tell me all about it! Comment below and let’s get the conversation going.
Sending you and your pet a ton of love,