Microorganisms are essential for gut health. Both pre and probiotics can help support the health of your pet’s gut. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that are naturally found in the digestive tract in humans, pets, and other animals. They can also be consumed by eating certain foods or supplements. Prebiotics are fibers and other food sources that serve as food for microorganisms already living the in the gut. Postbiotics is a relatively new term and refers to the beneficial products that microorganisms living in the intestine create as a part of their lifecycle.
I've heard about probiotics. How do they help pets?
Probiotics are frequently given to pets to help change the type and abundance of bacterial species found within their large intestine. This change in the microorganism community, called the microbiome, can help your pet better process food, regulate water absorption, and even improve immunity. Once these beneficial bugs make it to the large intestine, they hopefully outcompete problematic bacteria and help break down food and provide nutrients to your pet. They also create an environment that helps restrict the growth of bacteria that can make your pet sick.
Getting these bacteria to the gut can be very tricky. If they are provided in your pet’s food, they must make it through both the manufacturing process and the digestive tract so they can set up shop in the intestines. Another challenge is that each animal species has a different blend of microorganisms in their intestines which can contribute to their overall health. Some studies have demonstrated that different species of bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may help improve the outcomes for certain types of diseases. These considerations add up and make it very difficult to not only design the right bacterial mix to give a pet, but also to engineer a clever way to get those helpful bacteria all the way to the large intestine where they can be of service.
So, what is a prebiotic?
Once bacteria are in the gut, they need food for fuel. Most of the bacteria we call “good bacteria" love eating fiber. By giving specific prebiotic fibers we can provide a food source for the bacteria. One example of prebiotic fibers is an ingredient called inulin, which is found in a purple flowering plant called chicory root. When we feed fiber that the helpful bacteria like to eat they are better able to multiply and outcompete bacteria which cause disruption to your pet's system.
A word of caution. Suddenly feeding lots of prebiotic fiber abruptly can be harsh on an animal’s system. Without enough good bacteria there to process it, there can be more disruption than is intended. Always transition diets gradually or it is likely your pet could encounter some socially uncomfortable challenges.
You mentioned postbiotics. What are those?
Postbiotics are relatively new to the "biotic" scene! Postbiotics are the products microorganisms make during and after they eat prebiotics. It takes a combination of a healthy gut microbiome and prebiotics to create ample beneficial postbiotics in your pet’s gut. Postbiotic is the name given to the broad spectrum of these beneficial compounds and can include fatty acids, proteins, metabolites, digested starch products, and even parts of the microorganisms themselves. While they are not as often talked about as probiotics, postbiotics provide bountiful benefits to your pet. They help give energy to the cells that line the large intestine so they can do their jobs better, and they contribute positively to the local gastrointestinal ecosystem.
The benefits of fermentation are widely discussed in the world of human nutrition. One of the reasons fermented foods are so great for gut health is due in part to the postbiotics present in them. So, be on the lookout for more information about this aspect of your pet's nutrition as there's likely to be new research in the works during the coming years.
What can cause a disruption in the microbiome of my pet's gut?
In the healthy large intestine and colon, there are hundreds of bacterial species that live and work together in harmony. That said, imbalances can occur between organisms and are often the result of infections, immune system problems, changes to metabolism, eating certain diets, or antibiotic treatment. In these cases, your vet may recommend that you feed your pet a food rich in pre and probiotics to help reestablish the bacteria. In addition, they may give you a more potent probiotic to jumpstart this process.
Other disruptions can come from a change in your pet’s environment. This change can be one of many things. For example, switching foods abruptly doesn’t give the microorganisms in your pet’s gut a chance to adapt to the new food. And when they can’t adjust quickly enough, the resulting digestive upset becomes quite obvious when living in close quarters with our pets! Other common disruptions, such as a stressful event, can also upset the delicate balance in your pet’s microbiome. We recommend you look for ways to ease transitions, such as moving or the arrival of a new family member, to give your pet's system time to adjust to these changes.
How can I ensure my pet’s gut is healthy?
One of the first steps toward promoting gut health is to feed your pet a well-balanced diet on a consistent schedule. While eating the same food may seem a bit boring for human tastes, consistency in your pet’s meals will ensure the microorganisms in their gut stay happy and healthy. If you need to switch your pet’s food, it is best to do so over a period of 7-14 days. Some pets may need even longer depending on their individual needs.
You can also check for the inclusion of gut health promoting pre or probiotics in the formulation your pet’s food. While it may be harder to find a food promoting postbiotics, this is something to look for as the pet food industry continues to innovate. Also, avoiding too many treats or table scraps will keep things even and steady to ensure all those “good bugs” happily churn away at digesting the beneficial nutrients in your pet’s food!
Still have questions?
Our pet nutrition team is here for you. Send us an email, give us a call, or connect with us through LiveChat. We’d love to talk through your pet’s unique nutritional needs!