Probiotics are an essential part of healthy and normally-functioning canine and feline digestive tracts.
Why is this the case and what are some of the probiotic essentials owners must consider when providing a supplement for their pets?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial (“good”) bacterial organisms that live in the digestive tract of animals (cats, dogs, humans, etc.). Ideally, harmony is maintained among the different species of bacteria so the intestines stay optimally healthy. Studies show that some strains of bacteria can benefit the body’s immune response and can help recolonize intestines that are adversely impacted by disease or medications (antibiotics, chemotherapy, etc.). Probiotics have also proven to competitively inhibit the growth of pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria so that beneficial organisms can grow.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are food-derived substances serving as growth medium for probiotics. Without prebiotics, probiotics would be unable to prosper.
Probiotics exist in many of the foods that pets eat on a daily basis, including grains, vegetables, and fruits. Commercially available probiotic supplements may contain pre-biotins like inulin or fructooligosaccharides (FOS), but such aren’t essential for a product to be effective.
What kind of probiotics should my pet consume?
There are many types of probiotics that live in the digestive tract. Although bacteria can live in the stomach, the acidic pH doesn’t support the persistence of the environmental requirements to support bacterial lifecycles as compared to the intestines.
There are two subdivisions of the intestines: small and large. The small intestine receives food and liquids from the stomach along with substances that facilitate digestion (bile from the gall bladder and enzymes from the pancreas). The large intestine (AKA colon) collects the remains of the digestive process from the small intestine to form feces and is responsible for reabsorbing water before feces exit the body.
Some probiotics thrive in the small intestine (i.e. Lactobillus), while others prosper in the large intestine (i.e. Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus). It’s best to give your pet a probiotic supplement that has multiple species of bacteria, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and others.
Why might my pet need probiotics?
Some pets have hearty digestive tracts capable of tolerating food changes and bouts of dietary indiscretion, while others simply eat a different snack or food or take a dose of medication and then suffer digestive tract upset.
Imbalances in normal levels of intestinal bacteria can result from:
Food changes- protein, carbohydrate, or fat alterations, transitioning among feeding styles (kibble, canned, whole-food, etc.), variety in commercially available treats, consumption of human foods, etc.
Dietary indiscretion- eating inappropriate substances (man-made and environmental materials, etc.), a behavior exhibited by many pets
Toxicity- ingestion of any matter (plants, spoiled food, medications, etc.) capable of having a toxic effect
Medications- veterinary or human prescription or over-the-counter medications (antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, chemotherapy, etc.)
Pathogenic bacteria- Camphylobacter, E. coli, Pseudomonas, Salmonella,
Parasites- Giardia, Roundworm, Whipworm, etc.
Viruses- Parvovirus, Coronavirus, etc.
Molds- those that grow on food or in the environment like Aspergillus, etc.
Diseases- liver and kidney disease, pancreatitis, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), etc.
All of the above causes of digestive tract upset can create clinical signs, including:
Soft to liquid stool consistency
Blood or mucus in the feces
Change in bowel movement frequency- typically increased
Tenesmus (straining) while defecating
Flatulence (farting) and foul fecal odor
How is The Honest Kitchen Helping pets have healthier digestive tracts?
The Honest Kitchen offers multiple products that help dogs and cats to have healthier digestive tracts. The canine and feline diets are moist, human-grade, and whole food based. Moist foods give the body much needed hydration so that all cells can optimally function. Human-grade ingredients are less-likely to contain harmful substances (mold-produced toxins, chemical preservatives, pathogenic bacteria, pesticides, rodent or insect feces, etc.) than feed-grade ingredients used in most commercially available pet foods and treats. Whole-food ingredients are more biologically appropriate for the the body to absorb essential nutrients and provide needed prebiotics to foster probiotic growth.
The Honest Kitchen also makes Instant Goat's Milk, a human-grade, dehydrated goat's milk containing probiotics and digestive enzymes. Goat’s milk has a smaller molecular structure than cow’s milk, so it’s more digestible. Additionally, goat’s milk is lower in lactose (milk sugar) than cow’s milk, therefore less of the enzyme lactase is required for digestion. Digestive enzymes (alpha amylase, lipase, cellulase, protease, and bromelain) facilitate the breakdown of nutrients, especially in animals lacking the ability to produce their own as a result of pancreatic damage (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency , diabetes, pancreatitis, etc.).
As Instant Goat's Milk is a powder, there are multiple ways it can enter your pet’s body. It can be mixed into moist food or hydrated with warm water to create a nourishing beverage.
Recommended Reading: Cat's and Goat Milk: Everything You Need to Know
In my practice, I regularly use Instant Goat's Milk to foster the immune system development of growing puppies and kittens. It also has benefited many of my patients during times of digestive upset and my own dog Cardiff during his chemotherapy and bouts of immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA).
Generally, my patients eating whole-food diets like those from The Honest Kitchen have better-functioning digestive tracts with fewer clinical signs of illness.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).