Lately I’ve been running into a lot of pets who need some extra help with digestive and other health issues. Probiotics have helped solve the problems for many of these animals.
The term “probiotics” (which means “promoting life”) covers a variety of “friendly” bacteria that are beneficial for the digestive tract. These include Lactobacillus acidophilus and other Lactobacillus species, and certain strains of Bacillus, Enterococcus, Bifidobacteria, and Streptococcus, all of which are commonly found in over-the-counter probiotic supplements.
Probiotics are of special importance in pets with any type of digestive problem, including vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, and constipation. They are essential for animals who are, or have been, taking antibiotics; they can be given both during the course of antibiotics and for at least 2 weeks afterwards. Probiotics may help with allergies, including atopy (inhalant allergies), food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease. They have also been shown to be useful for cystitis (bladder inflammation) and dental disease in humans.
Probiotic bacteria are normally present in a healthy digestive tract, mainly in the colon. L. acidophilus, the strain most often used in fermented products like yogurt, was the first to be isolated and used as therapy, initially to treat constipation and diarrhea in human patients in the 1920s and 30s. In one study, human patients were given antibiotics to kill off most of their normal gut flora. After the antibiotic course was finished, they were then supplemented with L. acidophilus. Even more interesting, the levels of other normal bacteria, such as enterococci, also normalized rapidly. Further studies showed that the probiotics must be taken daily in order to maintain the beneficial effects.
From research on probiotics, it appears that the ideal probiotic for any individual would match the species normally found in the intestine of the particular animal (dog, cat, etc.). However, this is not practical for our pets. In practice, supplementing with any good quality probiotic produces positive results. Don’t count on pet food alone, no matter how good it is; tests show that pet foods claiming probiotics on the label don’t usually have any live organisms.
A very interesting study done in cats with kidney disease found significant improvement in blood values for BUN and creatinine (common measurements of kidney function) when probiotics were given. Cats received 1/2 to 1 capsule per day of a commercial probiotic product mixed with their wet food. The cats also clearly felt better and had more energy. This approach is very promising for cats and dogs with chronic kidney disease, including those pets whose kidneys were damaged after eating recalled pet food.
It’s easy to add probiotics to your pet’s diet. While many owners and breeders recommend adding a tablespoon of yogurt to the food, this is not enough to have much effect. Most yogurt made commercially with live cultures contain only low levels. It is better and simpler (and definitely more cost-effective) to buy probiotics in capsules and add them to the food. These supplements must be fresh, and most of them need to be kept refrigerated to keep the organisms viable. It’s okay to probiotics made for humans, and safe at the human dose even in small pets. Fortunately these supplements generally have little taste and are readily accepted by most pets if mixed with wet food.
Even if you’re feeding the best commercial food, or even a homemade diet, probiotics are needed for digestive and immune system health. Here at Only Natural, we carry several products that contain probiotics; some of my favorites are: