Probiotics are microorganisms that thrive in the digestive system and have a positive benefit on the health of the host organism. They are also known as good bacteria. There are more probiotic bacteria living in the digestive system than there are cells in the body and these microorganisms have a remarkable influence over how the body functions and overall health.
The importance of digestive health
The health of a pet’s digestive system has a remarkable influence over the health of the rest of the body. The digestive system is responsible for taking in food, digesting it and turning it into absorbable nutrition.
The digestive system is also an integral part of the immune system, forming a physical barrier to invading pathogens as well as acting as a source of information for immune cells to respond to as needed.
Given these and many other important roles the digestive system plays, it stands to reason that to optimise general health, our pet’s digestive system needs to be in tip top shape.
How probiotics can assist
Probiotics serve many health benefits including:
- Protecting the digestive system from invasion by pathogenic bacteria
- Sending signals to the immune system to begin to mount an immune response when required
- Helping repair the digestive lining via secretion of protective short chain fatty acids
- Producing important vitamins including some B Vitamins and Vitamin K
- Assisting in the symptomatic relief of digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhoea
- Assisting in recovery from gastric illness and vomiting
- Helping to maintain healthy immune system function, keeping the immune system healthy and ready to respond to pathogens as well as assisting in immune system regulation and some immune-mediated health issues (such as certain skin conditions)
- Assisting in restoring the balance of good bacteria in the digestive system which can be compromised after a course of antibiotics
How to integrate good bacteria into your pet’s diet
In the wild, dogs would have ingested probiotics as they consumed their prey, some people source and feed their pets green tripe for this reason. A convenient, readily available option is a healthy raw food diet with added probiotics. Another convenient option is probiotic supplementation.
The key with those is to ensure ingestion quickly after serving. Probiotics are live organisms and whilst they are freeze-dried and dormant when purchased, they are quickly activated by heat and moisture. For this reason, when serving probiotics sprinkled over / mixed into your pets’ meal, make sure they eat their meal in one sitting and don’t leave it lying around for hours. This may reduce the potency of the probiotic by the time it is ingested.
When are probiotics indicated?
Certainly consider probiotics if your pet requires a course of antibiotics to help keep the balance of the digestive microclimate optimal. Any digestive issues like gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea can benefit greatly from probiotics. They can also improve immune system function, which makes them helpful when a pet is suffering from any immune-related issues, including some skin issues and itchiness. To maintain general health and wellbeing, there is no reason probiotics cannot be a part of your pets daily routine.
When not to prescribe probiotics
Probiotics have a wide safety window and are generally accepted as safe. There would be a few instances where probiotics may not be suitable and it’s important to discuss the suitability of all pet supplements with your trusted pet health practitioner of choice before supplementing. Be cautious of probiotics in severely immunocompromised pets or those taking immunosuppressant drugs.
What to look out for in a probiotic product
- The probiotic supplement should be species appropriate, meaning formulated specifically for dogs containing host bacteria which is unique to their digestive system.
- The supplement should be therapeutic strength, meaning formulated with good bacteria levels in the billions to ensure a tangible health benefit will be observed.
- Correct storage of probiotics out of direct heat and sun and within the storage conditions on the label is important to ensure the viability of these delicate live bacteria.
- The addition of other ingredients that promote optimal digestive function including digestive enzymes to assist in the digestion process as well as prebiotics which feed the probiotics and boost their efficacy and lifespan in the digestive system.
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