Probiotics for Dogs and Cats
Clients will often ask, what is the most important supplement I can give my dog or cat to keep them healthy? My answer- a good probiotic. This sounds simple enough, but there are so many probiotics on the market choosing one that is “good” and helpful for your pet can be difficult.
Let’s start by clarifying a few terms. The word probiotic can be broken down into its roots of pro –for or supporting and biotic – life or living. A probiotic is a collection of bacteria that support life (sounds great!). Contrast this with an antibiotic: anti – against or hostile to and biotic- life or living (doesn’t sound so good unless you have a serious bacterial infection). A pre (before) biotic (life) is essentially the food that supports the beneficial bacteria. A micro (small) biome (community) is a collection of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms that live on or inside a person or a pet. For humans, this microbiome is so large that there are more bacteria in and on our bodies then we have cells in our bodies. In short, there are more of them then us!
So why do we need to supplement with a probiotic? For people the biggest reasons are the use of antibiotics, anti-bacterial soaps, and harsh bleach based cleaners in the environment. We are essentially killing off all the good bacteria that we have evolved with over millennia. For our pets, the biggest reason is processed diets (i.e. dry and canned dog and cat foods). Cats have evolved to eat live prey. In doing so, they consume the intestinal contents of the bird or rodent which contains millions of bacteria. Dogs can also acquire intestinal bacteria this way, but they also acquire them by eating feces – yes, that disgusting habit is actually good for them! And very natural.
Those probiotic supplements are sounding better every minute. But how do we choose a good product? For the most part, I recommend staying away from pet specific products. In 2011 a study was published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in which the researchers analyzed 23 veterinary probiotic products which were purchased over the internet. Only four of these products actually contained the number of bacteria that were claimed on the label! Those four products are:
- Lactobacillus Sporogenes (Thorne)
- Fortiflora (Purina)
- Proviable (Nutrimax)
- Prostora (Iams)- no longer produced
In my office I use the Thorne product, especially for pets that have allergies (although probiotics may worsen allergy symptoms in some dogs and cats), Fortiflora, while the most researched of the products, contains other ingredients, namely animal digest and brewer’s yeast, which can cause more problems than they solve. Proviable comes as a capsule. It does contain seven different strains of bacteria, but also has titanium dioxide, a whitening dye that was recently removed from Dunkin Donut’s powdered sugar. I also use Metagentics Ultra Flora Synergy in my office. This product has a rice base that contains live organisms and therefore must be refrigerated. This is a concentrated powdered product that is easy to mix into the food of dogs and cats.
Other products, especially those obtained over the internet, are hard to evaluate. Most have some type of chemical or coloring agent added and it’s hard to determine how many bacterial units they contain. Do NOT use any children’s products as most of these contain xylitol, a very toxic substance for pets.
A good alternative is to go to your local health food store and purchase a refrigerated probiotic product. Read the label carefully to make sure it doesn’t contain any sweeteners, dairy or soy products. Give a fraction of the human dosage recommended on the label depending on the weight of your pet.
A healthy intestinal microbiome and that of our pets is critical for good health and a well chosen probiotic can maintain that health. In the past probiotics were mainly used for intestinal problems, but a healthy microbiome provides protection from diabetes, obesity and cancer. Researchers have actually found that human genes influence the genes of the microbiome and that the microbiome’s genes regulate the genes of our cells. We cannot live without these beneficial bacteria in our bodies and neither can our pets. Fresh whole foods and a good source of beneficial bacteria are the key to good health for everyone.