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Pet Education

Promoting Intestinal Health: Prebiotics and Probiotics

As research continues to shed new light on how food and food additives affect the health of our pets, many new products are showing up in pet food aisles across America.  It can be difficult to know which products have valid scientific research supporting their claims and which are just hype.  Two new areas of interest in pet foods are "prebiotics" and "probiotics".  There has been extensive research done to prove these additives have beneficial effects on digestive health.  Pet owners can be more proactive than ever with their pet's health by keeping prebiotics and probiotics on their shopping radar! 

What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are specialized forms of fiber that, when eaten, stimulate the growth and function of healthy or "good" bacteria in the intestine.  A recent study documented that the inclusion of prebiotics to pet food promoted the growth of good bacteria and actually inhibited the growth of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria.  Consumers should look for the labels FOS (fructooligosaccharides), inulin (a type of FOS), GOS (galactooligosaccharides) or TOS (trans-galactooligosaccharides).  These prebiotics have been studied extensively and have been proven beneficial in pets.  

What natural ingredients contain prebiotics? Can I feed my pet these foods instead of a pet food with added prebiotics?
Prebiotics occur naturally in foods such as asparagus, chicory, artichokes, garlic, onion, bananas, honey, rye, wheat, oats and soybean.  However, it would take very large quantities of these foods to exert a useful prebiotic effect.  In addition, some of these foods may be toxic to pets in large quantities.  Therefore, researchers have found ways to isolate the prebiotics from these natural foods so pets can more easily benefit from them. 

What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live "good" bacteria that when ingested by pets help to restore bacterial balance within the intestine.  Consumers should look for species of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Enterococcus to indicate the inclusion of probiotics to a pet food. 

Is there any advantage to feeding a prebiotic and probiotic together?
While many pet foods include only one or the other, foods that supply both a prebiotic and a probiotic provide maximal digestive health benefits.  This is because prebiotics feed probiotics and thus enhance their positive actions.  Feeding both gives your pet the advantage of a maximally improved intestinal bacterial population, improved stool quality and enhanced nutrient absorption. 

What pets will benefit from foods with added prebiotics or probiotics? 
For years, it was known that humans or pets taking antibiotics often developed digestive upset due to an imbalance of "good" and "bad" intestinal bacteria.  Supplementing prebiotics and probiotics can help restore the right balance of bacteria after taking antibiotics.  However, antibiotics are not the only thing that can upset the balance of a pet's digestive tract.  Stressful conditions (moving, new pet, new family member, etc), diet changes, age and disease can disrupt the delicate balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria within the intestine.  These changes can occur at any time and regularly feeding your dog or cat a food containing prebiotics and probiotics can help maintain their digestive health long term.

In addition, dogs and cats prone to digestive sensitivity like soft stool or diarrhea may benefit tremendously from a food containing prebiotics and probiotics.  Many of these pets have inflammation within their small intestine which causes bacterial overgrowth or a problem called antibiotic-responsive diarrhea.  Traditionally, antibiotic therapy was the only option for these pets, but a recent study showed that dogs given a prebiotic responded as well as those treated with antibiotics and they didn't have a tendency to relapse with diarrhea if the prebiotic was continued. 

Every pet is likely to benefit from foods with added prebiotics and probiotics.  There have been no side effects or adverse reactions reported with long-term feeding of these products.  Although intestinal bacteria are confined to one area of the body, they exert powerful effects on whole-body health.  Because prebiotics and probiotics promote healthier intestinal bacteria, we will see them become more prevalent in human and pet food products in the future. 

Halo has always been a leader in promoting and supporting intestinal health.  Our natural dry dog and cat food formulas have contained inulin as a prebiotic and 4 different probiotic species for years.  Our other food ingredients, namely our carbohydrate and protein choices, also maximize intestinal health.  Halo uses only whole grains and vegetables to provide a wide array of fiber to promote excellent digestion.  The whole meats, dried egg and peas used for protein are all extremely highly digestible when compared to meat meals and by-products meals used in many competitor products.  This is how Halo foods help improve stool quality and enhance nutrient absorption for your pet's optimal health.

Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist who has practiced at the Animal Medical Center in New York City and other leading institutions. She is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Donna has written and lectured extensively on topics including nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney failure and respiratory disease. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets, her TV appearances with Ellen DeGeneres and her widely-quoted pet health advice in print and on radio.  Dr. Donna performs medical, nutrition and weight loss consultations for dogs and cats through her web-based veterinary consulting service, www.SpectorDVM.com.

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