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Healthy Guts, Happy Pets: Could Probiotics Benefit My Pup?
Let’s Talk About the ‘Gut’
In a mammal, the ‘gut’ consists of the small and large intestines, as well as support organs that aid in producing dietary secretions needed for ingesta breakdown. In close association with the gut is the majority of the body’s lymphoid tissue and an extensive blood supply. The gut has multiple functions in the body: Better known for its primary functions of acquiring nutrients and removing of wastes, the gut also plays an important role in immune function. Healthy gut function requires an intimate, balanced relationship with the resident microorganisms that reside within the intestines that aid both in nutrition and immunity.
Early in development, the intestinal tract develops a mutually beneficial relationship with the microorganisms that line the intestines. Non-disease causing bacteria that live in the intestinal tract serve to aid in digestion of food and provide micronutrients to the host while helping create a barrier to prevent harmful bacteria in the gut from invading. When the normal healthy balance of microorganisms is disrupted, clinical symptoms develop.
A common symptom of poor gut health is abnormal bowel movements. Both constipation and diarrhea can be signs an owner will notice in pets with poor gut health, and whilst humans can find ways of self-medicating to help this, animals cannot. Imbalance of intestinal flora may be the primary problem; however, the problem may have developed secondary to another health condition which has altered the gut environment. Intestinal parasites, viral infections, invasive bacteria, stress, food sensitivities or allergies, poor diet, and recent or frequent antibiotic use all may alter the normal gut ecosystem.
What is a Probiotic?
A probiotic is a live bacteria (and sometimes yeast) containing supplement. Supplement means to support, or work in conjunction with – not as a replacement for – treatment. Generally, I would not suggest beginning supplements without the pet’s veterinarian’s recommendation. Occasionally, human grade probiotics are used in pets, since many of the same resident microorganisms are present in most canine/feline and human intestines, though in different proportions.
Choosing a Quality Product
Nutraceuticals – including probiotics – are minimally regulated because they are not considered either a food or a medication. This allows a large portion of probiotic-type supplements to be sold to consumers with minimal government oversight or quality control. I recommend purchasing probiotics only from your veterinarian, as these products have likely been further scrutinized and tested for efficacy and quality control. What you purchase OTC may be not only be ineffective for the condition you are trying to combat, but may in fact contain harmful contents not listed on the label. Two products I have learned to depend on in my daily clinical experience are Fortiflora and Proviable*.
Popular Canine Conditions Which May Benefit from Probiotics:
- Chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation
- Infectious intestinal disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Skin and food sensitivities
- Anxiety-associated diarrhea
- Excess flatulence (gas)
Probiotics are intended for short term use for most of the above listed conditions; once normal bacterial flora has been re-established, they can be discontinued. A healthy flora of gut microorganisms requires an appropriate diet to “feed” them. Your veterinarian can make recommendations to help guide nutritional decisions. When probiotics are used correctly they can decrease the length of disease interval and help return to a healthy state more readily. In my opinion, probiotics nearly always have the potential to complement a therapy protocol: It might help and shouldn’t hurt!
*I do not receive funding from these products or companies. There are likely other probiotics available that are effective; these are products with which I have most familiarity and experience.
Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.