Many health trends trickle down from humans to animals. Some make sense, while others are just fads. But the more we learn about probiotics and prebiotics, the more it becomes clear that these health trends are here to stay, and that they play an important role in keeping our companion animals at their healthiest and happiest.
Starting on an appropriate probiotic and prebiotic regimen can be confusing. To help you out, we’ve broken down the basics.
According to the official definition, probiotics are a “food or a dietary supplement containing live bacteria that replace or add to the beneficial bacteria normally present in the gastrointestinal tract.” Put more simply, probiotics are the good bacteria that our bodies need to thrive, and help protect against the bad bacteria that can be harmful.
There are close to 1,000 different types of bacteria and microorganisms hanging out in your pet. They live in the mouth, pharynx, colon, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, anus, and genitals. Balancing this delicate ecosystem is critical, and probiotics are a key ingredient to finding that equilibrium.
Many experts in this field call the gut our “second brain” since it does so much for our bodies. Here are just a few of the amazing things probiotics can do:
• Protect humans and animals from “bad” bacteria, viruses, fungi, allergens, toxins, and heavy metals.
• Help with digestion, increase nutrient absorption, and enhance cellular repair.
• Boost the immune system.
• Reduce bodily inflammation, which can significantly lower the risk for chronic diseases.
• Synthesize many important hormones, including serotonin, which greatly impacts mental health.
• Counteract negative effects of antibiotics, such as rebalancing the gut and strengthening immunity.
How to feed
It’s important to offer your dog probiotics at different times throughout the day, since they are dependent on the environment of his or her gastrointestinal tract. Many experts say offering between meals is most beneficial.
Probiotics are available in supplement form as well as through natural, whole foods. If you are feeding supplements, you can choose one specifically for dogs, but human products are okay, too. Look for ones that require refrigeration, contain soil-based organisms, and include a variety of probiotic strains.
• Kimchi and other fermented veggies are very nutritious and mimic the gut contents of prey.
• Raw goat milk is a great dairy option since it has very little lactose. For dogs up to 20 lbs, feed 2 ounces; 20-50 lbs, 4 ounces; and more than 50 lbs, 6 ounces.
• Kefir is packed with natural probiotics and can be served on its own or as a meal topping. You can find it at the grocery store—just make sure it’s unsweetened, and again, goat’s milk may be easier to digest that cow’s milk. There are also many recipes online to make your own non-dairy versions with coconut milk or water.
• Kvass is a Russian fermented beverage that contains high levels of probiotics. It may be purchased at natural food stores, or you can find recipes online to make it yourself.
Prebiotics are insoluble, indigestible fiber that travel to the colon where they ferment and are converted into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), becoming the primary fuel for the cells of the colon.
Increased concentration of SCFAs and other beneficial bacteria support gastrointestinal health and the immune system. They inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, preserve electrolyte and fluid balance, and allow the intestines to move properly. When present in the bowels, prebiotics promote and support healthy digestive flora.
How to feed
Prebiotics are generally included in probiotic supplements, but that’s not always the case. Be sure to check the ingredient list and make sure they’re there
• Dandelion Greens: Feed 1 teaspoon of dried dandelion greens per 20 lbs.
• Bananas: Given their high sugar and carbohydrate content, greener, more under-ripe bananas are best. You can offer approximately one inch of banana per day for a 50 pound dog, so adjust as needed for your dog’s weight. Do not offer more than one full banana per week.
• Apples: Easy to find, apples are a great source of prebiotics and most dogs will happily eat them as snacks. If your dog prefers, you can also put them in a food processor and add the mixture to a meal. Be sure to remove all skin and seeds before serving.
• Asparagus: Try adding raw bits to your dog’s food bowl or see if she will take it as a snack food throughout the day. Most dogs enjoy the flavor.