The term “probiotics” is heard all over in the media these days, but why?

Let’s take some time to explain exactly why you might be interested in giving probiotic supplements to your pet or horse.

How do probiotics benefit health?
In most cases, the organisms in the probiotics you take or give to your companion animal or horse are also found in a healthy digestive system. These probiotic organisms have several jobs:

They protect the GI tract.
Research shows that they work to protect the host – you or the animal – from pathogens that try to invade the GI tract.  It takes a lot more of the “invaders” to have an effect on the GI tract if probiotic bacteria are already present.  Probiotic organisms compete more effectively for the nutrients in the GI tract and produce substances that make the environment less favorable for the disease-carrying organisms.

Probiotic organisms support specific metabolic functions, providing nutritional benefits for the host animal. They help with digestion, modify metabolism of some nutrients, and help adjust absorption of some minerals. They manufacture various vitamins and fatty acids. These and other functions help to nourish the GI tract.

They also have structural functions in the GI tract.  They can help fortify the barrier going through the intestinal tract.  Among their benefits, they can stimulate production of immunoglobulin A – an antibody.

All of these combine to form a healthier GI tract – the system that provides 70 percent of our immunity to disease.

One sign that the use of probiotics is becoming more common is their acceptance by various animal and pet food manufacturers.  Recently probiotics have been showing up in dog and cat food products, treats for animals, and supplements.

Probiotics are live organisms that, taken in a large enough dose, promote the health of the intestinal tract – and therefore, the health of the person or animal.

To be effective, the probiotics in food products have to be incorporated in such a way that they are not harmed in the manufacturing process.  Typical dog food pellets, for example, undergo a heating process that can kill probiotics – making them useless.  Just because it says probiotic on the label does not necessarily mean there are effective levels present in the food.

Some treats or foods may not contain therapeutic levels of probiotcs.  They may contain what might be considered a maintenance level of probiotic and could be useful after the animal as reestablished its normal balance. You would use them when you want to give the animal a treat that has some health benefits.  Just remember that probiotics have to be provided in a large enough dose to make a difference for the animal – or you’re wasting your money.

To get therapeutic levels of probiotics you’ll need to provide your companion animals or horse with a supplement.  There are dozens of different probiotic supplement brands on the market with different strains and different doses and different active ingredients. There are a number of reputable probiotic supplements available including the Probios brand probiotics and Purina’s Fortiflora.

If you want to know what’s included in the probiotic you’re providing for your companion animal or horse, take a look at the label.  Reputable companies want you to be as informed as possible:

*Look for the genus, species, and strain of the microorganisms.  Look for a statement about the nutritional support or health benefit that the probiotic is intended for.
While probiotics of two different supplements may be using the same genus and species of probiotic, the two supplements may be using different strains.  Different strains are for different uses and offer different performance.  It is important to choose strains of probiotics that are designed for the particular job that a supplement is meant to carry out.  If you need help selecting a probiotic for a particular need, please contact us.  We’ll be happy to help!

*You should be able to find the estimated levels of probiotic at the end of the product’s shelf life.
Levels of live microorganisms will decrease over time.  Knowing the level of probiotic when the supplement left the manufacturer’s is not as important as knowing what your companion animal or horse will actually receive.

When should I provide probiotics for my companion animals/horses?
Normally, the gastrointestinal tract has an ample supply of probiotic bacteria. But a change in the balance of the microorganisms can occur pretty quickly, from stressors ranging from serious to common concerns:

* Increase in the number of potentially disease-carrying microorganisms
* Immunodeficiency diseases
* Aging
* Changes in diet
* Traveling.

If you think about it, it’s not too surprising that administering antibiotics also disturbs the balance of organisms in the GI tract.  While the antibiotics are killing the “invaders,” they may also be killing the beneficial bacteria in the gut.  The same holds true with deworming medications.

Consider the use of Fortiflora in your pet's diet to help restore the normal balance of bacteria in the GI tract, helping to keep that powerful immunology system working correctly.