Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” can be defined as living microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, can offer multiple health benefits to the host. Though they have been gaining popularity amongst humans in the past decade, the possibility of similar probiotic supplements for your pets’ health is on the rise.
“Essentially, we are trying to give live bacteria in supplement form that have beneficial properties to an animal in order to improve their digestive health,” said Dr. Jan Suchodolski, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It is imperative that bacteria are alive once they reach the gut and that they are also delivered in high amounts. That’s why a high-quality product is needed.”
In order to fully understand how probiotics work, it’s important to know that the beneficial effects of probiotics are bacterial strain specific, meaning every bacterial strain has a potentially different effect. Some probiotic strains, for instance, stimulate the immune system, while other strains produce anti-inflammatory biomolecules or antimicrobial molecules to combat pathogens.
“This is an area of active ongoing research, as all probiotic strains have to be evaluated for their mechanism, and only once the mechanism is identified can we identify which probiotic strain should be given in which disease,” said Dr. Suchodolski.
There are several studies proving that specific probiotic strands are useful for specific diseases, and Dr. Suchodolski explains that the strongest of this data is available for preventing stress diarrhea in pets. However, a few selected products have also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be useful in chronic Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases.
“Dogs or cats that receive probiotics have a lower incidence of diarrhea compared to animals not receiving it,” Dr. Suchodolski said. “The best effects are observed when probiotics are given in advance in anticipation of stressful events, for example boarding flights, long car rides, etc.”
With any new supplemental discoveries come the fear of negative complications. Generally, the possible risk of side effects in probiotics is very low. “Only very few reports have been described in literature,” Dr. Suchodolski said. “However, very sick patients who are immunocompromised are at some risk, and probiotic products should be avoided in those situations.”
The most important thing to remember when considering the possibility of probiotics is that they are not all created equally, and results from one product cannot be extrapolated to other products
“There is much excitement about the potential of using bacteria as therapeutics, but this area is very complex and more research is needed to understand the complexities of this combined bacterial and host ecosystem,” said Dr. Suchodolski. “There are many products on the market that were produced initially without fully understanding the mechanism behind bacterial-host interactions, and it is currently recommended to only use products that have shown results in clinical studies.”
The possibility of using probiotics as disease prevention and health aides in both humans and our pets is not far off. Though further research is still being conducted in order to reap their full benefits, having a healthier, happier pet is something to look forward to.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org .