You are probably used to hearing about probiotics. It is impossible not to; they are being added to food and drinks, being advertised on commercial spots with celebrities that talk about poop, and being splashed all over newsletters and podcasts from major medical establishments worldwide. They are live yeasts and bacteria inside you. Your symbiotic relationship benefits you AND them. You definitely need these little single-celled creatures to survive; even your dog.
So if probiotics are living organisms, how do they survive in your body? Do they breathe? Do they need to eat? Can you get more of them? What can you do to ensure their survival? One good way to support the gut microbiome is to take prebiotics, or food for your stomach bacteria.
What Are Prebiotics?
Humans coexist with millions of microscopic organisms.
Every inch of the planet houses bacteria, no matter how extreme: from the inside of volcanic rock to the deep buried arctic snow. Bacteria have been found in the trenches of the ocean and in the outer reaches of space.
Every living thing has bacteria living inside their bodies and on their skin, too. Around 85 percent of the bacteria humans come in contact with are good.
There is around ten times the number of bacteria cells inside your body as there are human cells. This means there are always about 100 trillion of them on your body. Inside your eyes and ears, on your hands, and in the folds of your skin are absolutely teeming with bacteria.
The majority of the good bacteria in your body live in your digestive tract. Lack of diversity in your gut has been definitively linked to food allergies and the development of chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease. The average human has about two pounds of beneficial microflora in their intestine.
Your dog has millions of these bacteria living in his body, too. Just like yours, they are primarily concentrated in his digestive system.
These bacteria are living beings and need a source of food. There are two types of bacteria: heterotrophic, that eat other organisms and decaying matter, and autotrophic, those that create their own food via photosynthesis.
The bacteria living in our bodies are heterotrophic. It eats what you and your dog do! Bad bacteria thrive on sugary, fatty food. But what do the good bacteria need?
The answer may lie in prebiotics!
Prebiotics are food-based compounds that feed microflora in the gastrointestinal tract. Basically, it is food for the good bacteria. They are a critical part of supporting every system of the body and maintaining overall good health.
Prebiotics come in a number of forms, including supplement pills you can buy online or at grocery stores. Packaged prebiotics are easy to use but can be expensive and may not get used properly by your body.
The best way to get prebiotics? Experts all agree - eat them!
Natural prebiotics is primarily made of plant and vegetable fiber. These fibers pass through your dog’s digestive tract undigested and begin to ferment. This fermented prebiotics becomes food for the probiotics, or beneficial bacteria living in his gut.
Dietary fiber is categorized in two ways: soluble and insoluble. Ideally, we would all, your pet included, be taking in plenty of both each day, as they do very different things inside our bodies. Most foods containing fiber have both types.
Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains and the skin of some vegetables and fruits. It bulks up your stool and helps regulate your bowel movements and helps make you feel full after eating.
This type of fiber does NOT ferment in the gut.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water. Grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, and produce all have soluble fiber in them. It pulls water from the inside of the intestine to form a gel-like mush that gets digested (and the nutrients it contains get absorbed) as it gets broken down by bacteria.
Soluble fiber ferments and is food for probiotics.
These complex, interconnected colonies of microbes, feeding on prebiotics from the food your pet eats, are not parasites. They do not just steal nutrients from him without giving anything in return.
They are absolutely amazing for your dog’s health. The gut microbiome is so important that it is often called ‘the forgotten essential organ’.
They can help:
- Reduce the risk of developing heart disease
- Enhance the body’s natural response to medicines and vaccines
- Eliminate chronic inflammation in the entire body
- Keep cholesterol in check
- Ensure your dog’s body is able to absorb all the bioavailable nutrients from his food
- Alleviate anxiety, depression, and OCD
- Boost immune system function and protect against pathogens like E. coli or parvovirus (about 80 percent of your dog’s immune system lies in his intestine!)
- Forms a protective barrier in his intestine to block the absorption of accidentally-ingested toxins and carcinogens
- Reduce the severity of some allergies, in particular lactose intolerance
- Prevent and treat diarrhea and constipation, especially associated with chronic inflammatory bowel disease
- Improve memory and cognitive function
- Improve the quality of sleep and muscle recovery
If your female dog is pregnant or breastfeeding, making sure she gets prebiotics could stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria that get passed to puppies through her milk.
If your dog is being treated for cancer, prebiotics could positively impact the course of therapy, especially when using immunosuppressants.
If your dog is on long-term antibiotics, they may be wiping out his good gut flora too. It is important to help him build them back up. A probiotic and a prebiotic could work together.
If you think your pet could benefit from prebiotics, or you notice an abrupt change in your dog’s digestive health, talk to your vet.
Choosing Natural Prebiotics For Your Dog
Many people are turning to natural and homeopathic remedies and eastern medicine to cure their chronic conditions. Frustrated by the medical community’s inability to heal patients quickly without devastating side effects, gentler avenues of treatment are often sought after.
It may be no different for you as a pet owner. You may wish to try some natural methods of improving his quality of life first.
Luckily, all prebiotics come from food sources and work just as well, if not better, from natural sources as they do from pills!
The number one food source of inulin is chicory. Chicory was historically used as a coffee substitute and is nutty and almost sweet to the taste. It grows as a woody perennial plant with pretty blue flowers. The leaves of the plant are often used in salads! It is full of antioxidants, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, and some holistic doctors and veterinarians use chicory root oil as a natural remedy for intestinal parasites.
Garlic, when fed to your dog in large amounts, can be dangerously toxic. When given to him in small amounts, however, it often acts as a prebiotic. Garlic can also decrease the risk of blood clots, acts as a natural anti-fungal, and stimulates the lymphatic system to help the body adequately remove waste. The trick to using garlic as a medicine is to chop the clove very finely and let it sit for fifteen minutes (but not more than twenty!) to allow the enzymes to combine.
Larch arabinogalactan sounds like a hulking character in a cheesy science fiction series, but it’s actually just a specific fiber found in many plants. Carrots, peas, shiitake mushrooms, and coconut all have Larch arabinogalactan. The supplement form is made from pulp from the western wood gum tree. The prebiotics ferment and form the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which can fight cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and some inherited disorders.
Turkey tail mushrooms
Turkey tail mushrooms have recently gained traction as cancer treatment, but they are also top-tier prebiotics. Found all over the world growing on pieces of logs and stumps, these mushrooms contain polysaccharides (a carbohydrate that forms long chains of sugars bonded together) that help form cell structure and store energy for long-term use. Turkey tail mushrooms also support proper liver function and can prevent and treat bad yeast overgrowth in the gut. It is worth noting that dogs should not eat raw mushrooms you find in the woods; make sure to find the medicinal extracts instead.
Burdock root grows all over the country as a humble weed. It may even be in your front yard, on the edges of your favorite hiking trail, or in the median strip of the local highway, you take to get to work. The root, however, contains as much prebiotic power as chicory! It supports the bladder and kidneys, provides a wide range of essential micronutrients, and regulates blood sugar. You can also make burdock root into a tincture or lotion to treat acute skin conditions like eczema. It is easy to find in health food stores as pills, teas, and powders.
Dandelion greens are another annoying garden invader, but their nutrition profile is impressive! Besides being a great source of inulin, dandelion greens and flowers can stimulate appetite, act as a natural diuretic, and help the liver detoxify the body. If you decide to take advantage of the dandelion growing in your yard, make absolutely certain they have never been sprayed with pesticides. The safest option is to find an organic food-grade supplement. Just make sure your dog has plenty of opportunities to go outside during the day while giving him dandelion!
Apples, cashews, asparagus, bananas, and other plant-based foods are all healthy options for dogs. Fermented foods like sauerkraut are fine for pets too.
Some commercial dry foods advertise the addition of prebiotics. Avoid dog foods with added beet pulp as a source, as it is highly processed and not bioavailable. Choose one with chicory or garlic instead.
If you buy mass-distributed dog food, you may have better luck with high-quality, organic, unpasteurized raw food, as most processed foods are sterilized with high heat and chemicals to kill any dangerous pathogens picked up during the manufacturing process. If your dog’s diet is deficient in microbes and prebiotics, he can not recolonize the lost gut bacteria and his health will suffer.
Making your own dog food is an option as well. Make sure it includes the right mix of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates).
You can also include:
- Canned pumpkin
- Leafy greens like spinach
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains like unflavored oatmeal and brown rice
- Greek yogurt
- Coconut oil
- Sweet potatoes
Prebiotics are a wonderful addition to a healthy diet, but they may not be right for every dog.
Be advised that prebiotics can feed pathogenic (BAD) bacteria and yeast too. If your dog is experiencing a bacterial infection (like leptospirosis, actinomycosis, or salmonella) please avoid extra doses of prebiotics. Make sure to get the infection treated immediately.
Talk to your veterinarian if your dog has a chronic health condition that affects his digestive system. Inflammatory bowel disease, for instance, does not always respond well to prebiotics or probiotics.
Finding And Using Prebiotics For Your Dog
There are so many digestive aid products on the market that contain prebiotics and probiotics it can be difficult to know which ones are worth your time and money.
A little research into the supporting science of any health claims you see online can help you weed through the heavily-saturated market. Finding positive mentions in medical journals is a good sign.
Some recommendations from trustworthy sources can eliminate some of the hassles. Ask your pet care team (veterinarians and techs, groomers, trainers, and kennel workers) for product information. Ask your social media circle, particularly if they are mostly dog owners too.
If you decide to shop online, make sure you find a reputable site. Scammers and con artists frequently target the health food and supplement industry because it is not strictly regulated by the FDA (unlike pharmaceutical drugs, which are rigorously tested and constantly watched).
Most companies rely on third-party testing to standardize and verify their product purity. Many use the USP seal. Look for some kind of symbol on the bottle label that gives you that information. Large national companies are better able to afford stringent quality-control measures than smaller companies.
Buy organic herbal preparations wherever possible. Organically-grown crops carry a significantly lessened risk of pesticide residue ending up in your pet's final product. Pesticide contamination can cause a number of serious health problems so it is best to avoid them.
Choose single-ingredient products if possible. Companies selling proprietary blends (or making outlandish health claims) do not have to disclose their ingredient list.
While there is no scientific evidence that probiotics and prebiotics for humans are not safe for dogs, most veterinarian advice maintains that specifically-formulated pet products are the best choice. They may contain different strains of bacteria or fiber from pet-safe sources.
Many people give their dogs (and themselves) a combination of probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes.
While they perform many of the same functions, digestive enzymes are naturally created by the body, whereas prebiotics needs to be ingested. Digestive enzymes break large macromolecules down into easily absorbed parts.
Digestive enzymes are often recommended when a patient is suffering from recurring trapped gas, bloating, and acid reflux. Dogs can develop these same problems, as well as diarrhea and constipation, and a digestive enzyme supplement could help. Many natural products contain tropical fruit extracts from papaya, mango, or pineapple.
Make sure anything you give your dog has only pet safe ingredients. Avoid:
- Xylitol and other artificial sweeteners
- Yeast extracts
- Artificial food dyes
- Artificial flavor additives
- Corn syrup
- Propylene glycol
- Excess salt
- BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) and BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)
If your dog is suffering from an illness or experiencing symptoms that may be treated with prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes, ask your veterinarian before giving him a supplement.
It may also be a wise idea to keep a log of his symptoms to see trends in improvement (or to pinpoint a change in the disease). You can keep all your dog’s personal health information in one place and have it readily available to discuss with his veterinary care team.
Make sure you take it with you if he needs emergency medical care. Records kept in digital format on your personal smartphone can help keep it handy.
Each day, note:
- what your dog ate and drank
- any unusual external factors that could affect his digestive health (like running around in a new outdoor space)
- any medicine or supplements he has taken, including the specific dose and how often
- the details of any digestive aids given
- a rating of the intensity and frequency of his symptoms
As pet parents, we absolutely want optimal health for our animals. They trust us to take good care of them, to keep them safe and comfortable, and to make solid decisions about their lives. They love us unconditionally and deserve the best.
If your dog is experiencing some digestive upset or can not absorb nutrients efficiently to sustain an active lifestyle, ask your vet about feeding his microscopic gut biome with healthy natural prebiotics.
Sources:Prebiotics and Probiotics for Dogs and Cats
Prebiotics, Probiotics And Intestinal Health
Probiotics for Dogs