Prebiotics, Probiotics and Synbiotics

By November 26, 2012Blog


Prebiotic: non-living, non-digestible food ingredient that is used to support beneficial bacteria, especially in the colon (ie beet pulp, fiber, psyillium, bran)

Probiotic: “live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the World Health Organization (WHO))

Synbiotics: therapeutic use of probiotics and probiotics

The gastrointestinal tract of mammals is populated by bacteria that can be categorized into 1) beneficial or resident bacteria, 2) harmful or pathogenic bacteria, and 3) opportunistic bacteria.  The number of bacterial organisms in a dog or cat can even outnumber the mammal cells present in the body.  Many intestinal bacterial organisms are obtained from the mother as the puppy or kitten nurses, and the population of organism can change as the puppy or kitten transitions to solid food.  The beneficial effects of the resident bacteria can include improving the intestinal barrier to limit the ability of harmful bacteria to adhere to the intestinal mucosa, limiting intestinal inflammation (and limiting the permeability of the intestinal epithelial cells to allow bacteria to translocate from the intestinal lumen into the bloodstream), and can influence mucus production of the intestinal cells.

The ideal probiotic is a living microbial strain or combination of strains derived from or for the species of interest (ie there are dog and cat specific probiotics and may not be interchangeable), is non-toxic, is non-pathogenic, can survive stomach acid and intestinal enzymes, can influence host immune responses at the intestinal barrier level, and is not able to be absorbed into the bloodstream (does not cause a bacteremia).  Because probiotic strain adherence or colonization of the host intestine may be difficult or may not even be necessary, the presence of the strain may be transient.  Accordingly, the probiotic strain must be administered on a continuing basis.

Because probiotics are not considered drugs and are often not used with the intent to cure specific diseases, regulation by the Federal Drug Administration is not as intense as it is for typical drugs.  In published veterinary studies evaluating veterinary probiotics in the early 2000s, some product labels had strains that were mis-spelled, erroneous, or not identified.  Some products did not even contain living organisms.  Veterinarians and pet owners should look for and expect a product label to include the living organism with correct spelling, and identified to the strain level, the number of live organisms to be expected on the expiration date, the colony-forming units (CFU) per unit weight (recommendations extrapolated from human data indicate that 108 to 1012 CFU/gram is sufficient).

While, many more studies have been performed to evaluate probiotics in disease states in human medicine, there is some evidence to suggest that probiotic use may be helpful veterinary medicine as well, especially with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), infectious or antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and allergic conditions.  If probiotics are given while a dog or cat is on oral antibiotics, these two therapies should be administered separately in the day to minimize the risk that the antibiotic may negate any beneficial effect of the probiotic strain.

Discuss the use of prebiotics, probiotics, or synbiotics with your pet’s primary care veterinarian at the next wellness visit.

Dr. Jessica Diaz