Demand for probiotic supplements has skyrocketed, both for people and for their pets. With hundreds of cat or dog probiotics on the market, it can be rather daunting to choose one.
Here are a few suggestions to help you choose a safe and effective probiotic for your cat or dog. Remember that it’s always a good idea to speak with your veterinarian before adding any new treatments to your pet’s regimen.
Tip #1: Select a human-grade probiotic rather than a veterinary probiotic.
This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but it is key to finding a good probiotic. The human supplement market is much more tightly regulated than the veterinary one. This means that:
Human-grade probiotics are generally held to higher standards and face significant consequences if what's inside the bottle doesn't match what's on the label. In the veterinary or pet supplement world, this is not the case.
In a recent study, a group of researchers evaluated the accuracy of the labels on twenty-five of the most popular pet probiotics.
Here’s what the study found:
- Less than one-third of them contained at least the same number of colony-forming units that was stated on the bottle. Colony-forming units (CFUs) are an estimate of the total number of viable bacteria present in the probiotic.
- Three products listed bacterial species that don't exist.
- One didn't contain a single live bacterium.
Furthermore, human probiotics and pet probiotics typically contain the same groups of bacteria.
We have much to learn about what goes on in the gut microbiome, so for now, probiotics contain bacteria that are beneficial to pets and people - from the tiniest kittens to the tallest humans.
Tip #2: Look for several different bacterial strains on the ingredient list.
Individual strains of bacteria have been touted as anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and even anti-aging, but these benefits only come when the bacteria are working alongside hundreds of other species. Imagine we took an individual without a single bacterium in their body and filled their gut with Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic that's often used to help treat GI issues like diarrhea and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The person wouldn't become a digestive superhero; instead, L. acidophilus' anti-inflammatory effects, left unchecked by other bacteria, would likely suppress the immune system and make the person highly susceptible to infection.
In short, it's wise to choose a probiotic that has several strains of bacteria, so that their different benefits can complement each other and no group becomes too abundant.
The more strains in the probiotic, the better, but try to go for at least five.
Tip #3: Choose a probiotic that's contained in an enteric-coated capsule.
It doesn't matter how wonderful your probiotic is: if all the bacteria die in the stomach acid, they probably aren't providing much benefit. This is especially important for cats and dogs, whose stomachs can be up to one hundred times more acidic than ours.
Most of the gut microbiome exists in the large intestine, so our goal is to get the bacteria all the way there, ideally still alive.
Enteric coatings are applied to the outside of many medications, including some probiotics, and they prevent the medication inside from being destroyed by the stomach acid. Enteric coatings are made of long-chain carbohydrates and are not digested by the organism, so they rarely cause GI distress, even for those with severe digestive issues.
Tip #4: Consider a different approach if your pet suffers from chronic digestive issues.
Probiotics can be helpful for alleviating digestive problems in many pets, but for more serious chronic digestive issues like chronic diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting, simply adding a probiotic might not be enough to turn things around.
For these cases, you might consider a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), which will deliver a whole healthy community of microbes to your pet. These can be delivered via an oral capsule at home or via an enema in a vet’s office. Check out AnimalBiome’s Gut Microbiome Restoration Pills for cats and for dogs. They're properly balanced and contain cat- and dog-specific microbes from carefully screened donors in perfect health.
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