Probiotics are micro-organisms that are found in your cat’s and dog’s digestive tract. The gut has both good and bad bacteria, and since 80% of the immune system is located in the gut, it’s a good idea to keep a proper balance of good-to-bad bacteria so that the animal’s immune system continues to function well.
If bad bacteria overruns your pet’s digestive tract, it can open the door to GI-related disorders, such as, poor food absorption, and intermittent or chronic diarrhea, or constipation. It can also lead to some serious conditions like leaky gut (dysbiosis), which means your pet can absorb partially digested amino acids and allergens into their bloodstream. And, this can result in a slew of other health problems, from allergies to disorders of the immune system.
You may ask, how do I keep the good and bad flora in balance? Or, how does the bad bacteria get out-of-hand in the first place? Things go awry in the GI tract from the stress of antibiotics, processed pet food, vaccinations, the use steroids like prednisone, surgery, and chronic illnesses. And, then there are the emotional stresses, such as, travel, being placed in a boarding kennel, moving to a new home, and the arrival of a new pet (or, a baby) to the home.
Antibiotics not only kill the “bad” bacteria, but it also kills the good bacteria. I put the word bad in quotations because it is natural for our pets (and humans too) to have “bad” flora in our body. For example, us humans have hemolytic streptococcal, pneumoncoccal, meningococcal, and other pathogenic bacteria, diphtheria bacilla, are found in the mucus of the mouth, pharynx, and nose. And, the reason we’re not walking around with strep throats, meningitis, or pneumonia all the time is because a healthy body will keep these bacteria in check.
It is estimated that several thousand bacterial phylotypes inhabit the human colon. Recent studies have estimated that approximately 200 bacterial species and 900 bacterial strains reside in the canine jejunum; whereas, several thousand phylotypes are thought to be present in fecal samples of dogs and cats. Ten to 12 different bacterial phyla are routinely identified in the mammalian GI tract. (Intestinal Microbiota of Dogs and Cats: a Bigger World than We Thought ~ Jan S. Suchodolski, med vet, Dr med vet, PhD)
Both humans and dogs have Escherichia coli (e.coli) in their guts. However, humans carry more of the drug-resistant e.coli than dogs, and because of the close interaction of humans and their companion animals, people are now passing this drug-resistant bacteria to their pets. And, we can thank the over-use of antibiotics for the creation of drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
After a bout of antibiotics, the first bacteria to grow back is the bad bacteria. A few years ago, a friend of mine took a very strong antibiotic for a gum abscess, which I felt was unnecessary because the dentist had cleaned out the abscess and all that was left to do was to allow the body to naturally heal it. Well, he took the antibiotic anyway. Well, ten days later he was doubled-over in gastric distress, with cramps and non-stop diarrhea. This is what happens: The bad bacteria comes back first, and the body reacts by expelling the toxins. The bad news is it can take two years of an aggressive probiotic protocol to replace the good flora in the guts, and even then, it will never be 100% again…maybe 80% to 85%, but never 100%. Read the research here.
Early evidence from my lab and others hints that, sometimes, our friendly flora never fully recover. These long-term changes to the beneficial bacteria within people’s bodies may even increase our susceptibility to infections and disease. Overuse of antibiotics could be fuelling the dramatic increase in conditions such as obesity, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and asthma, which have more than doubled in many populations. ~ Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center
This is why you have to be careful with antibiotics. If you think doctors prescribe too many antibiotics to people, I can assure you, our animals are given these drugs at an even higher rate. And, the health problems for them can be devastating.
Recently, they have found a link between Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD) and GI Lymphoma in cats. IBD occurs when a collection of gastrointestinal disorders ultimately cause an increase in the number of inflammatory cells in the lining of the digestive tract. Symptoms of IBD includes chronic diarrhea and/or vomiting, which can result in inflammation and scar tissue in the lining of the intestine. These changes may then evolve to cancerous cells and progress to lymphoma of the GI tract.
The typical treatments for feline IBD involve steroids, antibiotics, and other toxic drugs that can destroy the healthy bacterial balance in your cat’s digestive system, eventually making the bowel disorder worse, and setting the stage for a life-threatening disease like GI lymphoma.
The best defense against any GI disease is to maintain an optimal amount of friendly gut bacteria through probiotic supplementation.
What are the other benefits of probiotics?
Research has shown a reduction of the concentration of cancer-promoting enzymes and/or putretactive (bacterial) metabolites in the gut.
~ Prevent and alleviate unspecific irregular complaints of the GI tract in healthy people (animals, too).
~ Prevention or alleviation of allergies and atopic diseases in infants.
~Prevention of respiratory tract infections (common cold; influenza) and other infectious diseases as well as treatment of urogenital infections.
~ Preliminary evidence exists with respect to: cancer prevention; so-called hypocholesterolemic effects (lowering cholesterol); improvement of mouth flora and caries prevention; prevention or therapy of ischemic heart diseases; amelioration of auto-immune diseases (e.g. arthritis).
But, not any probiotic will do.
Not only do cats and dogs have a higher number of gut flora than humans, they also require different strains of gut flora, so it’s not a good idea to give them probiotics that are intended for human use. And, the ones that I’ve seen sold in pet stores are not the kind of probiotics I would recommend either. Not only are they of poor quality, but many of them are dairy-based. First of all, dogs and cats lack the enzymes to digest lactose, and second, yogurt and other dairy-based probiotics do not have the sufficient number of live bacteria to survive the extremely acidic stomachs of a carnivore (10 times more acidic than a human stomach).
Have you ever seen your dog or cat in the yard pulling up grass or plants by the roots and then eat it? Not only are they benefitting from the chlorophyll in the plants, but the dirt around the roots and on the plant are beneficial, too. Sometimes, you’ll even see dogs lick the dirt for the same reason.
Because, unlike lactic acid and bifidobacteria (which are pre-biotics available in fermented food), most of the beneficial bacterial strains found in productive soil are extraordinarily hardy. They can survive heat, shock, and stomach acid, and most importantly they thrive in the environment that makes up the gut.
According to Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, the following three things is what you need to look for in a good SBO probiotic:
1. It should contain 10 or more strains of beneficial bacteria
2. Each serving should contain a minimum 20 million beneficial bacteria – the higher the number, the better
3. It should be GMP certified to assure the viability, potency and purity of the product
Last, but not least, diet
Many gastro-intestinal problems stem from your pet eating a commercial processed diet. And, any food that comes out of a bag, a box, or a can, is processed. These foods are cooked, and over-cooked, to the point of being “dead.” And, what I mean by “dead” is, the meat used for pet food has no essential amino acids, no live enzymes, and most of its vitamin content completely destroyed. That’s why pet food manufacturers have to add synthetic nutrients (which just can’t replace the real thing). Food without any “life” is more difficult for the digestive system to break down. This takes a big strain on the colonies of good bacteria as they expend themselves in an effort to find and assimilate the small amount of nutrient value.
And, don’t forget commercial pet food is full of preservatives, and as I mentioned on another blog, preservatives are like “hidden antibiotics” because basically they’re meant to kill bacteria, including what’s in the gut.
The best diet for a strong immune system and good digestion is to feed your cat or dog is raw meaty bones and organs full of live enzymes. Grass-fed, organic meats is the best, but if you can’t afford them and you have to buy the regular meat at the supermarket (which comes from farm-factory animals), then double check on the products label whether the meat contains antibiotics.