How the Status of Your Pet’s Gut Flora Can Help Him Live Longer
Your pet’s gut flora is very important for his health, and can be key to living a long, vibrant life. But what exactly is gut flora and what influences its makeup?
Gut flora simply refers to the bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. Both “good” beneficial bacteria and so-called “bad,” or less beneficial bacteria, live in your pet’s gut. However, in a normal healthy gut, the good guys greatly outnumber the bad, and they help keep their potentially harmful activities under control.
Good bacteria are the billions of health-promoting bacteria that occur naturally in your pet’s intestines. They’re responsible for essential activities:
- Help control the growth of bad or potentially harmful bacteria
- Help make B vitamins for your pet’s body
- Help remove toxins
- Help utilize beneficial fiber
For optimal health, the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in your pet’s gut needs to be just right. Too much bad bacteria and not enough good “friendly” bacteria can spell trouble for your pet.
What Can Make Your Pet’s Gut Flora Unbalanced
Good bacteria are required to help keep your pet’s intestinal lining healthy and intact. When it loses its integrity, the mucosal lining can become permeable to pathogenic bacteria and allow them to pass through the gaps and enter your pet’s bloodstream.
When this happens, you pet’s immune function, joint health, and even behavior can be affected. Food allergies and nutritional deficiencies can develop.
Many things can harm your pet’s friendly bacteria and allow the bad bacteria to thrive:
- Your pet’s diet – If you feed your pet foods that he can’t digest well, abnormal gut fermentation can develop and lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria. Foods that can make this happen include grains, beet pulp, cellulose (all these are used as “fillers” in commercial pet foods).
If you notice poor stool quality, vomiting, and excessive gas in your pet, you may be feeding him food he can’t digest. Dogs’ and cats’ digestive tracts are not designed to handle grains and fillers, even though they are common ingredients in commercial pet foods.
Undesirable eating habits can harm good gut flora too, like eating feces, grass, rocks and sticks. Drinking unsafe water, or water containing harmful chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides can cause harm, too.
When your vet prescribes an antibiotic for your pet, you need to know it kills both the good and the bad bacteria in your pet’s gut.
If your pet is ill and you can’t avoid the use of antibiotics, it’s a good idea to give your pet probiotics, during and after treatment to help replenish the good guys. By restoring the beneficial bacteria, you help to maintain a good balance of bacteria to protect your pet’s gastrointestinal tract.
- Deworming and monthly flea treatments
Both of these common, routine procedures can affect your pet’s gut flora. I recommend you have your pet’s stool checked regularly, about every 6 months, and only deworm for the specific parasite that is present, rather than indiscriminately deworming on a regular basis and putting your pet’s health at risk.
- Steroid medications (or “anti-inflammatory” shots or pills)
Steroid drugs can seriously disrupt your pet’s normal healthy gut flora. Widely prescribed today by vets, steroids, along with antibiotics, decimate your pet’s beneficial bacteria.
- Travel, boarding, and other emotional stressors
Anything that can cause stress in your pet can harm his beneficial gut bacteria. When gastrointestinal stressors upset your pet’s bacteria balance, it can lead to nutritional and other health issues, including poor food absorption and even loose stools.
Help Recharge Your Pet’s Gut Flora With Pet Probiotics
Until recently, traditional veterinarians wrote off probiotics as a waste of money, even though holistic vets were using them successfully for years. Finally, researchers began to seriously study probiotics and discovered that specific strains of probiotics did indeed offer benefits for both cats and dogs. Studies showed pets recovered from illness faster and with fewer complications.
Today, many vets and animal shelters use probiotics to help:
- Ease GI upset
- Restore gut flora after antibiotic use
- Improve digestion
- Boost immune function
- Relieve loose stools
- Newly arrived animals adjust to shelter life
Probiotics introduce high numbers (or CFUs) of “good” bacteria and allow them to take up residence in your pet’s gut. With greater numbers of beneficial bacteria, the “bad” guys can’t flourish and multiply as easily. Probiotics help bring your pet’s gut microorganisms into a healthy balance and promote the overall health of his gut flora.
As they’re introduced into your pet’s intestinal tract, probiotics produce short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs. These SCFAs provide many benefits to your pet’s intestines, including the crucial one of helping to inhibit the activity and growth of pathogen bacteria.
When probiotics deliver the right strains and sufficient amounts of beneficial bacteria, your pet’s nutritional status and overall health can benefit. On the other hand, not having enough good gut bacteria or a poor balance can potentially put your pet at a greater risk for illness and a shorter life.
Probiotics can potentially provide your pet with greater GI health and overall comfort. They may even help promote a normal response to potential allergens and support urinary tract health.
Choosing a Pet Probiotics That’s Right for Your Pet
Dogs and cats have strains of bacteria unique to them, so giving them your probiotic may not be ideal. In fact, one of the best and most efficient strains for your dog is considered a pathogen for humans!
For best results, dogs and cats need organisms that come from and have been tested for effectiveness in their own species.
When you give your pet probiotics specially designed for cats and dogs, you help recharge his beneficial gut bacteria. Probiotics can help your pet’s digestion and positively influence his immune system.
As you shop for probiotics for pets, you’re sure to see a wide range of products with varying number of strains and number of organisms. Probiotics are measured by colony forming units (CFUs). The higher the number, the better, because greater amounts of probiotics can mean better survival of the bacteria.
Look for a probiotic designed specifically for dogs and cats with at least several strains and high CFUs. Many products contain only a couple of strains – these may offer your pet only limited benefits. When you feed a concentrated formula with many strains, there’s a much greater chance the organisms will survive and reach the small intestine where they’re most effective.
For best results, look for products that contain live active probiotic strains. That makes the expiration date of the product very important. Don’t waste your money on probiotics without expiration dates. That could be a red flag that the product may be inferior in quality. If a probiotic isn’t alive or viable, the benefits to your pet may be minimal at best.
Few studies have been done to determine ideal dosages, but you want a probiotic formula that provides at least 4 billion CFUs, or preferably higher per serving. High CFUs help guarantee that your pet will receive adequate probiotics. Follow the directions on the label, and if your pet, especially a small dog, develops loose stools, reduce the dosage slightly.
You can feed probiotics either mixed into your pet’s food or between meals wrapped up in a bite of treat. If giving them between meals, aim for feeding them after your dog has taken a drink of water as that may help dilute his stomach acid and move the probiotics more quickly into the digestive tract. Probiotics may be given short-term or long-term, but long-term use is ideal.
My Top Choice for a Pet Probiotic – Complete Probiotics for Pets
To summarize, you want a pet probiotic that:
- Does not cause disease (despite the fact it contains bacteria)
- Survives the acidic environment of your pet’s stomach
- Contains enough live organisms to colonize the intestines
- Contains the correct strains of bacteria beneficial for pets, not people
- Remains stable under normal storage conditions
- Is easy to give to your dog or cat
The probiotic that I give to my own animals and recommend for all my pet patients is Complete Probiotics for Pets. I’ve formulated this product to contain specific strains that are uniquely valuable for dogs and cats.
I’ve chosen probiotic strains that support bowel health and immune health. In my professional opinion, I believe it’s the best on the market for dogs and cats. Each serving provides over 58 billion beneficial bacteria from 14 of the most powerful strains. Plus, it’s manufactured to avoid any ill effects from heat, air, and moisture on the organisms.
When given to your pet with his meal, you deliver helpful bacteria into his stomach with a more favorable pH. The strains in this formula are known to survive and reach the small intestine where they do most of their work. Because Complete Probiotics for Pets doesn’t require refrigeration, it’s handy and practical to store and to use.
More and more veterinarians are joining in on what holistic veterinarians have realized for years. Feeding a pet probiotics promotes good health. And for many animals, good health may mean they live a longer, healthier life!