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The Biotics of Gut Health

dog running with toy

The gut microbiome in our companion animals serves as home for countless microorganisms that, together, work in maintaining and regulating their overall health. If, for some reason, these organisms are disturbed the decline in wellbeing of our pets will affect them and lead to diseases. This disruption will lead to imbalances in the gut microbiome that will potentially lead to chronic conditions. The use of biotics has been used to successfully treat and/or prevent gastrointestinal disorders. There is a relationship between diet, age, diseases, health, the immune system, and changes in the microbiota.

  • Probiotics are live organisms that are similar to those found naturally in the gut, therefore greatly increasing the source of beneficial live bacteria in the host. They provide health benefits to the host by promoting colonization of probiotic organisms in the intestinal tract.

  • Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that increase the number or activity of specific beneficial bacteria already residing in the host. They encourage the fermentative processes of the intestines leading to many benefits.

  • Synbiotics are formulations containing both probiotics and prebiotics.


A synbiotic product is one in which the prebiotic favors the probiotic and beneficially affects the host in improving survival and implantation of probiotics in the GI tract by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activation of prebiotics. Synbiotics improve the survival of probiotics through the passage of the upper intestinal tract. The major probiotics used are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria spp., while the major prebiotics are oligosaccharides and inulin. Health benefits include increased Lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, improvement of immunomodulating ability, and prevention of bacterial translocation.


Probiotics are effective for acute diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, functional gastrointestinal disorders (constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, gastroesophageal reflux) and allergies, among others.

Probiotics enhance intestinal immune response, repair intestinal permeability, improve intestinal barrier function, and enhance production of antimicrobial substances to inhibit the colonization of pathogenic microbes. Probiotics significantly increase beneficial bacteria and decrease potentially harmful bacteria including E. Coli and Sutterella stercoricanisin.

Using pre/probiotics:

Treatment is recommended for 45-60 days. Natural probiotics found in the gastrointestinal tract will return to baseline after treatment has ended but some strains will remain for up to 3 months after treatment. Broad spectrum combination products are likely to have the most benefit since the specific strains needed for each function remains unclear. Those containing at least 2 billion CFUs should be considered first. For successful use of probiotics, the bacterial species should be of the host origin, and should be used with a prebiotic.

*Please consult with your vet the use of pre/probiotics especially in pets that are ill before beginning treatment. This will ensure that there is indeed a gut related disease that can be managed with pre/probiotics. Consult with your vet the use of pre/probiotics in puppies less than a year old as they should only be used in healthy, not ill, puppies*

Most common bacteria present in dogs:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus rhamnos, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus murinus, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus animalis, Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, Lactobacillus paraplantarum, Bifidobacterium pseudolongum, Bifidobacterium animalis, Enterococcus faecium, Streptococcus spp.

Most common bacteria present in cats:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus johnsonii, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus sakei, several Bifidobacterium species, Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Fusobacteria, Actinobacteria

*No cat specific probiotics have been formulated but products designed for dogs have shown to be successful in cats. However, the strains that cats tend to do best with are those of the Bifidobacterium and Enterococcus families.*


Prebiotics stimulate the growth and/or activity of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria in the colon. The ideal probiotic will resist the acids in the stomach, bile salts, and hydrolyzing enzymes in the stomach, will not be absorbed in the upper GI tract, and will be easily fermentable by intestinal microflora. Some sources of inulin include chicory root and non-digestible oligosaccharides.

Prebiotics offer several health benefits like reducing diarrhea, relief from inflammation and other symptoms associated with IBD/IBS, and protective effects against colon cancer. Prebiotics are involved in the enhancement of bioavailability and uptake of minerals (like Ca, Mg, Fe, and K), lowering some risk factors of cardiovascular disease, and promoting weight loss.

Prebiotic sources:

  • Slippery elm – not only is it a prebiotic, but it is also used to protect the mucosal barrier function in GI illness due to its increased mucilaginous property.

  • Globe Artichoke

  • Chikory Root – It is the most common source of inulin. Do not use in pets known to have an allergy to ragweed or dandelions.

  • Larch arabinogalactan

Common diseases and the best strain combination known to use for treatment:

  • Acute diarrhea – L. casei, L. plantarum, B. animalis, B. lactis

  • Leaky gut - L. rhamnosus and L. plantarum can promote the secretion of mucous to form a protective layer between the mucosa and microbes of the host

  • IBD/IBS – L. plantarum, L. delbrueckiiu, (subsp. bulgaricus), L. casei, L. acidophilus, B. breve, B. longum, B. infantis, Streptococcus salivaris (supsp. Thermophilus)

  • Gastroenteritis - L. rhamnosus and L. plantarum

  • Antibiotic-associated diarrhea – B. animalis, L. fermentum, L. plantarum, L. delbrueckiiu

  • Ulcerative Colitis – B. animalis, B. lactis, L. acidophilus, L. casei

  • Lactose Intolerance – L. bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophiles, B. longum, L. acidophilus, B. breve

Uses to enhance immune response:

  • Probiotics significantly increase beneficial bacteria and decrease potentially harmful bacteria including E. Coli and Sutterella stercoricanisin.

  • Antimicrobial production - L. rhamnosus and L. plantarum, Clostridiam perfringes, Enterococcus faecalis, and Staphylococcus aureus indicate bacteriocinogenic effects.

So, who can benefit from pre/probiotics?

Pre and probiotics in dogs and cats of all ages and health will modulate gut microbiota and intestinal health, and can possibly protect them from infections related to the intestines by stimulating their immunity.

  • Healthy Dogs – Prebiotics help with firmer poops and increased levels of bifidobacteria. Probiotics prevent common pathogens like E. canis and Salmonella from adhering to the intestinal wall.

  • Puppies – probiotics in healthy puppies from weaning to 1 year of age can enhance mucosal and systemic levels, which are necessary for improving protective immune responses against infections during the weaning period. This effect will carry on into later stages in life. Do not give probiotics to a nursing bitch or her nursing puppies as this can overload their system.

  • Seniors and geriatric - Elderly dogs benefit greatly from probiotics by shifting their gut microbiota toward a younger-like composition after 60 days of treatment.

  • Overweight dogs – obese dogs have an imbalance in the symbiotic relationships between bacteria in the gut. Pre and probiotic additions help regulate the imbalance. No information on the use of them in obese cats are available.

  • Healthy Cats – Prebiotics positively affect gut microbial population by increasing bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, and reducing E. Coli

  • Pets taking antibiotics – Probiotics help restore the good bacteria destroyed and help eliminate the bad microbes with antimicrobial resistance that would normally have an opportunity to grow with antibiotics.

Side Effects:

  • There are no known safety risks in cat and dog probiotics but probiotics containing Enterococci should be avoided even though they are part of the gut microbiome as they can also be pathogenic and have the ability to rapidly develop.

  • Synbiotics may cause flatulence in some cats and dogs. Slowly increase the amount given periodically to reduce the possibility.

  • Prebiotics may cause diarrhea if too much is given. Slowly increase the amount given in order to avoid it.

While the use of prebiotics and probiotics has the potential of helping our pets restore imbalances in their gut microbiome to aid in the treatment of diseases, those that are in good health will also greatly benefit from a boost to their gut health.



Effect of a multi-species synbiotic formulation on fecal bacterial microbiota of healthy cats and dogs as evaluated by pyrosequencing

By Jose F. Garcia-Mazcorro, David J. Lanerie, Scot E. Dowd, Casey G. Paddock, Niels Grützner, Jörg M. Steiner, Renata Ivanek, Jan S. Suchodolski Year: 2011 Container: FEMS Microbiology Ecology Volume: 78 Issue: 3 Page: 542-554 DOI: 10.1111/j.1574-6941.2011.01185.x

Oral Administration of Compound Probiotics Improved Canine Feed Intake, Weight Gain, Immunity and Intestinal Microbiota

By Haiyan Xu, Weiqiang Huang, Qiangchuan Hou, Lai-Yu Kwok, Wuri Laga, Yanjie Wang, Huimin Ma, Zhihong Sun, Heping Zhang Year:2019 Container: Frontiers in Immunology Volume: 10 DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.00666

Microbiota and probiotics in canine and feline welfare

By Łukasz Grześkowiak, Akihito Endo, Shea Beasley, Seppo Salminen Year: 2015 Container: Anaerobe Volume: 34 Page: 14-23 DOI:10.1016/j.anaerobe.2015.04.002

Characterization of Lactobacillus rhamnosus MP01 and Lactobacillus plantarum MP02 and Assessment of Their Potential for the Prevention of Gastrointestinal Infections in an Experimental Canine Model

By Leónides Fernández, Raquel Martínez, Manuela Pérez, Rebeca Arroyo, Juan M. Rodríguez Year: 2019 Container: Frontiers in Microbiology Volume: 10 DOI:10.3389/fmicb.2019.01117

Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics- a review By Kavita. R. Pandey, Suresh. R. Naik, Babu. V. Vakil Year: 2015 Container: Journal of Food Science and Technology Volume: 52 Issue: 12 Page: 7577-7587 DOI:10.1007/s13197-015-1921-1

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