As a pet owner, you obviously want the best for your beloved companion. This means finding the absolute best food possible. One recent trend is pet owners buying probiotics foods for their dogs and cats. You hear so much about the benefits of probiotics, you automatically think foods with beneficial microbes added will help sustain your pets’ health. But all you’re doing is wasting your money.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are “good,” or beneficial, bacteria and yeasts. They help reinforce the supply of good microbes already residing in the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut.” Dogs, as well as humans, for that matter, have trillions of microbes living in their gut. While many of them are beneficial, many of them are harmful. When the “bad guys” outnumber the “good guys,” that can lead to digestive and other health problems.1
There are many food manufacturers out there that add prebiotics to their products, in addition to probiotics. Prebiotics are substances that the body can’t digest. Instead, they serve as a food source for intestinal microbes. Prebiotics help promote the movement of waste products through the intestines and also help keep harmful bacteria in check.2
A Prebiotic Problem?
There are some instances, however, where prebiotics can actually be harmful to pets. A healthy dog or cat will probably not have any problems. But a pet with digestive problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease or leaky gut, could get worse. Prebiotics could act as food for harmful microbes, as well as good ones. In addition, some dogs are unable to properly digest beet pulp, a prebiotic often added to dog food. As a result, they are at a risk for problems such as excessive flatulence and nausea.3
Processed Foods and Probiotics
Many processed foods you’ll see on the shelves of your local pet store will have labels stating that they contain probiotics. The idea of finding probiotic foods on a pet store shelf might sound good to you. But if you buy that food, you’ll only be wasting your money.
The reason is that probiotic microbes are extremely sensitive to heat. When they’re added to a dry food, they won’t live long enough to be able to do your pet’s gut any good. Heat is a major part of the processing of food. Since probiotic bacteria die when subjected to heat, they’ll basically be useless. A probiotic has to be able to not only live, but also multiply inside the gut in order to provide any benefits.4
What’s the Solution Here?
You might be wondering what you need to do in order to help ensure your pet’s long-term health. First, you should consider giving your pet a diet consisting of fresh, whole foods. These include vegetables, fruit, meats, and healthy spices and herbs. This can provide several health benefits, especially when it comes to a pet’s digestive health. Whole foods can help a pet avoid many types of gastrointestinal illnesses.5 Some fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi (a dish made of fermented vegetables) are excellent natural probiotic foods.6
You may also want to think about giving your pet a probiotic supplement. Be careful, however, because not all probiotic supplements are created equal. There are many products out there that claim to provide strains of good bacteria. The unfortunate truth is that lots of these products don’t contain the ingredients they claim to contain. Some of the ingredients might even be dangerous.7 Your vet should be able to recommend legitimate supplements.
Also, while the food you choose for your pet is obviously extremely important, it’s just as critical that you make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Taking your pet for regular walks is great for not only his or her physical health, but his or her mental health as well. The smells, sounds and sights your dog encounters while walking around the neighborhood are very stimulating.8
The Bottom Line
While beneficial microbes are great for your pet, stay away from processed probiotic foods. In order to help your pets get the probiotics they need, consider adding whole foods or supplements to their diet. If you’re still not sure, talk to your veterinarian, to learn what types of supplements will be most beneficial for your four-legged friend.