What are they?
Probiotics are live microbes, comprising of “good” bacteria and yeast species, which are provided at functional doses as food supplements. They are given with an intention to increase the percentage of “healthy” intestinal microorganisms over the pathogenic, (bad), microorganisms living within the gastrointestinal tract. Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus and Lactobacillus are species of microorganisms that have been well-studied being used as probiotics.
What are the benefits
Some of the mechanisms of action have been found to include: resistance to pathogenic microorganism colonisation, short chain fatty acid production, regulation of intestinal transit, helping normalise the microbiome, and increasing enterocyte (intestinal cell) turnover.
What is their use?
Within veterinary medicine, probiotics are most commonly used to support canine and feline gastrointestinal disorders where intestinal dysbiosis occurs.
Within the gastrointestinal tract there is a balance between these “good” and “ bad” microorganisms. This balance can become disrupted: for example, due to overgrowth of pathogenic microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, parasites, or protozoa), diet changes, stress or antibiotic use (as antibiotics are not targeted to a specific tissue or bacteria, instead, they destroy or kill any bacteria that fall within its spectrum, regardless of whether they are beneficial or pathogenic). The change in balance can cause intestinal dysbiosis, which is alteration in the composition, number and diversity of gut microorganisms. This change can lead to compromised intestinal barrier function.
Scenarios where probiotics have been proven to aid treatment within veterinary medicine include: acute and stress induced diarrhoea, antibiotic-associated gastrointestinal signs, and chronic diarrhoea (such as, with inflammatory bowel disease).
This is why your pet may have been prescribed probiotics as supplement to help treatment for diarrhoea,
or if they have been prescribed antibitoics – to help restore the balance of the microflora within the gut, (for example Promax or Purina Pro Plan Fortiflora). Sometimes probiotics can be used prior to a foreseen stressful event, for example, going to the cattery or kennels, to help support the gastrointestinal microbiome in the face of stress induced diarrhoea.
Other potential future use:
Future use of probiotics have been expanded to other body microbiomes, and microbiome dysbosis, such as, for dental health and skin health.
There have been some studies showing probiotic benefits in prevention of periodontitis and canine atopic dermatitis.
Weight management, chronic kidney disease and calcium oxalate uroliths are also areas of interest for the use of probiotics in the future.
It is important to note that individuals within a species have different microbiome composition affecting how the probiotics work. Therefore, do not be discouraged when a product does not work in one pet, as it may work in another.
Always seek veterinary advice before supplementing your pet on probiotics, there are many products available, so to ensure you choose the best one talk to your vet beforehand.