Are You Pro Probiotics?

Maryann Szalka

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract of all healthy mammals contains over 400 species of microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, fungi, and protozoa). These microorganisms form a natural protective barrier which keeps opportunistic pathogens from proliferating. Several things can destroy the intestinal bacterial balance in your Beardie’s gut. Overuse of antibiotics destroys good bacteria as well as bad. When your dog experiences some form of stress such as birth, lactation, weaning, new household members (human and pet), new diet, poor diet, being left alone, transportation, vet visits, pollutants, environmental changes, pesticides, competitions, etc., changes occur in the GI tract that kill many of these protective organisms.

So what exactly are probiotics? Probiotics are the opposite of antibiotics since antibiotics kill normal bacteria in the gut and probiotics help replace them. In the normal GI tract, microorganisms help break down food, make vitamins, absorb nutrients, prevent pathogenic colonization, and help maintain overall intestinal health. Therefore, it is important for the gut to reestablish or maintain normal microflora to prevent disease. According to the Royal Society of Medicine of Great Britain, almost 90 percent of chronic diseases are caused by an unhealthy intestinal system! After much research in the field of probiotics in various species, studies have shown the benefits of probiotics are numerous and they are absolutely vital to help:

  • Produce natural antibiotics, which can fight harmful bacteria
  • Regulate and increase hormone levels
  • Manufacture B group vitamins, particularly cyanocobalamine (B12), biotin (B7) and folic acid (B9)
  • Stimulate the immune system
  • Reduce food intolerance
  • Increase energy levels
  • Inhibit the growth of some yeast
  • Absorb nutrients, antioxidants and iron from food that is eaten
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Increase digestibility of food

It is believed that the intestinal flora is established at birth, and is something the bitch passes on to her puppies. This may explain why some Beardies are more prone to loose stools and GI upsets than other Beardies even though they reside in the same home, eat the same food, and share the same environmental factors. It makes sense that probiotic supplements are especially beneficial for newborn puppies to increase the number of desirable organisms in their digestive tract. They are also beneficial for pregnant and lactating bitches so they can pass on a healthy microflora to their puppies prior to weaning.

There are many commercial dog foods that boast that they include probiotics amongst the listed ingredients. In actuality, not many of the probiotics survive the manufacturing process, and if they do survive they may not be as effective. Keep in mind the intestinal microflora differs between species of animals mainly because of the difference in dietary needs so be sure to use a product formulated specifically for canines. Probiotic microorganisms can be freeze-dried to retain full viability and potency until mixed with water, which happens naturally once ingested. Some strains of bacteria are able to go dormant if availability of nutrients and/or environmental conditions becomes unfavorable for growth. Powdered or granulated forms must be kept dry until fed to maintain full potency. Heat and sunlight can also kill probiotic microorganisms, even in the dry state. For the longest shelf life for any probiotic, keep tightly sealed and refrigerated. A “best before” or “use by” date should be indicated on the label. Dried forms may also be frozen once, but not repeatedly thawed and refrozen. Freezing can extend potency past the expiration date. Paste and liquid probiotics must be refrigerated, and cannot be frozen. They have a similar shelf life if kept sealed and refrigerated. Probiotics come in at least three different concentrations:

  • Maintenance – should be fed daily for everyday stresses such as weather variation and occasionally being left alone. These are usually supplied as a powder or granules.
  • Intermediate – should also be fed daily for chronic stresses and many digestive problems. These are also usually supplied as a powder.
  • Concentrated – can be fed one or more times daily for treatment of a sick animal until the animal is eating normally. These are available in either paste or liquid form.

Chronic diarrhea or loose stools that are accompanied by other symptoms such as an elevated temperature, vomiting, anorexia, and lethargy should be evaluated by your veterinarian. There are a number of commercial probiotic products available to supplement your Beardie. Bene-Bac Pet Gel, Fastrack Canine Gel (for puppies), Fastrack Canine Microbial Supplement, Pet-Bac Oral Gel, and Primal Defense are just a few. Although live yogurts and kefir are an inexpensive and effective way to supplement, be mindful that these items contain specific and limited strains of probiotics. On a personal note, when Dr. Linda Aronson and I attended the AKC/CHF Conference in 2007, we both received samples of a product made by Purina called FortiFlora. One of my Beardies tends to have a looser stool, so I decided to give the product a try when I got home. Within a week, I noticed an improvement so I contacted Linda and learned she had also used FortiFlora with positive results. FortiFlora is available through your veterinarian and on line; prices may vary ($15-$23 for a month’s supply). Probiotics are proof that good things come in small packages!