Digestive health and its importance for maximising nutrition

probiotics for pets

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It is all well and good to recommend a high quality, nutritionally balanced and superior diet for your patients, but if they have sub-adequate gut health, many of the nutrients present in their food will not be readily available. As Hippocrates famously said, “All disease begins in the gut”, so we need to prioritise our care of this important organ.

The gut is the largest immune organ within the body, containing over 65% of all the immune cells and over 90% of all Ig-producing cells. Therefore, a significant part of the immune system can interact with the food that enters the gut. The intestinal wall acts as a semi-permeable epithelial barrier, and increases its surface area to maximise nutrient absorption due to the presence of villi and microvilli. These microvilli are covered in mucous in which billions of commensal microorganisms thrive and compete for nutrients. It is the epithelial cells that line the intestines that produce IgA and antimicrobial peptides.

Probiotics are an excellent way to improve gut health and therefore maximise nutrient absorption from the diet. They function in several ways, including hampering attachment of pathogenic microbes, stimulating immune response and increasing activity of host antibodies, competing with pathogenic bacteria for nutrients (therefore reducing their numbers), and restoring damaged epithelial lining in cases involving inflammation. It has been shown that probiotic cocktails (containing multiple strains) are more efficacious than single strains in certain veterinary situations.

When selecting a probiotic supplement, it is important to be sure that the strains listed are specific for animals, that the product contains enough live organisms per dose to be able to exert therapeutic benefits and that the product has been quality tested to meet label claims.

Prebiotics are indigestible oligosaccharides that are fermented within the large colon. Adding prebiotic fibre to a probiotic supplement can enhance the efficacy of the probiotics as they work together synergistically. Prebiotic fibre, such as is found in certain legumes, grains and grasses, can be a beneficial food source for the healthy microbes that are resident within the gut, as well as any of the probiotic bacteria that are introduced in supplemental form. 

Indications that suggest a pre/probiotic supplement may be a beneficial adjunct to a patient’s diet include: either acute or chronic diarrhoea of infectious or non-infectious forms, in cases where immunity is sub-par and requires modulating, and potentially as a preventative against the development of allergies.

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