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While many clients are familiar with human probiotics, questions about how probiotics can benefit their pets are common. It may sound obvious, but not all probiotics are equal and interchangeable, and it’s important to make that distinction to owners. The following three questions can be helpful in explaining why a specific probiotic is being recommended.
Is the probiotic safe?
This is an important priority with sick or immunocompromised patients. It’s essential that the probiotic selected to help a pet carry no risk of causing further disease or worsening symptoms, particularly by permeating the intestinal barrier and translocating bacteria into circulation. If a pet has a condition that can damage the intestinal lining (parvovirus is an example), probiotics may be contraindicated, due to the potential for bacteraemia development.
Will the probiotic have a positive impact?
Transient colonisation is a key characteristic of effective probiotics. This means the bacteria will stick around in the GI tract and then pass when supplementation ends. The gut is a rapidly changing environment that must be able to adapt, so permanent colonisation of probiotic bacteria is not desirable. Along the same lines, the probiotic can’t compete with the good organisms in the gut. You want the probiotic to live in peace with beneficial bacteria, promoting the production of short chain fatty acids and antibodies that benefit the pet’s gut and immune health. For example, Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Diets FortiFlora® contains the probiotic Enterococcus faecium strain SF68, which has been demonstrated to help restore intestinal health and balance in dogs and cats. Over-the-counter probiotics may have unpredictable bacterial strains and counts, making efficacy less predictable.
Can the probiotic survive long enough to be effective?
Two challenges are associated with the resiliency of probiotic bacteria. Veterinary probiotics are dispensed in an office and then stored in the home, sometimes for an extended period of time, so it’s important that the product be shelf stable. Second, once ingested, the bacteria need to be able to survive the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach. A probiotic that can’t survive long enough to reach the GI tract won’t provide any benefit to a pet in need. FortiFlora® is microencapsulated to withstand handling, processing and storage to aid in the bacteria’s survival. It also carries clear package dating so clients can trust the potency of the product they’re feeding. If they’ve ever taken probiotics themselves—or at the least heard them advertised—clients may have some limited understanding of what a probiotic is. It’s up to the veterinarian to educate owners more fully, so they understand how and why their pet may benefit from probiotic supplementation, as well as why the vet is recommending a specific product.
1-2-3s of Probiotic Assessment
1. Safety – No risk of causing or worsening symptoms
2. Beneficial – Promotes gut and immune health
3. Stable – Survives long enough to provide benefit