As you learn to care for your dog naturally … you’ll discover more and more options to support his health holistically. But sometimes it can get confusing!
One topic that can leave dog owners a bit mystified is the difference between all the “-biotics” … probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics and postbiotics.
You probably know that probiotics are important to health. But what are all the others … and do you need to give your dog those too?
To help clarify, let’s break everything down …
Your dog’s gut is full of bacteria … good and bad. And this community of bacteria, along with yeasts and viruses, is called the microbiome.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can colonize in your dog and provide health benefits.
They can help restore the microbiome and repopulate the intestine with healthy bacteria. And they crowd out pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E coli.
Friendly bacteria produce your dog’s B vitamins and vitamin K … they also play a critical role in digestion. And produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help balance the immune system and decrease inflammation.
You can give your dog probiotics via food or supplements.
Dairy-based products like kefir and yogurt are some examples you're likely familiar with … but they’re not always probiotic.
Technically probiotic means that the bacteria will survive the passage through the gut and colonize.
Probiotic foods may or may not have enough bacteria to be called probiotic. But they can still be prebiotic and postbiotic.
I’ll talk about a couple of good reasons prebiotics and postbiotics are good for your dog in the next sections.
With that said, many dogs are lactose intolerant so kimchi and sauerkraut may be better choices.
Should All Dogs Get Probiotics?
Your dog’s immune system protects him from illness and disease. Everything from allergies to diabetes to cancer.
And it turns out that 80% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut.
That means you’ll never find a long-term solution to your dog’s health issues until you fix his gut bacteria.
The problem is, there are a lot of things that can kill off the friendly bacteria and increase the harmful ones.
High Starch Diets - Harmful bacteria prefer to eat starchy foods with a higher glycemic load. High starch diets feed inflammatory bacteria that crowd out friendly bacteria.
High-Fat Diets - Like starchy diets, a high-fat diet will feed the bad bacteria. This will lead to gut inflammation and long-term issues.
Medications and Vaccines - Drugs, dewormers and vaccines destroy the balance in your dog’s gut.
Antibiotics - Antibiotics wipe out all the bacteria in the gut. This leaves your dog’s digestive system sterile and his immune system a mess.
Environmental Toxins - Pesticides and herbicides, especially glyphosate and Roundup, kill friendly bacteria. The same goes for environmental toxins found in the air, water, ground, food and toys. Toxins like:
- Heavy metals
- Food additives
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (substances that easily turn into gas or vapor such as gas)
This is where probiotics come in.
Because probiotics can support the immune system … they’re a good option to support your dog’s day-to-day health.
The amount of probiotics you give your dog each day will depend on the probiotic you use.
In comparison, Bacillus strains are hardier so 1 to 5 billion CFU should be plenty.
But probiotics aren’t only good for the day to day maintenance of a healthy microbiome.
They can also be a great tool when your dog has digestive upsets. Or when your dog feels stressed from things like …
- Agility trials
- Vet visits
Probiotics may also be a good choice following a round of antibiotics. I mentioned antibiotics destroy your dog’s intestinal flora.
It’s almost always possible to avoid antibiotics altogether with natural remedies … but if you do have to use antibiotics in an emergency, you may want to give probiotics as well.
This will help keep the good bacteria present and rebalance your dog’s gut bacteria.
But the type of probiotic you use is important.
In one study, researchers found that Lactobacillus probiotics can delay microbiome recovery.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a better choice. Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast … not a bacteria. But it's still probiotic.
It helps fight diarrhea and yeast infections and … unlike other probiotics, it can’t be killed by antibiotics. That means it be given during antibiotic treatment.
Prebiotics help fuel probiotics.
Prebiotic are insoluble, indigestible fibers. When your dog eats these fibers, they travel to the colon and the bacteria that live there eat them. Or technically ferment them.
That’s why prebiotics are so important. They feed the probiotics in your dog’s gut. This helps grow, restore and maintain a healthy gut flora.
Without prebiotics, probiotics are less effective and can eventually die off.
Like probiotics, you can give your dog prebiotics through food or supplements.
Common prebiotics are …
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
- Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS)
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
- Burdock root
- Dandelion root
Because you want the prebiotics to fuel the good bacteria, you should use them in combination with probiotics. They’ll help support the growth of good bacteria in your dog's gut.
On the downside, prebiotics can also potentially feed harmful intestinal bacteria. And that could contribute to digestive disorders.
If you decide to give prebiotic foods a try, ease into feeding them gradually to see how your dog responds. If he seems to thrive on prebiotic-rich foods combined with probiotic-rich ingredients, then keep feeding them!
When looking for probiotics or prebiotics, you may notice the word synbiotics.
Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. It’s a convenient way to get your dog what he needs to keep him healthy and strong.
Postbiotics are metabolites. They’re created during fermentation (when probiotics eat prebiotics). They can also be released when the bacteria’s cell membrane breaks down.
One of the most important postbiotics are short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that ...
- Inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria
- Act as an energy source for colon cells
- Keep cells lining the gut close together to prevent leaky gut
- Preserve electrolyte and fluid balance
- Form the protective layer of the gut
- Build up the immune system
- Reduce inflammation
- Protect against food allergens
- Help the body absorb nutrients
Other common postbiotics include …
- Cell surface proteins
- Organic acids
The kinds of postbiotics produced depends on:
- The bacteria in your dog’s gut.
- The prebiotics the bacteria eat.
Postbiotics are a relatively new concept. But there’s some research that shows their benefits.
Muramyl dipeptide (a peptide) improves the effectiveness of insulin to help prevent diabetes.
Postbiotics are also responsible for boosting the immune system.
Another major benefit of postbiotics is that they can help with leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut is when the gut lining gets damaged. This allows food, bacteria and toxins to pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream.
While the liver should filter out these toxins, it can get overworked if leaky gut continues.
The immune system kicks into high gear to fight off the added pathogens. And that leads to inflammation.
If that isn’t resolved, it can lead to chronic inflammation.
Butyrate, a SCFA postbiotic, can help heal the colon to prevent leaky gut.
Putting It All Together
Probiotics are good bacteria that live in your dog’s gut. They feed on prebiotics that ferment in the colon and then produce postbiotics.
While you can’t supplement postbiotics … a synbiotic mix of prebiotics and probiotics will increase postbiotic production.
Together pro-, pre- and postbiotics will help strengthen your dog’s gut and boost his immune system. That means he’ll be better prepared to fight off inflammation and chronic disease.
Add them daily to maintain a healthy immune system. Or use them to give him an extra boost when he’s stressed, taking antibiotics or has digestive upset.
This will help restore the health of his biome and keep him feeling strong.