One topic that can leave dog owners a bit mystified is the difference between prebiotics vs probiotics ... and now synbiotics and postbiotics.
Probiotics are important to health, especially gut and immune health. But what are all the others … and do you need to give your dog those too?
So let’s break everything down …
Probiotics For Dogs
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 with some important jobs in your dog's body.
They can help restore the microbiome and populate the gut with healthy bacteria. And they crowd out harmful bacteria that cause disease.
Friendly bacteria produce your dog’s B vitamins and vitamin K ... and they play a critical role in digestion. They produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help build T-cells in the immune system, protect the gut lining, and reduce 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 these aren't always effective as probiotics ...
Probiotic bacteria need to survive their passage through the gut and colonize in the colon. Probiotic foods may not be able to do this. But they can still be prebiotic ... and postbiotic (more about that later).
Also, many dogs are lactose intolerant ... so fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut may be better choices than dairy, if you want to give probiotic foods.
Should Your Dog Get Probiotics?
Most dogs should get regular probiotics. Your dog’s immune system protects him from illness and disease ...everything from allergies to diabetes to cancer and even parasites.
And more than 80% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut. So that means your dog can't be truly healthy unless he has a healthy gut.
The problem is, there are a lot of things that can kill off the friendly bacteria and increase the harmful ones, such as ...
High Starch Diets - Harmful bacteria like 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 - Pharmaceutical drugs like dewormers and vaccines destroy the bacterial 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. These include ...
- Heavy metals
- Food additives
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (substances that easily turn into gas or vapor such as gas)
This is where probiotic supplemens come in. Because probiotics can support the immune system … they’re a good option to support your dog’s day-to-day health.
How To Give Your Dog Probiotics
The amount of probiotics you give your dog each day will depend on the probiotic you use.
If using Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species, you want to feed a number of strains. They’re more easily destroyed in the gut, so look for at least 30 billion CFU.
Bacillus strains are much 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 is stressed by things like …
- Agility trials
- Vet visits
Probiotics are also a good choice following a round of antibiotics ... which destroy your dog’s intestinal flora.
It’s usually 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.
So Saccharomyces boulardii (or a probiotic blend that contains S. boulardii) is a better choice. S. boulardii is a probiotic yeast … not bacteria. But it's an effective probiotic to fight diarrhea as well as yeast infections. And unlike other probiotics, it can’t be killed by antibiotics. That means you can give it during antibiotic treatment.
Prebiotics For Dogs
Prebiotics feed 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 probiotics need prebiotics to feed them, you should use both together. Prebiotics 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.
When you give prebiotic foods, ease into them gradually to see how your dog responds. If he seems to thrive on prebiotic-rich foods combined with probiotic supplements or foods, then keep feeding them!
When researching probiotics or prebiotics, you may come across the term 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 tight, 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.
Another major benefit of postbiotics is that they can help with leaky gut.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky gut is when the gut lining gets damaged. This allows bacteria, toxins and undigested foods 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 your dog an extra boost when he’s stressed, taking antibiotics or has digestive upset.
They'll help support his microbiome and keep him feeling strong.