3/9/2022 | By Kari Smith

Are prebiotics and probiotics for pets worthwhile or a waste of money? What are they supposed to do, anyway? For pet owners looking for the best for their dogs and cats, these questions matter.

What are prebiotics and probiotics anyway?

“Probiotics” are all around us – on store shelves, in advertising, and as health recommendations. Otherwise, probiotics and their microorganism cousins, prebiotics, are actually inside us!

If you have ever taken antibiotics, your doctor may have suggested taking probiotics alongside the medication – since antibiotics can mess with a healthy gut, probiotics can restore balance and enable you to avoid digestive issues. You may also have heard popular yogurt commercials mentioning the presence of probiotics and live cultures in their product.

Put simply, probiotics are good bacteria that help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics. They’re the carbs (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest but your gut’s beneficial bacteria can.

“Research has shown that all roads lead to the health of our gut microbiome,” says Raphael Kellman, M.D., founder of the Kellman Wellness Center in New York City. “This is the inner realm of thousands of microbes residing in our intestines. They are intimately connected to all aspects of health, greatly impacting mood, metabolism, immune function, digestion, hormones, inflammation and even gene expression.”

One way to restore and maintain this aspect of health is through taking in probiotic and prebiotics in foods. Another option is through supplements. The same holds true for our pets.

Prebiotics and probiotics for pets

As we deal with health issues personally, we become more aware of these issues in our pets. If you take fish oil or MSM-glucosamine supplements for joint pain, you may be more aware that your aging dog or cat may also benefit from these supplements for joint pain. Just as pet owners want to provide the very best foods and supplements to maintain their own personal overall gut health, they may also want to provide probiotic supplements that help maintain their pets’ gut health.

So, we could just give Fido the yogurt from that commercial, right? Not so fast …

Are prebiotics and probiotics for pets safe?

cat and dog with potted houseplant okssi68 dreamstime. For article, 8 Top Pet-Friendly Air-Cleaning Houseplants

Just like humans, dogs and cats have billions of bacteria in their stomach that help them digest their food and maintain a healthy immune system. This overall “system” in the gut is called a microbiome, and an unhealthy microbiome may present in dogs as digestive issues such as upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea, or other issues such as general unhealthiness, allergies, or even bad breath. Just as with humans, a round of antibiotics may cause these issues in dogs. Other stressful situations can also cause an unhealthy microbiome – such as weaning a pup, change in diet, or eating unhealthy or spoiled food. It could also be caused by the presence of parasites.

As with any pill or supplement, do your research. Consult with your vet regarding your dog’s specific problem, or discuss why you should or shouldn’t use probiotics as a preventative measure. Because there is more than one type of probiotic, ask your vet which would be most effective in your pup’s situation. Don’t automatically trust a label with the word “probiotic.” Because probiotics are sensitive to moisture level, temperature, or even exposure to air, they must be made with the highest quality standards, are often refrigerated, and have expiration dates.

Back to the yogurt: if you choose to give your dog probiotics in this way, only feed plain, unflavored yogurt with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Also, look for a yogurt label which lists live cultures.

There are also probiotics in capsule or powdered form, but these may be harder to give to your dog, especially if your pup – like mine – can sniff out (or spit out) even the most well-hidden pill.

Pet foods with prebiotics and probiotics

If you’d prefer to skip the yogurt, the pills, and the powders, look for food or treats with prebiotic fibers and added probiotics, such as Life’s Abundance dog food or cat food with Advanced Gut Health System. A quality food will remove the guesswork and ensure that your pet has a specially formulated food that provides exactly what they need. As with any change, talk to your vet about your pet’s specific health condition and needs before switching foods. Although these types of specialty food may be a bit pricier than your grocery store brands, they may end up saving you money on vet bills in the end, especially if you have a pet that is prone to unhealthy gut-related issues.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith