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Can Prebiotics for Dogs and Cats Improve Digestive Health?

Probiotics have been the go-to supplement for people who want to improve the digestive health of their dogs and cats, but some nutrition experts are recommending prebiotics for dogs and cats instead. Despite the similar sounding names, prebiotics and probiotics are substantially different. But just like probiotics, there are many people who believe that the addition of prebiotics has improved their cat or dog’s overall health.

Rebecca Rose is one person who believes that prebiotics are the better choice to bolster digestive health. As a biochemist and the president of InClover Research, Rebecca Rose has spent over twenty years overseeing the development of supplements to improve the lives of dogs and cats. But while many manufacturers are using probiotics to support gut health, InClover uses prebiotics in their Optagest® product. To learn more about the science behind InClover’s choice, we talked to Rebecca Rose about the benefits of prebiotics for dogs and cats.

MB: What are prebiotics, and how do they work in an animal’s digestive system?

RR: Prebiotics are essentially a type of fiber that selectively feeds the beneficial bacteria already the gut. When an animal ingests food that contains prebiotics, the prebiotics goes into the intestine, and the beneficial bacteria eat the prebiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods or you can buy them in supplement form. For example, garlic, onion, bananas and tomatoes are high in prebiotics. Prebiotics are also found naturally in a mother’s milk. So, while the puppy or kitten is nursing, they are getting prebiotics from their mother.

Because of the makeup of prebiotics and how it is structured, potentially harmful bacteria cannot eat or otherwise use the prebiotic. That’s the beauty of prebiotics. When your dog or cat ingests prebiotics, it’s not digested until it reaches the large intestine. Then, the beneficial bacteria that naturally live in the intestine can eat the prebiotic and multiply. Bad bacteria cannot use prebiotics, so the bad bacteria may eventually starve and get flushed through the system. 

MB: Probiotics are a popular dietary supplement at the moment. So, why don’t you include probiotics in your products?

RR: Probiotics are actual beneficial bacteria strains. However, these are not bacteria that would normally be in your dog or cat’s gut.  In many cases, they’re not even native to any dog or cat. Typically, probiotics available for purchase are a dairy strain that’s native to a goat or cow. Sometimes, the commercial probiotic strains used in products are found in the earth. I’ve noticed that some recent commercial strains are derived from baby poop. If these foreign bacteria do make it to the gut and colonize, they are pushing out healthy native strains.

MB: So, you’d rather feed clinically proven levels of prebiotics than try to introduce new strains into your dog or cat’s gut?

RR: Yes, I feel giving the right amount of nourishment for a dog or cat’s native beneficial bacteria is a more elegant approach to digestive and immune health.

MB: What about using probiotics after your cat or dog have taken a course of antibiotics? Is a prebiotic for dogs or cats still the best option?

RR: Even if an animal has just completed a course of high-dose antibiotics and their bacteria is entirely unbalanced, the animal is still producing small amounts of good bacteria. Animals cannot live without some good bacteria. If an animal had only 100-percent bad bacteria or no bacteria, the animal wouldn’t be able to survive.

So, we didn’t think it made sense to try to displace the native good bacteria in every animals’ system. Instead, when we developed InClover Optagest®, we chose to include clinically-proven levels of prebiotic. That way the prebiotic could selectively feed the beneficial bacteria already in the animal’s system.

MB: We talked earlier about how prebiotics are found in some foods. So, what would you say to people who want to feed their dog or cat foods high in prebiotics instead of considering a supplement?

RR: Prebiotics are naturally found in foods, but typically not the food your dog or cat would eat. They’re found in foods like onion or garlic. And in foods your dog or cat would eat, they would have to eat an extremely high amount to consume enough prebiotics.

For example, if you wanted to give a small dog the clinically tested amount of prebiotics necessary, he’d have to eat an entire pound of bananas every day. Now, if you wanted to supplement with Optagest® instead, that same dog would only eat a ¼ teaspoon. So that’s the advantage of buying a supplement versus finding prebiotics in foods. ***


Rebecca Rose is a biochemist and founder of InClover Research. She is the product developer for all of the InClover product line and loves to talk about animal physiology and ingredients. When not developing products she is the human companion to two dogs, two cats, four hens and a horse.

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Mud Bay endeavors to give you the most accurate information to help your dogs and cats thrive. Whether you need advice about pet nutrition, supplies or supplements, we often have the knowledge, solution sheets and samples to help. To find out more about our foods, events and nutritional philosophy, please visit us at mudbay.com.