Prebiotics lead to digestive health, but could prebiotics for dogs and cats also lead to weight loss? Research indicates that maintaining a healthy weight relies in part on overall digestive health. People who are trying to lose weight are paying more and more attention to digestive health, and there’s evidence that bacteria have a greater effect on our overall health than previously thought.
To learn more about the link between prebiotics, gut health and overall health for dogs and cats, we talked to Rebecca Rose. As a biochemist and president of InClover Research, Rebecca works to develop supplements that improve overall dog and cat health.
MB: Scientists are spending a lot of time investigating the link between gut health and healthy weight. What have been your experience with the potential link between prebiotics and a healthy body condition score?
RR: I have worked with prebiotics for decades. I first worked with food chain animals, such as pigs and chickens, and prebiotics. we were investigating the balance of gut flora for healthy weight and immune system.
We knew how prebiotics were associated with good weight control and maintaining a healthy weight. We started researching chickens, then pigs, and then eventually we started researching dogs and cats. We also did clinical studies about added prebiotics to infant formula. Mother’s milk contains prebiotics, and at the time, no one was adding prebiotics to infant formula. And if you’re a label reader, you’ll see that every current infant formula on the market contains prebiotics.
Prebiotics help the body maintain good bacteria at an optimal level. Current research focused on animals and humans show that there is a real link between an imbalance of bacteria in the system and overweight or underweight animals and humans.
There’s one study published in the September 2017 issue of Gastroenterology that detailed research conducted on overweight and obese children. And they gave some of the children in the study a prebiotic and gave other children a placebo for 16 weeks. At the end of the study, the children who were eating the prebiotic had lower body fat percentages than the children who were not getting the prebiotic.
The children who got the placebo gained a significant amount of weight. And what the scientists found when investigating the gut flora was their diet and genetics was significantly controlling their obesity. Both groups of children were eating a lot of high fat, high meat content foods and a lot of sugar. But when children, while eating the same diet, were given prebiotics, the prebiotics were able to balance the gut flora.
The prebiotics also selected for the good bacteria, so these children were able to maintain a normal weight as they grew. The scientists also looked at a gene marker that’s tied to inflammation and inflammation-associated diseases. That gene marker decreased by 15 percent from the baseline from taking the prebiotic. Children who weren’t taking the prebiotic found that the marker increased by 25 percent.
Obesity and being overweight is associated with all sorts of poor health outcomes. It’s been linked to diabetes, heart disease and joint problems. This body of research shows that by changing the balance of bacteria by using a prebiotic can not only help with weight control, but it will help with overall health. While this study focused on humans, you can apply the same premise to dogs and cats.
MB: Another component to poor gut health is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Do we know why that happens?
RR: Diet is a major cause, but it’s not the only cause. Bad bacteria growth can be genetic. It may be difficult for that particular animal to maintain a balance of good bacteria. And with our dogs and cats, indiscriminate eating can also cause bad bacteria overgrowth. Even when you feed your animal a really good diet, there is some amount of indiscriminate eating. Dogs and cats are on the floor, eating things they shouldn’t. Dogs may eat things they find in the yard or on walks.
Animals take in bacteria in ways that humans do not, and it can be very difficult to prevent. Humans, of course, don’t walk around barefoot and then try to lick their feet. With animals, these behaviors are just part of their nature.
MB: What’s the best practice for administering prebiotics to your dog or cat to help them maintain a healthy weight?
RR: I recommend a small amount of prebiotic mixed into a dog or cat’s food at every meal. You can choose to use a supplement, such as Optagest®, that combines prebiotics with digestive enzymes that aid in digestion. Or you can choose to buy only a prebiotic and sprinkle it onto your dog or cat’s food.
Either way, dog and cat owners should consider adding this supplement to their animals’ food. What we’re seeing more and more in the scientific community is prebiotics can help an animal’s health without adding something foreign. Instead, prebiotics work with the body’s own system to balance the bacteria in the gut. Decreasing bad bacteria is important because they create toxins and other caloric compounds that increase weight gain. If we can increase the good bacteria through prebiotic use, while decreasing the bad bacteria, we’ll also control pet’s overall weight.***
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.