Probiotics vs Prebiotics – Differences, Benefits, Sources

Did you know that about 400 strains of bacteria made up of approximately 200 different species of bacteria colonize your dog’s GI tract?

Yes, about 400 strains of bacteria!

And that’s not all of them. There are some ‘good’ gut bacteria still being discovered.

Just this past week (July 18th, 2022) Mick Kulikowski of North Carolina State University released a new research on the discovery of a new type of ‘good’ gut bacteria in humans called Bifidobacterium.

There are a lot more studies on human gut health but this blog dwells entirely on what I was able to find on probiotics and prebiotics in dog food.

Let’s get this party started already!

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. The term “probiotic” is currently used to name dietary supplements containing live microorganisms thought to be beneficial to human health.

In the 2006’s NRC Report on the Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cat’s, probiotics are defined as “direct-fed microbials……that may be found in the gastrointestinal tracts of healthy animals like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Aspergillus.

Probiotics’ role in dogs’ diets was highlighted by Biourge et al., in a 1998 study titled, “The Use of Probiotics in Diet of Dogs” shown in the screenshot below.

The study found supplementation of diets with probiotics as beneficial to dogs as it populates the gut with nonpathogenic organisms to the exclusion of Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and other potential pathogens. They also found that probiotics may help with diarrhea caused by antibiotic therapy, infections, food allergies, and stress.

Are probiotics safe for dogs?

Yes, probiotics are considered safe for dogs. Probiotics are live microorganisms that exist naturally in the digestive systems of both humans and animals. These “friendly” bacteria help keep the intestines healthy by crowding out harmful bacteria. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt and some cheeses, as well as in supplements.

When you see ‘probiotics’ listed as one of the pet food ingredients, it is referring to the live microorganisms in the product. Once probiotics are added to the food, they begin to multiply. In order for probiotics to be effective, there must be enough of them present to compete with the bad bacteria already in your pet’s gut.

What are the benefits of giving my dog probiotics?

There are many potential benefits of giving probiotics to your dog, including:

– Improved digestion

– absorption of nutrients

– strengthened immune system

– reduced allergies

– decreased risk of infection

– reduced inflammation

More studies and details on the benefits of the different strains of probiotics are in the image below;

How do probiotics work?

Probiotics work by maintaining the balance of microorganisms in the intestines. This balance is important for several reasons:

  • – The intestines are responsible for absorbing nutrients from food.
  • – The intestines are part of the body’s immune system and help protect against infection.
  • – The intestines are home to most of the body’s ‘good’ bacteria, which are important for overall health.

When the balance of microorganisms in the intestines is disrupted, it can lead to problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and gas. Probiotics work by restoring the balance of microorganisms in the gut.

There are many different types of probiotics, and each type has its own unique benefits. For example, some probiotics are good for improving digestion, while others are better for boosting immunity.

Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. Synbiotics work together to support digestive and immune health.

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary food fibers that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut. Prebiotics are made up of soluble and insoluble fibers.

  • Soluble fiber – Soluble fiber can be broken down, fermented, and converted into food for probiotics. Prebiotics are a type of soluble fiber.
  • Insoluble fiber – Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, can’t be digested or fermented and is instead excreted as roughage. This isn’t a prebiotic.

Probiotics and prebiotics work together to support digestive and immune health.

Without prebiotics, the probiotics will wither and die off.

Prebiotics vs probiotics for dogs

Prebiotics and probiotics offer different but complementary benefits for dogs. Probiotics are live microorganisms that support digestive and immune health, while prebiotics are non-digestible dietary fibers that promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut.Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics – A Review | Biomedical and  Pharmacology Journal

Examples of probiotics are bifidobacteria and lactobacilli while examples of prebiotics are fructo-oligosaccharides.

PDF] Beneficial effects of probiotics and prebiotics in livestock and  poultry: the current perspectives. | Semantic Scholar

Here is the credit for the above image.

Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics | Differbetween
Fig. 1. Beneficial effects of prebiotics and probiotics in livestock and poultry

Here is the credit for the above image.

Both probiotics and prebiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt and some cheeses, as well as in supplements.

When choosing a probiotic or prebiotic supplement for your dog, it’s important to choose one that is specifically designed for dogs. Human probiotics and prebiotics are not the same as those for dogs and may not be safe for your pet.

Sources of prebiotics:

Prebiotics are found in a variety of foods, including bananas, onions, garlic, whole grains, and legumes. They can also be found in supplements.

  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Onions – this food type is toxic to dogs
  • Garlic – this food type is toxic to dogs
  • Cocoa – this food type is toxic to dogs

Below are healthy food sources that go in tandem with prebiotic supplements;

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Steamed asparagus (avoid raw asparagus as they sometimes gives dogs gas and diarrhea)
  • Apple slices in moderation
  • Canned pumpkin (good to mitigate any stomach upset)
  • Barley (very healthy grain)
  • Flaxseed meal or the seeds

Below is an image showing the details of the products that serve as carriers for probiotics(source)

Details of the products that serve as carriers for probiotics

Most probiotic supplements also contain prebiotics. This combination of probiotics and prebiotics is sometimes referred to as a synbiotic.

Prebiotics and Probiotics for Dogs and Cats | Today's Veterinary Nurse

Image source

Why are prebiotics and probiotics important?

80% of your dog’s immune system is influenced by the health of their digestive tract. Dan Richardson, a Veterinarian was quick to point out that it’s not just the immune system that benefits from a healthy digestive tract. He explains that “studies have linked mood, joint stability, and energy levels to the healthiness of the gut flora. “

How State of equilibrium in your dog’s gut is maintained:

A number of activities take place here to maintain a state of balance as part of the body’s natural defensive mechanism:

  1. The mucus layer captures germs and microorganisms.
  2. Cilia on the surface of epithelial cells sweep bacteria and other particles away from the body.
  3. Cells and beneficial microorganisms in mucous membranes contribute to the killing of pathogenic bacteria on mucosal surfaces by producing antimicrobial compounds.
  4. Beneficial bacteria reduce stomach acidity by producing organic acids that compete with pathogenic bacteria.
  5. Some bacteria are unable to develop in the stomach because of physiological barriers such as the low pH of the digestive tract.

Bacillus subtilis

Bacillus subtilis is a type of probiotic that has shown to be particularly effective in dogs. This probiotic has a long history of safe use in humans and animals. It is commonly used as a natural food preservative and fermentation agent.

Bacillus subtilis has many potential benefits, including:

– Improved digestibility: Benjamin et al. (2013) noted that the release of amylases during the germination of Bacillus subtilis may explain the improve in digestibility.

– Strengthened immune system

– Reduced inflammation

– Decreased risk of infection

Probiotic Supplements:

There are many different types of probiotic supplements available on the market. It’s important to choose a high-quality supplement that contains a variety of different strains of bacteria.

Some of the best probiotic supplements for dogs contain:

– Lactobacillus acidophilus

– Bifidobacterium animalis

– Enterococcus faecium

– Bacillus subtilis

A study by Sofia et al., found great results with Calsporin, a Bacillus subtilis probiotic. In the study, they gave the test dogs a dose of 1 × 10 9 CFU/kg diet and saw the study revealed that the supplement improved the consistency of feces, promoted the synthesis of SCFA, and decreased fecal ammonia content!

The improved fecal score was also noted in another 2010 study by Felix et al. as shown in the table below illustrating the higher scores of fecal score for probiotics’ diets in the test.

How Much Probiotic Should I Give My Dog?

The amount of probiotic you give your dog will depend on the brand of supplement you choose. It’s important to follow the dosage instructions on the label. In general, it’s safe to give your dog 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs (colony-forming units) of probiotic per day.

Dogs that Need Probiotics the Most:

Probiotics are generally considered safe for most dogs. However, there are some groups of dogs that may benefit from probiotic supplementation, including:

– Puppies: Probiotics can help puppies build a strong immune system and protect them from disease.

– Senior dogs: Older dogs are more likely to have a weakened immune system and may benefit from probiotic supplementation.

– Dogs with allergies: Allergies are often caused by an imbalance in the gut flora. Probiotics can help to restore balance and reduce allergy symptoms.

– Dogs with digestive issues: Probiotics can help to improve digestion and reduce diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive problems.

– Dogs taking antibiotics: Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria in the gut. Probiotics can help to replenish the good bacteria and prevent gastrointestinal problems.

Sources of Probiotics:

Probiotics are found in a variety of different foods and supplements. Some of the best sources of probiotics for dogs include:

– Yogurt: Plain, unsweetened yogurt is a good source of probiotics. Look for yogurts that contain live and active cultures.

– Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk drink that contains a variety of different probiotic strains.

– Sauerkraut: This fermented cabbage dish is a good source of probiotics.

– Kimchi: Kimchi is a Korean dish made from fermented vegetables. It’s a good source of probiotics, as well as vitamins A and C.

– Probiotic supplements: Probiotic supplements are available in powder, capsule, and liquid form.

Digestibility and Probiotics:

As mentioned earlier, Bacillus subtilis can improve the digestibility of food. This is due to the release of amylases during germination. Amylases are enzymes that break down carbohydrates into simple sugars.

Fyi, figures above 0.10% of the p-value show statistical significance and from the table above conducted by Sofia et al., probiotics increased the digestibility of crude protein, crude fiber, and nitrogen-free extractives in adult dogs.

Probiotics and Fecal consistency:

A healthy gut microbiome is important for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Probiotics can help to maintain a healthy gut microbiome by preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

The same study by Sofia et al., found that probiotic supplementation improved fecal consistency in dogs as shown by the statistically significant p-value.

Effects of too much Probiotics in your dog’s diet:

Intestinal disorders:

When given in large doses, probiotics can cause intestinal disorders such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea. If you give your dog too many probiotics, it’s important to stop supplementation and consult your veterinarian.

Allergic reactions:

Probiotics are made from live bacteria. As such, they have dual antigens which can cause an allergic reaction in some dogs. If your dog has a history of allergies, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian before starting probiotic supplementation.

Resistant microbial strains:

Resistance to antibiotics is one of the major global health concerns. When probiotics are given in large doses, there is a risk that the strains will become resistant to antibiotics. This could lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of antibiotics and potentially dangerous infections Sunvold et al., (1998)

Inhibit the development of pathogenic bacteria:

Probiotics can help to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This is done by producing bacteriocins, which are proteins that kill or inhibit the growth of other bacteria.