Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut—what do these have in common? They all contain probiotics. Whatever your form of choice, you’ve no doubt hopped on the probiotic bandwagon and made this powerhouse of nutrition part of your diet, and maybe even part of your pooch’s diet as well.
But what are prebiotic supplements? The not-so-well-known sidekick of the bacteria world is about to become your dog’s new best friend… after you, of course. We’re going to give you all you need to know about prebiotics for dogs and why you need to integrate them into your pet’s diet today.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber that support the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria so that harmful bacteria can’t overrun your immune health and make you sick. Don’t remember what dietary fiber is from your high school biology class? No problem.
- Soluble fiber – As the name suggests, soluble fiber can be broken down, fermented, and turned into food for probiotics. These are prebiotics.
- Insoluble fiber – Insoluble fiber, however, cannot be broken down or fermented and simply pass through your system as roughage. This is not a prebiotic.
After the prebiotic is fermented in the large intestine, it becomes the main food source for the probiotic. The more prebiotic that is ingested, the stronger and more populous the probiotics, and consequently, the healthier the individual is.
Simply put: without prebiotics, your probiotics would not live to fight another winning day in your system. Because both a human and a dog’s guts are similar (both being omnivores with similar intestinal structure, function, and size), everything just mentioned pertains to your furry family member as well.
Note: As we move forward, we’re going to shift focus to your dog’s health specifically and how prebiotics are essential for their gut’s health and—in turn—their entire health and well-being.
Why Are They Important?
You probably know by now that—just like you—your dog’s immune health is directly linked to their digestive health. In fact, as much as 80% of their immune system is influenced by their digestive tract. And it’s not just the immune system, studies have linked mood, joint stability, and energy levels to the healthiness of the gut flora.
Ultimately, your dog’s digestive health is balanced by probiotics (live beneficial microorganisms that provide health benefits to the host). The beneficial probiotic microorganisms keep the detrimental microorganisms at bay so that your dog’s health is optimal.
For this reason, the gut is considered to be the “headquarters” of the immune system in you and in your dog. When the probiotic microorganisms are not strong enough to keep the harmful microorganisms in check, your dog could experience wide-ranging symptoms depending on the extremity of the gut imbalance. Here are a few telltale signs to look for:
- Skin and coat issues (from excessive shedding to dry, flaky skin to incessant licking)
- Frequent ear infections
- Sensitive stomach: Diarrhea, loose stool, regularity issues
- Excessively bad breath or unusually foul or putrefied-smelling stool
- Sudden food sensitivities and allergies or environmental allergies
- Parasitic infections in the intestine (hookworms, ringworms, roundworms, tapeworms)
- Frequent vomiting or being finicky about food
How Will They Help My Dog?
Far beyond just acting as a food source for probiotics, prebiotics are a standalone health benefactor to your dog’s body. Because prebiotics are not alive like probiotics are, they are much hardier and can survive heat, cold, and stomach acids.
Where probiotics are fragile and can sometimes die before they even reach the intestines, prebiotics are able to reach the intestines unharmed and work their healing magic. Some of their many benefits include:
- Fermenting food faster in the digestive tract to maintain regularity – The fermenting power of prebiotics spreads to the food in your pet’s stomach and intestine to aid in digestion. The more food that is able to break down before it exits your dog, the more nutrients they are able to gain from the food they eat.
- Helping the body better absorb nutrients – Prebiotic supplements are able to alter both the pH and the gut microbe composition to make it more conducive to mineral absorption. Instead of just passing through the system, vitamins and minerals are able to be used by your dog’s body.
- Preventing spikes in blood sugar – Because prebiotics are fiber, they aid in maintaining proper blood sugar levels by slowing down the digestion and absorption of food and ensuring a more complete breakdown of food in the intestines.
- Managing intestinal disorders – Healthy gut bacteria is paramount to managing (and eventually healing) all intestinal disorders. Prebiotics help to heal the lining of the gut, correcting digestive issues and allowing more nutrients to be absorbed.
- May increase bone density and strength – Ongoing studies are taking place regarding prebiotics and bone density due to the way they allow your dog to absorb more calcium from their diet and supplements. The assumption is that greater calcium absorption equals greater bone density and strength.
- Enhanced immunity in puppies – When given to pregnant and lactating dogs, it’s been found that the puppies have both a more robust immune system and a healthier response to vaccinations.
An interesting note on that last point to help in your supplement shopping: in both humans and animals, mother’s milk (specifically the colostrum in the milk) contains a rare protein form of prebiotic called lactoferrin. Look for a supplement that includes lactoferrin among its prebiotics to give your dog’s body a powerful and natural immunity boost.
How Can I Incorporate Them into My Dog’s Diet?
In an ideal world, you and your dog would eat so clean, so balanced, so nutritious that all dietary needs would be taken care of, and you’d never have to bother with supplements. In this world, you’d also go to the gym every day, wake up at 5am, and actually check off your entire to-do list…
We know, however, that this is the impossible dietary dream for ourselves and for our pets, and thus, we supplement. But more than that—when it comes to your dog and prebiotics, you should be aware that most natural food sources of prebiotics are ones your dog does not regularly ingest—nor should he—such as:
- Onions (on the doggy “no-no” list)
- Garlic (also on the doggy “no-no” list)
- Cocoa (read: lethal to dogs)
You must find a good supplement that includes prebiotics and make it a staple in your dog’s diet because they are unlikely to find enough natural food sources safe for digestion. But if by chance your dog’s system can withstand roughage (this is entirely on a case-by-case basis, under your watchful eye), you can bolster your prebiotic supplements with some natural food sources as well.
Some common, healthy choices that will work in tandem with your prebiotic supplements are these:
- Sweet potatoes
- Steamed asparagus (raw asparagus sometimes gives dogs gas and diarrhea)
- Apple slices in moderation (these make a healthy and delicious treat for your pooch!)
- Canned pumpkin (mixing with food will mitigate any stomach upset that may occur)
- Barley (an extremely healthy grain to mix with your dog’s food for variety)
- Flaxseed meal or the seeds themselves (be sure to give with food to maximize digestion)
What Should I look for in a Supplement?
What are the best prebiotic supplements for dogs? And what should you look for? The best prebiotics for dogs are first and foremost the ones they can safely ingest. It’s shocking how many prebiotic supplements marketed for dogs contain ingredients from the allium family (onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, and chives) which are toxic to dogs.
A reputable supplement containing prebiotics will have sourced them from safe and healthy ingredients for your dog (the most common being chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, soybeans, and lactoferrin).
Always be cautious and do your research! Because probiotics and prebiotics for dogs are not regulated by the FDA, what you see on the label is not always what’s in the bottle. Research your products and companies online, talk to your vet about what’s best for your dog’s health, and look for the following things when choosing prebiotic supplements for your dog:
- Food sources not toxic to dogs
- The correct strains and amounts of bacteria for dogs specifically (your vet can help here)
- Bioavailability and the ability to survive your dog’s stomach acid
- A multipurpose supplement containing a balance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and prebiotics which will work synergistically and with greater effect in your dog’s body
The Hero Will Have Its Day
Thankfully science has begun to recognize the unsung hero of gut health and overall health and well-being, and you will now never confuse prebiotic as a mispronunciation of probiotic. Though each has its own important, respective role to play, you’ll do well to remember:
- Without prebiotics, your dog cannot have a healthy gut.
- Without a healthy gut, your dog cannot effectively absorb the proper nutrients from their food.
- And without the proper nutrients, your dog’s health will invariably suffer.
So for your dog’s optimum health, choose nutritional supplements like Vetericyn ALL-IN that include high-quality prebiotics to support digestive processes, promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, and ensure greater health and well-being.
- UBiome. Prebiotics 101: What They Are, What They Do, and Where You Can Find Them. https://ubiome.com/blog/post/prebiotics-101-what-they-are-what-they-do-and-where-you-can-find-them/
- WebMD. What Are Prebiotics? https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/prebiotics-overview
- American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Good Bugs – Good Health! https://www.naturopathic.org/content.asp?contentid=526
- Vetericyn. The Dog Digestive System. https://vetericyn.com/blog/the-dog-digestive-system/
- Vetericyn. Products. https://vetericyn.com/all-in/
- The Balance. What is Bioavailability? https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-bioavailability-4041140
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.