First, What Is The Gut Microbiome?
One of the greatest influences on your dog’s health is something you can’t even see. It’s the trillions of tiny bacteria, fungi and viruses that live inside the intestines of your dog. This is your dog’s ‘gut microbiome’. These bacteria in the microbiome are crucial for digestion and obtaining nutrients from the food your dog eats.
When gut bacteria are out of balance, your dog could experience digestive disorders (minor things like bad breath to serious afflictions like inflammatory bowel & kidney disease). Beyond digestion, gut bacteria impact many aspects of your dog’s overall health. In humans and animals, they have been shown to have important roles in developing allergies, diabetes, and even depression and anxiety.
How does it work? Well, digestion is a multi-step process that starts in the mouth, passes to the stomach, and finishes in the intestine. Most of the bacteria in the gut microbiome are in the large intestine, where they help digest food your dog can’t break down alone.
The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics In Dogs
Probiotics and prebiotics both play a role in maintaining your dog’s healthy gut microbiome, but when pressed, most pet parents couldn’t tell you the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic. And, it certainly doesn’t help that the two terms are so similar! There’s bound to be confusion.
Simply put, probiotics “seed” good bacteria into your dog’s gut and prebiotics “feed” the good bacteria that is already in your dog’s gut microbiome.
Probiotics contain living, gut-friendly bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract and other areas of the body. The goal of ingesting probiotics is to maintain healthy levels of good bacteria. Just like in people, probiotics are typically used after an illness or antibiotic treatment to reintroduce these beneficial bacteria into the dog’s gut. However, many dogs with chronic problems need probiotics on a more regular basis. An interesting dilemma with probiotics is that they aren’t that easy to include in the diet, mostly because it’s live bacteria, and it needs cold temperatures to survive.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, support or “feed” the beneficial bacteria that is already there in the gut. Prebiotics are fiber. The fiber travels undigested to the dog’s colon where it ferments and is converted to short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and promote and support healthy digestive flora in dogs. It also acts as a source of energy for colon cells and preserves the electrolyte and fluid balance that allows your dog’s intestine to work properly.
A common misconception around prebiotics and probiotics is that they only aid the digestive system. To a large extent, the digestive system is the focus of these supplements. However, the gut microbiome, located in the digestive tract, is linked to every other system of the body and, when it is in bad health, the rest of the body is sure to follow (if it hasn’t already).
How Will I Know My Dog Needs Prebiotics or Probiotics?
It is usually fairly obvious when your dog is experiencing a bacterial imbalance (though the symptoms could also be caused by any number of other issues) and common symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, changes in mood, gas, and excessively bad breath.
An exciting new development is that there are now ways to test your dog’s gut microbiome from home. AnimalBiome is a leading pet microbiome company dedicated to using the insights from their microbiome research to improve the health and wellness of our furry companions. From the beginning they’ve sought to provide science-based health solutions focused on pets – both dogs and cats!
They provide pet parents with an at home Gut Health Test that is ordered online and delivered through the mail. The pet parent collects a small stool sample and mails the sample back to AnimalBiome for analysis. AnimalBiome then extracts and sequences DNA from the sample to identify the different bacterial types and amounts within your pet’s gut and compares it to their healthy dog or cat microbiome database. You (the pet parent) receive a report in about 2 weeks that is extremely detailed and identifies potential problem areas within your dog’s bacterial community. Their test includes dietary and supplement recommendations to increase specific beneficial bacteria based on your dog’s unique microbiome composition.
Cricket Protein is a Natural Prebiotic for Dogs
At Jiminy’s, we make sustainable dog food and treats using cricket protein. As we were just getting started as a company, a study emerged from the University of Wisconsin showing that cricket protein was a prebiotic for people. We decided to replicate that study with dogs, so we worked with AnimalBiome to study the impact of cricket protein’s fiber component on the dog’s gut. And great news – cricket protein supports a healthy, balanced level of gut bacteria diversity (gut microbiome) in dogs (study). It’s prebiotic!
Certain dogs have allergies which might prevent them from properly digesting the common sources of prebiotics. One of the exciting things about the cricket protein is that it’s an alternative protein. It has not been overused with the dogs, and therefore dogs do not react to the cricket protein as an allergen.
Taking prebiotics with probiotics can make your probiotics more effective. Prebiotics are the fuel to help bacteria grow. If you do decide to give your dog a probiotic pill, you may want to consider using Jiminy’s Pumpkin & Carrot training treat as a pill pocket or pouch to make that pill go down a bit easier (we shared a blog post and video about that here).
It’s Always Good to Consult With A Vet
At the end of the day, there is no cure-all for pets. Their illnesses or behavior could be caused by any number of issues. Prebiotics and probiotics have been shown to help many dogs with their digestive systems and overall health. However, if symptoms persist (or are extreme), we do recommend consulting a veterinarian.