Probiotics are a live culture of bacteria that can colonize the gastrointestinal tract.
Before continuing the discussion of probiotics, let’s get a better understanding of the gastrointestinal system and it’s role in the maintenance of health.
70% of the body’s immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract.
This defense line involves the coordination of three different systems within the intestines:
- Resident intestinal microflora – a complex community of micro-organisms that are normal inhabitants of the intestinal tract (also known as microbiota)
- Mucosal (inner) layer of the intestines which provides a protective barrier that helps block the entrance of most pathogenic bacteria
- Gut- associated lymphoid tissue (GALT)
Since most pathogens enter the body through the mouth and then the intestinal tract, these intestinal defenses must be working optimally to cope with the onslaught of foreign substances and pathogens to which it is constantly exposed.
It is difficult for us to affect the intestinal mucosa or the GALT, but we can help to modulate the intestinal miroflora through the use of probiotics.
Ideally, the body will supply the bacterial population to support the best intestinal health. But when this doesn’t occur, or when challenges are expected that could affect intestinal health (such as antibiotic therapies, steroids or non-steroidal anti-flammatories, or in people the use of anti-depressants, etc), probiotics can easily be added into the diet to help support the bacterial population.
When beneficial bacteria are introduced into the environment of the gastrointestinal tract and become established, they have several benefits:
- They make by-products that are nourishing to the intestinal and local immune system cells.
- The good bacteria help prevent invasion of pathogenic bacteria by minimizing the adherence of these organisms to the intestinal epithelial cells.
- They play a roll in modulating and promoting a protective anti-inflammatory immune response.
In our pets, probiotics can be useful in several situations. And, it’s good to know that probiotics can be used long term with no detrimental effects.
- They can be used to help promote a strong immune system at both the local and systemic level.
- They are helpful in managing most digestive problems, and will typically result in improved stool quality and decreased flatulence.
- Probiotics help control diarrhea where there is an imbalance of bacteria. An imbalance of bacteria can be seen with abrupt diet changes, dietary indiscretion (raiding the garbage can), and stress (moving, boarding, other changes).
- Useful as an adjunctive therapy in treating parasitic infections. Puppies & kittens are especially vulnerable to parasites, and some of their parasitic infections may be difficult to clear due to the youngster’s immature immune system.
- A study performed at one of the country’s top veterinary schools found that supplementing with a probiotic did decrease the incidence of conjunctivitis (eye infection) associated with Feline Herpesvirus-1 in cats.
There are numerous probiotic products on the market for humans and our pets. The concern with over-the-counter probiotics, as well as all nutritional supplements, is that these products are not regulated as drugs by the FDA, so their safety and efficacy is many times questionable. In fact, a recent study found that most such products do not actually contain the live cultures they are advertised to contain. As a result, the doctors at Central Texas Cat Hospital have created relationships with companies in which their products are tested and verified by independent laboratories thus ensuring safety to our patients. Please feel free to come in or call to talk with one of our doctors to ensure you are using the best products to support a happy, healthy intestinal tract with a hard-working population of beneficial bacteria!
Stay tuned for more wellness focused articles to help ensure your pet’s long term health, wellness, and longevity.