Some pet food companies boast about healthy prebiotics and/or probiotics in their foods. Scientific research on the other hand has proven that many of these health claims are no more than fancy marketing tactics; science has shown many pet foods probiotics are not live and viable thus would provide no benefit to the pet. Should pet owners believe the hype of pre- and probiotics? The answer seems to be in the pet food Guaranteed Analysis.
It’s no wonder pet owners notice pet foods that tout phrases such as ‘promotes healthy digestion’. ‘Un-healthy digestion’ – you know, things like diarrhea and gas (yikes) can be quite motivational to cure. There is probably not a pet owner on the planet that has not experienced the ‘fun’ of cleaning a carpet stain from un-healthy digestion problems of a pet. So of course, when a pet owner notices claims that a pet food promotes healthy digestion, the product sale could be influenced on those claims (and the memories of gas and carpet cleaning).
But…how can a pet owner know if these health claims touted on pet food labels are the real deal? There is a way…but first, pet owners need to know what they are buying; a good understanding of pre- and probiotics.
Dr. J. Scott Weese DVM DVSc DipACVIM of Ontario Veterinary College defines prebiotics as “essentially food for probiotics (and potentially other intestinal bacteria). They are substances that are neither absorbed nor digested by the body and which are used to stimulate the growth of beneficial intestinal microorganisms. Examples of prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides (FOS), inulin and guar gum.” Dr. Weese quotes numerous other researchers to define probiotics as “living microorganisms that, when administered orally in adequate numbers, provide a health benefit to the host beyond that of their inherent nutritional value.” http://www.equidblog.com/uploads/file/probiotics.pdf
In unscientific terms, prebiotics are food for probiotics; probiotics are friendly bacteria that helps to keep the tummy in good working order. Of great importance to pet owners paying high dollar prices for premium ingredient pet food, “it is a well-established fact that the intestinal microflora influence the digestion and absorption of food, the function of the immune system, peristalsis, production of vitamins such as B-vitamins and influence the turnover of the intestinal epithelial cells.” http://www.wasamedicals.com/pdf/ref_smj_eng.pdf Considering 80% of the immune system is located in your pets (and your) intestinal system, keeping the ‘pipes’ in good working order promotes a stronger immune system.
While many pet foods tout marketing claims of prebiotics and probiotics, are they really benefiting your pet?
Science says yes, if the bacteria is live and viable; which brings up another issue of concern with pet food. Todd R. Klaenhammer writes in an abstract of the Southeast Dairy Foods Research Center and Department of Food Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University “Over the course of the symposium, evidence was presented to illustrate the following benefits elicited by probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics: 1) pathogen interference, exclusion and antagonism; 2) immunostimulation and immunomodulation; 3) anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic activities in animal models; 4) alleviation of symptoms of lactose intolerance; 5) vaginal/urinary tract health; 6) reduction in blood pressure in hypertensive subjects; 7) decreased incidence and duration of diarrhea (antibiotic-associated diarrhea, Clostridium difficile, travelers and rotaviral); and 8) maintenance of mucosal integrity.” http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/130/2/415S (Synbiotics, mentioned above, are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics.)
Numerous research papers researched (for this article) indicated far more study of probiotics and prebiotics is necessary to completely understand the potential benefits (for pets and people). However, what we do know is very encouraging.
Science has also shown that although many pet foods include probiotics in their ingredient listing, many pet foods did not contain live, viable organisms. Of nineteen commercial pet foods tested in one study, twelve contained a probiotic variety (bacterial fermentation products), that were not true live beneficial organisms. Further, no pet foods contained all of the probiotics listed on the label. “Overall, the actual contents of the diets were not accurately represented by the label descriptions.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC340078/
Another study scrutinized 44 human or veterinary probiotics. “Organisms were improperly identified in 43% human and 35% veterinary products.” In only 2 veterinary products were the contents of the probiotic “adequately identified.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC340366/
This is discouraging science for pet owners that believe in the benefits of probiotics. However, there are some pet food manufacturers that are proving to pet owners their probiotics are live and viable; you’ll find it in the Guaranteed Analysis.
The Guaranteed Analysis of a pet food label is required by regulation to provide pet owners with ‘guaranteed’ nutrient levels of the pet food. No pet food company, that includes probiotics in their formula, is required by regulation to include probiotic guarantees in the Guaranteed Analysis on the label. Yet some do. We can only assume that those small handful of pet food companies that include a ‘guaranteed’ statement of propbiotic levels on their label and/or on their website is telling us…they guarantee the probiotic to be live and viable. We can as well assume that the pet food companies that include probiotics in their ingredient list (and marketing) yet exclude probiotic guarantees on their label or website is probably not live and viable (perhaps one of the pet foods studied in the research above).
Yes, any pet food company can state all types of percentages within a Guaranteed Analysis and few (if any) would ever get caught lying to petsumers. However, in a rapidly changing pet food world, I believe a clear show of guarantees listed on a pet food label and/or website is our best bet at holding them accountable for their claims. Don’t pay any attention to slick marketing tag lines, look at the ingredients AND the guaranteed analysis (look both on the label and on the pet food website). Educated pet owners know pet food can ‘talk the talk’; we’re looking for those that can ‘walk the walk’ to feed to our pets. Guarantees are part of ‘the walk’.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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