BY ERIC STENSON
People often talk of that “gut feeling,” as in something just does or doesn’t seem quite right. Indeed, the balance of flora in the gut is a very delicate one that many medical practitioners believe can affect a wide variety of physical conditions. This is not only the case in humans, but also with our companion animals.
According to Animal Wellness magazine, digestive elements of probiotics only scratch the surface of potential benefits for animals. The magazine defines probiotics as composed of bacteria (typically) or yeasts (less commonly) that keep people and pets healthy and alive, as opposed to the pathogenic microorganisms (such as E. coli or Staph spp.) that cause disease and death.
The article goes on to cite many circumstances in which probiotics can be helpful for pets, including infection in the body or GI tract; changes that cause stress (boarding, moving, vaccination, surgery, etc.); abrupt changes in the pet’s diet; immune disorders; young pets adapting to a new house; old pets who typically have “weakened” immune systems; pets taking medications, even for a few days, but especially if longer than one week, including antibiotics, antifungals, NSAIDS and steroids; pets with specific medical problems that increase the risk of infection, including diabetes and Cushing’s/ adrenal disease, GI parasites, cancer, allergies, irritable bowel disease, vomiting/diarrhea, various inflammatory conditions (arthritis, dental disease, etc.), leaky gut syndrome, or hairballs.
A Goal to Help Pets
Terry Cross, founder and CEO of Agatha’s Apothecary in Lucas, Ohio, got interested in probiotics for pets about 20 years ago as an extension of her penchant for overall natural health. Having worked as a veterinary technician, she said she found many vets dismissive when it came to natural supplements, generally, and probiotics, more specifically.
She also operated a boarding kennel for about 20 years and said she was alarmed by how many sick animals she saw coming under her care.
“They still were coming through our office with cancers and conditions,” she said. “We were seeing dogs 4, 5, 6 years old being put down for illnesses you didn’t see in pets. Pets just weren’t getting what they needed from a bag of dog food that was sitting on a shelf.”
What really drove it home for Cross was when her own dog, Agatha, for whom her company is named, was diagnosed with cancer.
“Agatha was the fifth dog I’d had that had gotten sick,” she said. “I just began to think there was something really wrong with that picture.”
Cross saw there was little in the way of active probiotics in the products she found labeled for pets. So, seven years ago, she consulted with a homeopathic practitioner and started developing her own mix. Agatha’s Apothecary produces probiotic powder for dogs and cats, as well as capsules for dogs. Her capsules contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, along with Prebiotic Inulin. Each capsule provides 15 billion colony forming units (or CFUs) of beneficial strains, while the powder (with Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Bacillus subtilis) has 45 billion CFUs per scoop. The company is now developing a probiotic dental treat featuring kelp that targets bad bacteria in the teeth and gums, which Cross expects to be released by mid-summer.
“It all starts in the gut. Eighty percent of your immune system is found there,” Cross said. “You have to start with that as the basic engine. The digestive tract is the source of health for the whole system.
A Natural Chew
Deley Naturals of Las Vegas produces probiotic chews for dogs. According to CEO Leta Deley, the company got its start when her family dog Charlie needed surgery and they wanted to develop a natural pet supplement line based on the need to have quality natural pet supplements that help heal problems and not just mask them.
“We talked to many veterinarians who gave their recommendations as far as ingredients and dosaging, and then we met with the manufacturing plant and discussed our preferred formula,” she said. “All of our ingredients are produced in an FDA-compliant facility, are Good Manufacturing Practice compliant and are tested by a third party… so our formula had to be approved on many levels for safety and efficacy.”
Although the company’s probiotic chews are designed for dogs, Deley says they work well for cats, too. Just make an adjustment for taste.
“Cats can use our chews as well— they would take half the dose that is on the dosaging instructions,” she said. “We find that cats tend to be ‘particular’ and don’t always take to the chews. Our Wild Caught Omega 3 Fish Oil is specifically for cats, though.”
Deley is considering expansion of its probiotic product into new formats but only if it can maintain assurances of effectiveness, Deley said.
“We are always investigating what products would be beneficial to customers, and a powdered probiotic is being looked at now,” she said. “This would be good for animals that need things to be more ‘disguised’ in their food. The only way we would proceed is if we have tested proof that the powder will have active live microbials, like our chews have.”
Several other companies produce natural probiotic supplements for pets, including Ark Naturals of Tampa, Florida; Crafton’s Pet Naturals of Howell, Michigan; Pet Naturals of Vermont of Williston, Vermont; Earth Animal of Westport, Connecticut; and NaturVet of Temecula, California.
From a retailer perspective, Joselyn Preston, manager of Pawsitively Purrfect in Hightstown, New Jersey, sees some interest in natural probiotic supplements, but mostly as part of a larger interest among pet owners in seeking something different to care for their companion animals. Her store stocks supplements from NaturVet and Pet Naturals.
“People have been turning to them more for cats,” she said of demand for natural probiotics. “It’s not like they are flying off the shelves, but people have been paying more attention to holistic products overall. People are reading the back of products more and questioning ingredients.”