Gut Health: Prebiotics (Part 4) How to Nourish Your Pets' Gut Bacteria

by Sarah Griffiths, DCH in Raw Basics
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Written by Sarah Griffiths, DCH and Inna Shekhtman

March 22, 2018

In the past few blogs we explored the wonderful world of probiotics. If you missed them, here are the links:

Bacteria: Friend or Foe? (Part 1) 

Real Science on Bacteria and Pet food (Part 2)

Choosing Probiotics for Your Pet (Part 3)

In these blogs we learned that bacteria are a major component to our pets’ gut and immune health. We learned that a healthy gut contains an army of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. We also learned that you can repopulate your pets gut by taking probiotic supplements. This week we will discuss what you need to feed you pet’s gut army: Prebiotics! What are they, you ask? Prebiotics are defined as an indigestible or partially digestible food substrate that promotes the growth of beneficial microbes in the digestive tract. The microorganisms in the gut are able to initiate fermentation of these substrates to be broken down into a usable energy source. There are hundreds of food sources that can be used and we’ll dive into a few of the best ones for dogs and cats in a second.

First, it’s important to note that the type of diet your pet eats will greatly influence his microbiome and immune health. For example, a diet high in refined carbohydrate will modify the gut flora in a very specific way and a diet high in meat and/or vegetable content will modify the gut flora in a completely different way. During infancy, a diet of milk will modify it in yet another way. (1) Diet is a major foundation for determining which bacteria will be present and in what concentrations in the digestive tract. Furthermore, the food your pet consumes doesn’t just feed them – it also feeds their gut flora.  Some foods like leafy greens will nourish the beneficial bacteria, while other foods, like sugar, will feed the bad bacteria.

A biologically appropriate raw food diet will help to establish your baseline and create an environment that promotes the right type of bacteria growth. Microbiota even produce enzymes that help to break down dietary fibers which results extra nutrients for the host animal to absorb. The gut flora can also use prebiotics to synthesize vitamins inside the gut which can be readily absorbed by your dog or cat.

We’ve all known a dog that has had an overgrowth of yeast, chronic digestive upsets, recurrent ear infections or itchy skin and feet. These are all signs that there could be a disturbance in the animal’s internal and external microbiome. If the pet in question isn’t already on a raw diet, it’s a great place to start. In addition, pets dealing with these issues will most likely need a little extra TLC before, during and after a diet change. By TLC, we mean a high-quality probiotic and prebiotic regime and possibly some other supportive food supplements to ensure the gut is functioning at its best.

The point here is this: while giving your pet probiotics is essential for gut health and overall well-being, pairing it with a prebiotic (that helps “feed” the probiotic)  can achieve substantially better results.

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Prebiotics for Carnivores

Prebiotics are a natural occurrence if you feed a raw diet. We can look to wild carnivore feeding behaviour data to choose the best prebiotic sources for dogs and cats. Wild wolves eat between 3-5% raw vegetation (grasses, apples and berries) plus the stomach contents of the herbivorous animals that they kill. (2) Cats tend to consume only grasses. Below are some of our favorite prebiotic sources for pets:

Tripe

Arguably the most species-appropriate prebiotic food. The stomach of the cow contains pre-digested plant matter, digestive enzymes and probiotic bacteria. It’s also high in protein and an excellent addition to the raw diet for several meals per week.

Wheat Grass (Raw or Powder)

If you can offer raw blended wheat grass or live wheat grass, it’s best, especially for indoor cats but wheat grass powder is a great alternative. Organic wheat grass powder is recommended.

Blended Green Leafy Vegetables and Roots

Blended veggies add a wide variety of prebiotic fiber sources plus vitamins and minerals to nourish your pet and his microbiome. Generally, the raw diet for dogs contains about 25% ground vegetable matter.

Ground Flax Seed

Ground flax seed contains a high percentage of mucilage with is a gelatinous substance that doubles as a prebiotic as well as an anti-inflammatory for the gut lining. It has been shown to improve gut bacteria and increase blood glucose regularity in overweight women. (3) 

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Berries

Berries are another great prebiotic source and packed with antioxidants. Choose from strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and more. Add to the diet 2-3 times per week for best results.

A great flax and berry combination supplement is Olie Naturals Solid Ground.

Apples

For animals that don’t have sugar sensitivities, apples are a great prebiotic food, especially if they’ve entered the fermentation phase. Got old apples in the fruit basket? They are perfect for your dog!

Fermented Foods (eg. Coconut or Milk Kefir, Apple Cider Vinegar, Goat Yogurt)

Fermented foods contain probiotic bacteria that actually start the fermentation process and feed on the nutrients found in the food. Home-made fermented foods are often the most viable in probiotic bacteria who have a fresh prebiotic substrate to feed off of but raw apple cider vinegar, kefir and goat yogurt can also be included to diversify the pre and probiotic food sources. Olie Naturals New Beginning Liquid Probiotic (link) contains live probiotics in a fermented herbal substrate.

For information on how to switch to a raw diet, click here.

To read our two-part blog on balancing the raw diet, see Part 1 and Part 2 here.

References:

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4744122/

(2) http://www.kirj.ee/public/Ecology/2009/issue_2/ecol-2009-2-141-152.pdf

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26134388