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Achieve a healthy microbiome in pets through biotic nutrition

January 4, 2023

Even the smallest ingredients can have a big impact on the gut health of your pet.

Providing the proper diet is essential for the health, vitality and well-being of our pets, so we must ensure that, through the pet food we feed them, our pets are receiving all the nutrients they need to live a healthy and happy life.

The growing market demand for natural, functional, holistic and sustainable products has put pressure on the industry to develop pet foods that meet certain expectations. In the United States — the world's largest pet food market — natural ingredients are now widely used and are valued primarily by consumers for their contributions to the health and wellness of pets. The demand for and interest in natural ingredients continues to grow, and more research is becoming available that supports its inclusion in pet foods. We're hearing a lot about nutrigenomics and other “-omics” technologies, which contribute to the development of personalized nutrition; time will tell whether this trend will transition from food for humans to pet foods as well.

How does a well-fed microbiota impact the animal?

The microbiome is currently a topic of great interest in research. All living organisms — including humans and pets — have different microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa) that live, for example, on their skin or inside their bodies.

These microorganisms live together as communities, and the collection of their genomes is known as the microbiome. Microbiome communities are unique to certain habitats, such as the skin, lungs and gut, to name a few, and can prove crucial to the health of pets' immune systems.

Pet nutrition and diets are deeply related to the composition and diversity of the microbiome — which, in turn, plays an important role in the proper functioning of the digestive and immune systems of dogs and cats, thereby ultimately affecting their overall health and well-being.


The microbiome and microbiota: What's the difference?

The gastrointestinal tract is made up of trillions of microorganisms, which are known collectively as microbiota. Microbiota, or intestinal flora, constitute an ecological colony of beneficial microorganisms that reside in the digestive systems of both humans and pets. These microorganisms are responsible for many vital functions, such as the production of certain neurons in the adult brain, the functioning of the immune system, hormonal regulation, energy metabolism and the maintenance of body weight. These microorganisms, together with their genetic material or genome, create a microecosystem called the microbiome.

While it is true that, during the pandemic, the general public’s interest in digestive health increased, the scientific community has been paying close attention to this area for several years — and, above all, to the intestinal microbiota. This is due to the role it plays in various metabolic functions, including but not limited to immune system maturation, appetite control and energy metabolism. There is already a plethora of research in which it is evident that alterations to the intestinal microbiota are associated with several chronic ailments derived from inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity and diabetes, to mention just a few.

How can we feed the microbiome?

The gastrointestinal microbiome of cats and dogs is increasingly recognized as a metabolically active organ that is undoubtedly linked to their overall health.

Feed serves as a substrate for the microbiome of pets, as it plays an important role in defining the composition and metabolism of the microbiome. In turn, the microbiome facilitates the digestion of host nutrients and the production of postbiotics, which are compounds or metabolites derived from bacteria and which can influence the health of our pets.

To maintain the health of our pets, it is important to take care of both their intestinal flora and their immune systems. For this, you need to "feed" the bacteria with prebiotics and strengthen them with probiotics; the former feed the beneficial bacteria of the gut, while the latter add living organisms to the gut environment that help maintain a diverse and beneficial bacterial population.


Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics for pets: What's the difference?

People and pet parents play a role in shaping our microbiomes and those of our pets through the foods we choose. Pet food in particular is formulated to contain the typical nutritional blocks of carbohydrates, proteins and fats — but increasingly, it also includes ingredients that target the microbiome, such as prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics.

Each of these compounds, as well as their relative proportions in pet food, can affect the composition of the microbiome or its functions.

Accumulating evidence suggests that dietary components may influence not only gastrointestinal diseases but also allergies, oral health, weight management, diabetes and kidney disease, due to changes in the gastrointestinal microbiome.

Scientific literature is abundant on how these prebiotic compounds work and benefit the host — which they do by blocking receptor sites used by pathogens. Such prebiotic compounds also serve as "food" that allows beneficial bacteria to produce metabolites to facilitate nutrient digestion and the host’s immune response. Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when provided in adequate amounts in the diet, can improve the gut microbial balance.

In recent years, the term “postbiotic” has been highlighted by both the scientific community and the popular press due to its association with physiological and metabolic benefits in human health. Postbiotics are not necessarily new but are, rather, a different way of defining the beneficial metabolites or metabolic byproducts generated by the commensal microflora present in the digestive tract, which can directly influence the host’s health. Some examples of beneficial metabolites or metabolic byproducts are enzymes, peptides, organic acids, bacteriocins, flavonoids and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

The SCFAs butyrate, propionate and acetate are examples of postbiotics. They are products of probiotic degradation and offer a variety of health benefits. For instance, they provide a source of energy, regulate potential anti-cancer activity, improve the intestinal barrier, signal satiety by positively impacting glucose and energy homeostasis, and promote the growth of other bacteria through bacterial cross-feeding. Postbiotics lower the luminal pH and create a less favorable environment for pathogenic species.


What solutions does Alltech offer for the pet market?

At Alltech, we are dedicated to optimizing animal health and performance through nutrition. Our line of cutting-edge ingredients has been designed to meet the needs of pets at all stages of life. We offer a wide variety of analysis, testing and support tools, enabling pet food manufacturers to achieve better efficiency, productivity and success. By working with nutritionists and product developers globally, we strive to meet the growing and changing nutritional needs of today's companion animals. With support services ranging from the technical to the practical, we help pet food companies move into the future by producing safe, sustainable and trackable quality pet food that exceeds consumer expectations.

One of our newest technologies, NVGEN PACK, was developed through nutrigenomics. NVGEN PACK is a leading fermentation technology whose function is to feed the microbiome. This solution provides important bioactive compounds derived from specific fractions of yeast cells that further support the microbiome and the overall health of dogs and cats.

NVGEN PACK is a functional solution that works to nourish beneficial intestinal bacteria and encourage them to naturally produce the postbiotics necessary for the proper functioning and complete optimization of the intestinal function of dogs and cats.


New technologies available to pet food manufacturers

Biotic nutrition can provide support in various food-processing scenarios. The controlled administration of microbial metabolites can dramatically influence gene expression and physiological responses.

Immunity, microbiome and digestive health go hand in hand. A healthy microbiome is key to digestive health and immunity, and a healthy microbiome plays a role in maintaining health and potentially affects disease development, weight management and behavior. Every day, we learn more about the various ways that the microbiome can influence our pets' lives.

Continuing to gain a better understanding of the functions of these specific nutritional compounds will help the pet food industry develop strategies that will allow them to continue to improve pet food and, as a result, the well-being of pets.


Recommendations for pet food manufacturers and buyers

Store shelves are increasingly filled with new formulas and trend diets, and the number of choices can be overwhelming. As such, consumers must choose formulas that are time- and field-tested to make a positive difference in the health of their pets.

Even the smallest ingredients can have the greatest impact on the gut health of companion animals. From weight to longevity to cognitive ability, the gut microbiome affects nearly every aspect of a pet's health and well-being. Promoting beneficial bacteria while limiting pathogenic bacteria will help balance the microbiome for nutrient digestibility, immunity and overall well-being.