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Synbiotics: New pro- and prebiotics for dogs and cats?

August 5, 2021
cat and dog

While many have heard about prebiotics and probiotics for dogs and cats, the new term on the block is “synbiotics,” which are simply an effective and beneficial combination of pro- and prebiotics for cats and dogs.

At this point, most of us know that the gut microbiome is an important component of overall health. With estimates asserting that mammals contain around 10 times more bacteria than cells in their bodies — and 1,000 more microbial genes — the importance of a healthy gut cannot be overstated.

While many of us have heard about prebiotics and probiotics for dogs and cats, the new term on the block is “synbiotics,” which are simply an effective and beneficial combination of pro- and prebiotics for cats and dogs. Current research shows that the right combination product could be a game changer in pet food diets.

How do prebiotics and probiotics for dogs and cats work together?

Here’s a quick refresher:

  • Probiotics are consumable live microorganisms that have beneficial effects when fed in the appropriate concentrations.
  • Prebiotics are fiber or fermented ingredients that pass through the GI tract undigested and positively influence the microbes in the gut.

In simple terms, probiotics are good bacteria, and prebiotics help feed those good gut bugs.

Synbiotics were created as specific combinations of pro- and prebiotics that work well together. Basically, synbiotics are selective strains of bacteria with specific prebiotics that best support those microbes.

Once in the body, synbiotics can act in various ways to support health.

What do prebiotics do in the body?

Upon being ingested, prebiotics pass through the animal’s stomach and small intestine without being broken down by hydrochloric acid or digestive enzymes. Once they reach the large intestine, prebiotics get to work as the “fuel” for the good bacteria in the gut.

Prebiotics work together with probiotics to maintain a delicate balance and diversity of organisms in the GI tract. As probiotics are fueled, the body reaps more benefits.

Additionally, as prebiotics are fermented and used by probiotics, short-chain fatty acids — such as butyrate and other postbiotics — are generated. These postbiotics are used by the cells of the GI tract as a nutrient source, which further contributes to a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

What do probiotics do in the body?

Different probiotic strains have different mechanisms of action in pets. Some examples of how probiotics can influence health include:

  • Competing with and displacing bad bacteria in the GI tract by attaching to the intestinal lining
  • Producing antimicrobial substances like fatty acids
  • Inactivating toxins
  • Up-regulating the production of beneficial metabolites
  • Enhancing immune system function
  • Supporting the integrity of intestinal epithelial cells

While many strains of probiotics are used in dogs and cats, some of the more common and widely researched include Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium spp. animalis.

Multiple studies have shown that the gut bacteria composition of dogs experiencing digestive diseases, such as chronic diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease, is altered compared to the gut bacteria of healthy dogs, which suggests that probiotics for dogs with diarrhea and other dysbiosis-inducing conditions may be one solution for better health.

What benefits do synbiotics provide?

As stated above, the whole point of synbiotics is to create one combination product that provides a net benefit for the animal based on synergistic pre- and probiotics.

Research trials involving pre- and probiotics for cats and dogs that study the most effective mixture of strains are limited, and the results of the trials that have been conducted vary greatly due to the myriad ways to test changes in the gut microbiome, as well as the different concentrations of beneficial bacteria and fiber being offered and the timing of administration with respect to other foodstuffs or medications. That being said, let’s look at what we do know.

One study in healthy, trained sled dogs found that a synbiotic that included E. faecium, Bacillus coagulans, L. acidophilus, and multiple prebiotics and vitamins led to an increase in Lactobacillaceae bacteria and the concentration of butyrate, as well as a decrease in diarrhea. In cats with chronic diarrhea, administration of a proprietary synbiotic blend improved fecal scores significantly after only 21 days.

Several studies have investigated the use of synbiotics in cats in conjunction with clindamycin, an antibiotic known to induce significant GI changes and distress in both pets and humans. In one trial, the use of a synbiotic with clindamycin in previously healthy cats illustrated synbiotics’ potential ability to mitigate some loss of beneficial bacteria. Additionally, the cats receiving the synbiotic also seemed to have altered levels of polyamine synthesis. Polyamines aid in the repair of the intestinal lining and have anti-inflammatory properties, so this is particularly interesting and will require more research to fully understand.

While the science continues to evolve, what we already know for sure is that supporting the microbiome and continually improving the gut ingredients available for pets will be hugely important in differentiating pet food brands.

How to market synbiotics

Adding a winning combination of probiotics and prebiotics to pet food diets is not only advantageous for good gut health and an optimal pet immune system but could also be profitable for businesses.

With pet parents always looking for an “edge” for their pets, adding a custom combination product that fits your brand’s needs is crucial for brand awareness and recognition. In a crowded marketplace, the smallest ingredients in the bag are often the biggest market differentiators.

Additionally, in the human nutrition marketplace, the idea of synbiotics is becoming more and more mainstream, which means that people will soon be looking for this word on pet food packaging.

When marketing synbiotics to consumers, here a few tips:

  1. Identify the main reason why your company chose these particular strains of bacteria and supportive fiber.
  2. Boil your main “why” into less than 10 words for each strain or fiber source.
  3. Educate consumers so that they understand why your brand has selected these particular ingredients and why what you are offering is different from other brands.
  4. Communicate obsessively via your channels. If it feels like you are repeating the same language, then you are doing it right! Most people need to hear something at least seven times before it really solidifies as fact in their brains.

As a company founded on science, Alltech’s technologies continue to be researched as extensively as they have for the past 40 years. We can help identify the custom blend of ingredients that would best serve your pet food brand based on your unique needs, processing techniques and marketing strategies.

In the end, our mission is healthy pets and healthy partnerships.  


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