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Navigating gut health trends in pet nutrition

December 11, 2023
cat and dog

Microbuild is an innovative prebiotic that nurtures the gut health and overall well-being of pets.

In 2023, American pet owners are projected to invest a substantial $143.6 billion in the welfare of their beloved furry companions. Joining us in this episode of Ag Future are Kami Grandeen, companion animal sales manager for North America, and Dr. Richard Murphy, research director at the Alltech European Bioscience Center in Ireland. Together, they delve into the current trends in pet food, placing special emphasis on the growing focus on gut health. Discover how Alltech is at the forefront of addressing pets’ microbiomes with the recent launch of Microbuild™ in the U.S. market.

The following is an edited transcript of the Ag Future podcast episode with Kami Grandeen and Dr. Richard Murphy hosted by Tom Martin. Click below to hear the full audio or listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

Tom:                      I’m Tom Martin. And today, we’re joined by Kami Grandeen, companion animal sales manager for North America. Welcome, Kami.


Kami:                      Thanks, Tom.


Tom:                      And Dr. Richard Murphy, research director at the Alltech European Bioscience Center in Dunboyne, Ireland. Thanks for joining us, Dr. Murphy. 


Richard:                  Hey, Tom, how are you?


Tom:                      And we’re here to delve into the dynamic world of the growing pet food market, and more specifically to explore Alltech’s latest offering, Microbuild. So, Kami, let me begin with you. With 66% of U.S. households embracing pet ownership and projected to spend a whopping $143.6 billion on their pets in 2023, there is clearly a lot of passion for our furry friends here. Can you shed some light on the trends that you are observing and what pet owners look for in their pet food? 


Kami:                      Yeah, you’re right. There is a lot of passion, a lot of opportunities, and just so many great options for pet food right now. Whether you’re looking at a fresh pet food, a freeze-dried pet food, or just a kibble that we’ve traditionally fed, there’s a lot of the opportunities out there to meet our pet’s needs nutritionally. So no matter what form pet owners are looking for, they’re reading the labels, and they want to understand why each ingredient is included in that particular formulation.


                               Each ingredient needs to serve a purpose, and it needs to have a function for the animal. So that function could be for skin and coat, for gut health, for joint health, for our senior pets to build immunity. And Microbuild really fits the trend of gut health. It’s a prebiotic, it’s backed by research, and it’s really proven to promote gut health in our pets and have an impact on their overall health.


Tom:                      You mentioned gut health. At what stage should a pet owner start considering a pet food or supplement that supports their digestive tract? 


Kami:                      A healthy gut is really the key to a healthy pet. So building a healthy gut ideally starts with our puppies and our kittens. Gut health and the microbiome really influences overall health and immunity. In fact, 70% of the pet’s immune system is in their gut. So that’s really the foundation needed for a healthy pet, is a healthy gut. So puppies and kittens grow pretty quickly. Their gut develops very quickly. So we want to really build that in and start them out right.


                               But, of course, we don’t always know our pet’s history. We may rescue a pet. We may adopt a pet. So feeding a food or a supplement that targets gut health for a newly adopted pet or a newly rescued pet can really make that transition into our home easier from a digestive health standpoint.


                               We can’t forget our adults or our senior pets, because as our pets age, the gut health kind of tends to change. And we really want to feed a food or a supplement that helps build and helps maintain that gut health to keep those pets happy and healthy into their golden years. But the key point, I think, about gut health is we don’t want to wait until our pets have a digestive upset or have a problem to start thinking about gut health. We really want to build that from the start, maintain that, and give them the best opportunity to thrive. 


Tom:                      Alltech recently announced Microbuild, an innovative prebiotic that nurtures the gut health and overall well-being of pets. Dr. Murphy, let’s start here. If you could describe for us the difference between a prebiotic and a postbiotic? 


Richard:                  When we think about prebiotics and we think about postbiotics, both are great for gut health, but they help in quite different ways, Tom. So when we think about prebiotics — and I like to think about prebiotics as a source of food for your gut’s healthy bacteria — at a basic level, these are carbohydrates or fiber that help good or beneficial bacteria grow in the gastrointestinal tract. And this makes our pet’s digestive system not only work better, but it also helps guard against bad bacteria becoming established and stops our pets getting sick.


                               And we’ve noted with Microbuild, for instance, that we can support the diversity of bacteria in the GI tract and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. An added effect of prebiotics is their ability to stimulate the growth of bacteria that produce what are known as short-chain fatty acids. These are important metabolites or breakdown products in the GI tract that have good health-promoting benefits. Additionally, these short-chain fatty acids can help address gut inflammation and strengthen the gut’s defenses.


                               It’s important as well, I think, Tom, just to mention that there are many distinct different types of prebiotics. At Alltech, we work almost exclusively with a specific type, which we’ve isolated from baker’s yeast. This is known as mannan-enriched fraction. Mannan-enriched fraction actually has at its core mannose as a basic building block. So a simple sugar mannose is a basic building block, and that effectively is the “secret sauce,” if you like, in our product’s effectiveness. It helps create a very complex fiber that is really good at promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.


                               When we look at probiotics, on the other hand, these are quite different. In fact, these are live microorganisms that are good for the digestive system. And again, there are different probiotics, including both live bacteria and yeast. These can have various health benefits. Most often, they’re sought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut when it has been disrupted by an illness or perhaps a medication or a treatment.


                               So really, there are quite distinct differences between prebiotics and probiotics, both helping in quite different ways. I prefer prebiotics, Tom, if I’m honest.


Tom:                      The science behind Microbuild is rooted in nutrigenomics. Dr. Murphy, if you could, for our listeners, explain nutrigenomics and how the science contributes to this product.


Richard:                  Nutrigenomics really is an extremely exciting area of science. It’s also quite broad in terms of what we actually study or what we can look at. At a basic level, what we’re really talking about is studying how dietary components and nutrients impact the expression of not just genes, but the proteins that are encoded by these genes and ultimately the metabolites that are produced or stimulated in the GI tract by the proteins. It really is a very large area of science that we’re talking about.


                               In terms of our gut health work in Alltech, for instance, we’ve looked at how our prebiotic mannan-enriched fraction interacts with the microbes in the gut and how that can minimize or that can help minimize the expression of genes and proteins that are associated with gut inflammation, for instance. By using Microbuild, we can perhaps aid in dampening down gut inflammation, help make the gut a healthier environment. So, really, it’s getting very, very exciting for us just in terms of the level of information we can generate and the areas that we can study in a very short and in a very quick period of time.


Tom:                      The promotion of better stool quality is highlighted as a benefit of Microbuild. Why is this crucial for overall pet health, and how can pet owners observe and assess improvements in their pets’ stool quality? 


Richard:                  When we think about it from our own health perspective, being regular, shall we say, it really is a good way of describing bowel habits or normal bowel function. And the type of stool or feces that’s produced will depend on the amount of time that it spends in the colon. From a health perspective, there are a number of types of stools, some of which can visually indicate problems such as constipation or diarrhea. And diet and gut health will obviously impact the type of stool that has passed.


                               We have found that with prebiotics such as Microbuild, we can aid in promoting stool quality. We’ve observed, for instance, that when the gut microflora is more diverse, that’s a property that Microbuild is noted for enhancing. That stool formation tends to become more optimal. Visually, we note better stool quality and much less or much reduced issues with diarrhea and constipation, for instance, Tom.


Tom:                      With the current emphasis on natural and functional ingredients in pet products, how does Microbuild align with the broader trends in the pet food industry?


Kami:                      Microbuild really fits into some of those trends, whether it’s natural, whether it’s sustainable, whether it’s functional. I just want to highlight the sustainability aspect of the pet industry. Really, sustainability is not a trend. It’s becoming a requirement. Pet owners are really seeking out sustainable ingredients. Alltech is on the forefront of sustainability in the pet industry and beyond through our Planet of Plenty™ initiative. We’ve also been accredited by the Pet Sustainability Coalition, and we’re making progress towards our sustainable development goals. So Microbuild may be a small part of the pet’s diet, but it really does fit in some of those trends — the sustainable, the natural, the functional trends. 


Tom:                      Kami, in terms of practicality, how versatile is Microbuild as a functional ingredient? Can it be easily integrated into various forms such as pet food, treats, supplements? 


Kami:                      Yeah. It’s a very versatile product that can be included in really any application, whether it’s a food, treat, supplement. It’s heat stable, shelf stable. It can be used across any application or any processing: kibble, raw, fresh, freeze-dried, any sort of supplement application, whether it’s a soft chew or a powder. Any treat that’s baked or extruded. It’s extremely easy to work with. It doesn’t lose any of its functional capabilities. It’s processed, and it doesn’t require any special equipment for application or refrigeration for storage. So it’s a really easy product to work with, and great results. 


Tom:                      If somebody listening to us wants to know more about Microbuild, maybe even purchase it, where can they go?


Kami:                      If you’d like to learn more about Microbuild, has a great wealth of information. You can also find any information about other Alltech pet ingredients at under the pet nutrition tab, and you can sign up for our Pet Chat newsletter. If you have a specific question, you can always email with your question.


Tom:                      All right, that’s Kami Grandeen, companion animal sales manager for North America. Thank you so much, Kami.


Kami:                      Thank you.


Tom:                      And Dr. Richard Murphy, research director of the Alltech European Bioscience Center in Dunboyne, Ireland. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Murphy.


Richard:                  Thanks, Tom.