It is widely accepted that the intestinal bacterial ecosystem plays a crucial role in gastrointestinal (GI) health and is
considered by some to represent an organ.1 The metabolic processes of the various bacteria and the interactions with dietary inputs impact GI tract health and have
systemic influences. The natural bacterial population found in the canine and feline gut can be categorized into beneficial
and potentially pathogenic groups. Beneficial bacteria can
1. Inhibit the presence of harmful bacteria
2. Stimulate immune function
3. Aid in food digestion and absorption
4. Synthesize vitamins.
The lactate-producing genera, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, are commonly recognized for their health-promoting properties.
There is growing interest in manipulating the intestinal flora to increase the relative numbers of beneficial bacteria. Until
recently, this enhancement was typically accomplished by providing supplements consisting of a strain or strains of live beneficial
bacteria, referred to as probiotics. Presently, nutritional modulation of the intestinal microbiota has expanded into the use of prebiotics, which are nondigestible
food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of beneficial bacteria
in the gut and, thus, improve host health. Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates or fibers that resist enzymatic digestion
in the upper digestive tract. When the prebiotics reach the colon, they serve as a substrate for the resident bacteria and
are digested through fermentation. Unlike other fibers, prebiotics selectively feed the beneficial bacteria.
Client education: Prebiotics in a nutshell
The benefits of prebiotics
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) have been the most studied prebiotics. FOS occur naturally in several plants (e.g. wheat, bananas,
barley, garlic) and are synthesized commercially. Dietary supplementation with FOS positively influences gut health by increasing
the concentration of beneficial bacterial populations (bifidobacteria, lactobacilli) and decreasing concentrations of potential
pathogens (Clostridium perfringens).
Increases in the beneficial lactate-producing populations of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are associated with these health
- Enhancement of intestinal structure and functions
- Inhibition of pathogen growth
- Stimulation of enteric and systemic immune systems
- Enhanced utilization of indigestible dietary components
- Treatment of GI disorders
- Increased mineral absorption
- Improved stool characteristics