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Nutrition Nuggets
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Pro- and Prebiotics - What are They and What Do They Do?

November 11, 2011 / (0) comments

Probiotics are all the rage. Numerous nutritional supplements, and even foods like yogurt, contain these live microorganisms (bacteria and/or yeast) that can provide health benefits when given to an animal or person. We tend to think of probiotics when considering gastrointestinal health or disease, and they certainly do play an important role in this regard.


Take a dog with diarrhea, for example. Whatever the cause — stress, dietary indiscretion, infection, antibiotic therapy, etc. — the diarrhea sometimes persists even after the inciting issue has been handled. This often results from an imbalance between the microorganisms in the gut that promote normal function and those that secrete toxins or are otherwise disruptive when they are present in larger than normal numbers. Probiotics are a way of boosting the number of "good" microorganisms that are present, thereby helping them out-compete the "bad" ones.


It also appears that probiotics may work in other ways. They seem to be able to beneficially modify immune function. Studies have shown that probiotic supplementation can help treat infections outside of the gastrointestinal tract as well as some types of allergic or inflammatory diseases. This isn’t too surprising considering that a large proportion of the body’s immune system is associated with the gut, so anything that influences the immune system could provide a more wide-spread effect.


One downside of probiotic supplementation is that the microorganisms aren’t able to effectively stay and reproduce within the gut for long periods of time. This isn’t a huge issue when you are dealing with an acute illness, say diarrhea associated with antibiotic use, but for chronic disorders probiotic supplements need to be continued long-term to reap the maximum benefits.


This is where prebiotics come into the picture. Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that support the growth of probiotic microorganisms that either reside in the gut naturally or are added via supplementation. Think of prebiotics as a way to preferentially feed the "good" microorganisms in the gut, giving them a potential advantage in their competition with the "bad" microorganisms.


Beet pulp is a commonly used prebiotic in dog foods. It is a type of carbohydrate that undergoes partial fermentation within the gut to provide food for probiotic microorganisms. Feeding your dog a food that contains a prebiotic like beet pulp is an easy way to support gastrointestinal health, add fiber to the diet, and promote overall well-being.


Look at the ingredient list on the dog food label to determine whether or not beet pulp is included. It does not need to be present in large amounts, so finding it approximately half-way down the ingredient list is perfectly appropriate. I recommend new Hill’s Science Diet Ideal Balance, which contains a proper proportion of beet pulp in every serving. Lastly, use the MyBowl tool and the guaranteed analysis on the food label to determine whether or not carbohydrate levels as a whole are appropriate and in balance with other nutritional categories.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: blanche / via Shutterstock

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... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.