Understand the varied benefits of probiotics to deliver what pet parents want.
Brand Insights from Chr. Hansen
Over the past decade, the importance of probiotics to human health has become popular knowledge. Foods are labeled for their probiotic content and sales of probiotic supplements have been on the rise.
Because of this, pet owners are starting to understand the importance of probiotics for the health of their furry friends. More people than ever are taking probiotics, and those who do so are more likely to give their pets probiotics. In the USA, 24% of pet owners say they give their pets probiotics, and 30% plan to give more in the future (CAWI interviews conducted in Dec 2021 by YOUGOV with 1000 dog and cat owners above 18 y.o).
For almost 150 years, Chr. Hansen has provided starter cultures and other beneficial microorganisms to the food industry. Here, we offer insight into probiotics for pet food and explore how manufacturers can cater to consumers’ growing interest by using probiotic strains selected for their specific benefits.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that, when fed in an adequate quantity, confer a health benefit to the host animal. Understanding that being alive at the moment of consumption is one of the essential aspects of the probiotic definition, it is logical to conclude that the probiotic stability in the specific product application is also key to consider.
Therefore in addition to selecting the appropriate strains for probiotics products, it is important to understand how the probiotics will be used in the products. Some microbes, like bacilli, are better at tolerating environmental challenges, making them better suited for some applications as probiotics.
Animals depend on the microbes in their guts to maintain digestion and overall health. The digestive system has trillions and trillions of existing organisms that make up what is called the microbiome; an animal whose gut is sterile cannot survive. The diversity of organisms in the intestines is extremely high, with the colon having one of the highest recorded concentrations of microbes of any place on Earth.
These microorganisms fall into three categories:
- Commensal organisms do not usually cause harm, but do not provide significant benefits, either.
- Potentially harmful organisms can cause infection and disease.
- Beneficial organisms that provide health benefits to the host animal.
To understand the benefits that a specific probiotic might confer on an animal, you need to know not only the genus and species of the organism but also the strain. Strain matters, as much as genus and species, because the unique gifts that a particular strain of organism brings to the digestive tract are what confer the benefit.
An easy way to envision this is to think about dogs. All domesticated dogs are the same species, but a Chihuahua is very different from a Great Dane. Similarly, different strains of a bacterial species behave differently. They may have different effects on the animal.
Chr. Hansen’s probiotics for pet food producers contain researched strains that support digestion, absorption, and barrier and immune function. With one of the world’s largest commercial collection of bacteria—almost 40,000 strains—we find organisms that are safe and effective for a particular purpose. Each of our pet probiotics is a unique combination of strains not found anywhere else in the market.
Over the course of their evolution, gut microbes have competed for resources and developed strategies to succeed. Some of these strategies can provide benefits to the host.
Scientific research has produced strong evidence for the benefits of probiotics in three main categories: interaction with other microbes, interaction with the host, and interaction with food.
Interactions with other microbes
Adding probiotics to the diet can also increase the diversity of microorganisms in the digestive tract—not only through direct addition but also because these probiotics could support the growth of other beneficial bacteria. At the same time, some probiotic strains secrete diverse substances that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Lastly, it is worth mentioning the capacity of probiotic organisms to competitively exclude potentially harmful organisms from colonizing the gut.
Interactions with the host
The digestive tract is basically a tube that runs through the body, from the mouth to the opening at the other end. Anything inside that tube, practically speaking, is outside of the body.
One of the functions of the digestive lining is to keep things that should not enter the bloodstream from crossing it. Tight junctions between intestinal cells help maintain a physical barrier between the digestive tract and the rest of the body. If that barrier breaks down, pathogens and the toxins they produce may leak through and cause systemic responses, organ damage, and even death. Certain probiotics support the barrier function to prevent this leaky gut phenomenon from happening.
Seventy percent of a mammal’s immune system lives around the intestinal tract. And that makes sense. Simply by living their lives—going for walks, grooming themselves, or licking dropped food from the kitchen floor—pets continually introduce potentially harmful organisms into their digestive tracts. A pet’s ability to respond to these challenges in a rapid and complete manner will keep it safe and healthy.
Probiotic organisms can help balance the immune functions of an animal to ensure that whether they experience emotional stress, physical stress, environmental stress, or disease challenge, they are better able to maintain a state of normalcy. Probiotics help maintain normal immune function by supporting the body’s ability to find potentially harmful organisms and to mount an appropriate response against them. Certain probiotic strains can interact with cells in the intestinal lining that send signals to the immune system, resulting in the production of antibodies or activation of immune cells, like T-helper cells, which help fight off infections.
Probiotics interact with food and can help with digestion
Pets cannot get every possible benefit from the food they eat unless their digestive system has the right combination of microorganisms and enzymes to break it down. Some of the essential enzymes are produced by probiotic bacteria.
Incorporating certain probiotic strains into pet food can help assure pet owners that they are giving their companions every chance at getting the most nutritional benefit from their diets.
When considering what probiotic to add to a pet product, manufacturers should take into account:
- How stable is each strain once the product is packaged and makes its way to the consumer? This is important for ensuring that what is promised on the bag (live microbes) is delivered to the pet.
- What life-stage are you targeting? Growth and lactation, senior pets, or all ages? What benefits do you want to deliver?
- How will you combine multiple strains for the best effect? Choosing strains that work in complementary ways to support digestion and health will have a bigger impact than using either a single strain or using multiple strains that all work in the same way.