We are starting to be inundated with dog and cat products that have the word “prebiotic” or “probiotic” or maybe even “postbiotic”. What does it all mean?
Honestly, there appears to be quite a lot of confusion these days surrounding pet foods and treats whose packaging claims benefits based on the presence of a probiotic or a prebiotic, for example. The pet industry is quick to take up these buzz terms for marketing purposes, but the science is slow. It’s important to arm yourself with information so you can make the best purchasing decisions for your pet.
First, a microbiolgist's quick tutorial on the definition of each:
1. Prebiotics - a nutrient that feeds/nourishes or provides structural support for the
beneficial microbes that live in your pet. Your pet indirectly benefits from happy, healthy beneficial microbes. From a microbiologist’s perspective, prebiotics can be vitamins, fibers, minerals, etc. Currently, the pet industry only recognizes the soluble fibers inulin, and a few oligosaccharides as “prebiotics”, even though many more ingredients that are in cat and dog food are acting as a prebiotic, e.g. cellulose.
2. Probiotics - bacterial spores or living bacteria that are added to pet food or treats. Your pet indirectly benefits from these microbes’ activities as they transit through the gut. Probiotics do not linger longer than several days, so their benefits are short-lived. Your pets already have microbes that are attached to the gut, and there is nowhere for probiotics to attach, which is why they provide temporary benefit. Think of it like a full parking lot, without any spaces to park…the probiotics circle for a few hours or days before being ejected out.
3. Postbiotics - these are waste products of microbes or can be anatomical features of dead microbes that are providing measurable benefit to your pet through more direct means…meaning they act on your pet. You consume postbiotics if you eat or drink anything fermented. The waste products of microbial fermentation has benefits (ie, cheese, sauerkraut, yogurt). We are still defining what the benefits may be for cats and dogs and what microbial waste product or anatomical feature is really driving the benefit.