It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and Sean Cater had a feeling something was wrong. A 48-ounce package of chicken lay on his kitchen floor, empty. Bits of wrapping trapped in the yellow Styrofoam fray littered the tile, then the carpet, leading Cater to the inevitable culprit: his 4-year-old greyhound, Shark Face.
Shark’s belly was slightly larger than usual, the pinkish gray skin pulled just slightly tighter to her body. Cater’s gut had told him something was amiss, and now he had proof. Gut feelings do matter.
Shark-Face’s tummy rumbled as the day continued. Even more than that, Cater was thinking about things many pet owners do not: Shark’s brain, joints, heart and general attitude.
Cater is a graphic designer for Vetri-Science Laboratories of Vermont. He takes it upon himself to regularly ask questions about pet health, and knows something many pet owners do not: Digestion is a connective activity.
We habitually associate intuition with our guts, so much so that bad news becomes hard to swallow, we get lumps in our throats, and we come to know emotions through our stomachs, from the deepest pits to the flightiest butterflies.
Finding a Connection
The interconnectivity of companion animals’ health is much like our own: Much of the material an animal ingests is absorbed through villi and can make it into the bloodstream. Those nutrients or toxins can reach the brain, heart, lungs and every other organ and system faster than you can say salmonella.
One famous example of the gut-brain connection is Pavlov’s dogs. The signalization aspect of his experiment proved that small sensory signals trigger salivation, a first step in the digestive process. The enteric nervous system’s ability to make humans, dogs and cats vomit without our consent also serves as an interesting example.
Further, an important neurotransmitter, glutamate, is directly influenced by ammonia concentration. Ammonia is mainly produced in the intestine by nitrogenous compound degradation.
This process reveals how important maintaining circulatory and hepatic health is to maintaining brain health.
Despite the simple explanation of the gut-brain connection, the gut is still a complicated habitat.
“The living gut is a true jungle where only the fittest survive,” says Gary Pusillo, MS, Ph.D., P.A.S. He is a member of Vetri-Science Laboratories’ large animal scientific review board and a board-certified member of the American College of Animal Nutrition.
Pusillo, notes the gut’s diversity: “The gut has myriad different micro-organisms present, some beneficial, some not. A healthy gut provides an environment where the beneficial micro-organisms thrive and multiply in greater numbers while the pathogens struggle.”
Pros of Probiotics
For many clients, the word “probiotic” may only have one association: yogurt.
But the word actually means “for life,” and probiotics support total wellness.
Because probiotics offer immune support and support of microbial balance, supplementation can promote skin health, ocular health, positive behavior and more.
Bacteria Are Not Created Equal
The goal of a probiotic formula is to populate the gut with beneficial micro-organisms. But according to Chelsea Tomat, animal product developer at Vetri-Science Laboratories, not all bacteria have that ability. In fact, the quality of any probiotic formula depends on a variety of factors: viability, diversity, quantity and adherence.
Viability: Why so many variables? Probiotics, like the guts they inhabit, are finicky characters.
“Probiotics have a tough time surviving in the presence of moisture,” Tomat says.
“You can think about dried probiotic materials as being kind of like sea monkeys. If they’re dried and sealed, they will stay in stasis for a long time. But as soon as you add moisture, like from an animal’s mouth or an inactive chew matrix, they come alive again.”
The “alive” bit is important. The successful reanimation of the micro-organism is the key factor in the first variable, viability.
Diversity: We’re all aware of the value of diversity as it relates to organisms’ survival in, for example, a jungle environment. This concept remains true for less visible environments, like the gut. Note: In the notoriously successful human microbiome we can find more than 10,000 different microbial species.
A successful formula will include diverse, viable and “host-compatible potentiators that not only (support) the growth of the product’s direct-fed microbials, but also the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria … in the GI tract,” Pusillo says.
Quantity: Microbial quantity is another detail that deserves directed attention, Pusillo warns. Often, a probiotic’s quantity listing is either unverifiable or irrelevant, and used as an empty selling point instead of an insurance of the formula’s quantity.
“It is easier to sell on the concept that my probiotic pack is better than your probiotic pack because it is 10,000 colony-forming units (CFUs) higher,” Pusillo explains. “People understand the concept of more. It is harder to explain that a CFU might not replicate because it is not able to grow in an (animal’s) digestive tract.”
Tomat confirms that viability is more important than quantity.
“When we work with vitamins or other nutraceuticals, we can simply add an overage to ensure that the product will test out at shelf life. But probiotics are individual living organisms. Adding more won’t make them live longer.”
Adherence: Colonizing isn’t easy—gut pH plays a huge role. In dogs, it’s comparably low, meaning highly acidic and designed to digest large food items.
Despite the fact that colonization seems like the end goal of a probiotic, we should also keep in mind the idea of elimination. A good formula will encourage elimination of the harmful pathogens in the gut and simultaneously promote the colonization of the beneficial micro-organisms.
Adding ingredients like specialized yeast extract, or SYE, to a probiotic formula can encourage attachment of sugar-seeking pathogens.
“SYE provides a source for attachment that will absorb bacteria that would otherwise attach to the gut wall,” Pusillo says. “SYE may also help bind toxins in the GI tract. Because SYE is not degraded by digestive enzymes, it passes through the tract with the pathogen(s) attached, preventing (pathogen) colonization.”
Trading Leaky Green for Peachy Keen
Every veterinian has experienced the impact of healthy digestion. Probiotic formulas are one way to support the process—enzymes and binders offer similarly valuable support.
Maintaining microbial health is an everyday task and one that requires working knowledge of diet and nutrition, as well as supportive options and what makes them successful.
“If we want to promote health we should pay attention to the ways of nature and learn to encourage the body’s own mechanisms for self-repair and maintenance,” Pusillo says.
Quality probiotic formulas support that endeavor, for life.
Karin Krisher is a copywriter for Vetri-Science Laboraties of Vermont.
This Education Series article was underwritten by Vetri-Science Laboratories of Vermont.