As many of you know, I recently attended the Hill’s Global Symposium in Toronto, Canada. The event was so wonderfully educational and I came back to work empowered with impactful information to help transform the lives of my patients. For this week’s post I wanted to share some important morsels of information with you about the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome so I hope you enjoy them. Happy reading!
What is the GI microbiome?
The GI microbiome is a diverse consortium of microorganisms (i.e.: bacteria, fungi, virus, protozoa, etc.) that reside in the gastrointestinal tract of all mammals. Think of it as a mini-ecosystem of your pet’s gut. These organisms are vital to your pet’s health. They regulate the development and activity of the immune system. The provide important nutritional benefits. They influence the gastrointestinal tract and other important organs, including the kidneys and the brain!
Each pet’s GI microbiome is truly unique. Nevertheless, we also know the metabolic end products are actually quite similar. Interestingly, disruptions to the microbiome can have significant and negative effects on an animal’s health. A variety of disease processes – inflammatory bowel disease, immune-mediated conditions, anxiety, and obesity – can disturb the GI microbiome and negatively affect a pet’s health. For this reason, we know it’s vital to support the GI microbiome.
Pre-, Pro-, and Postbiotics…Oh my!
The use of prebiotics and probiotics is becoming increasingly en vogue. For that reason, I want to make sure pet owners understand the difference between them because they most certainly are not the same.
- Prebiotics – These are types of soluble & fermentable fiber that stimulate the growth and/or activity of bacteria in the colon to improve host health. Common prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides, oligosaccharides, arabinogalactans, and lactulose. Sources include inulin (from chicory), larch, pectins, beet pulp, guar gum, and wheat dextrin.
- Probiotics – These are live bacteria and yeasts that one ingests to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Think of yogurt with live cultures. The benefits are thought to result from their ability to restore a more natural balance to the GI microbiome.
- Postbiotics – These are metabolic byproducts produced by the resident bacteria in the colon. The major postbiotics produced by the microbiome of dogs and cats are short chain fatty (SCFAs), particularly acetate, propionate, and butyrate. These SCFAs are the byproducts of carbohydrate and fiber fermentation. The postbiotics produced depends on a variety of factors, most importantly the substrate available for nourishment like dietary fiber. Yes, that means prebiotics influence the production of postbiotics. Acetate and propionate support microbial growth and provide an energy source for the body; butyrate provides fuel for the cells of colon (called colonocytes).
What is dysbiosis?
Dysbiosis is the term for an imbalance in the GI microbiome. Such an imbalance is common in dogs and cats after antibiotic therapy and in those with chronic GI diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). We also know the microbiome can affect the kidneys and brain, so dysbiosis can also impact renal and behavioral disorders.
Emerging research by board-certified veterinary nutrition specialists has demonstrated benefits of diets fortified with fiber-bound polyphenols. Polyphenols are found abundantly in fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidant properties, and are harvested by the GI microbiome. Evidence suggests foods enriched with fiber-bound polyphenols enhance carbohydrate fermentation and reduce anaerobic degradation of undigested protein in the colon (a process called putrefaction). Increased carbohydrate and fiber fermentation and reduced putrefaction have beneficial effects for dogs and cats because it leads to increased SCFA production.
The take-away about the GI microbiome…
The living ecosystem in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats is called the GI microbiome. A healthy GI microbiome is essential for health. We are learning how to best support this internal environment through dietary manipulation to promote GI, kidney, and brain health. Promoting fiber and carbohydrate fermentation while reducing putrefaction appears to be beneficial. Pet owners are encouraged to collaborate with their family veterinarians and board-certified veterinary nutrition specialists to ensure their pets are eating healthy and safe foods.
To find a board-certified veterinary nutrition specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Wishing you wet-nosed kisses,