This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Schutzhund USA Magazine.
One of the hot topics in both human and canine nutrition is the use of probiotics. This is one of the more important trends in the canine nutrition world that affect working dogs due to their higher activity and stress levels. The lesser known and discussed prebiotics can play just as important a role in digestive health, though, and are a nice complementary component to probiotics in the canine diet.
What Exactly Are They?
They sound a lot alike and both are great for digestive health, but prebiotics and probiotics shouldn’t be confused with one another. Here’s a simple way to remember the difference.
Probiotics: These are live bacteria that are created during the fermentation of certain foods and are beneficial to digestion. Basically, these are good bugs.
Prebiotics: These are non-digestible fiber in certain types of food that feed the bacteria during fermentation as part of the digestive process. In short, these feed the good bugs.
It’s pretty simple, really. One is good bacteria and the other keeps them well fed to maintain a healthy gut environment. Just find a food with both and your dog is on the road to great digestion. Easy, right? Well, it’s not quite that easy.
Both Have Limitations
A combination of prebiotics and probiotics are absolutely beneficial to your dog’s digestion and overall health. Unfortunately, the best sources and processing methods for the two don’t exactly align. For example, prebiotics are durable to the point that heat and processing, such as the cooking of a commercial food, can actually make them more effective. As food for good bacteria, though, they can take a little longer to have the desired impact.
Probiotics, on the other hand, can be boosted very quickly but are pretty fragile. Heat, age and even the digestive process can kill them by the millions. This means you need to get a pretty concentrated source of the right kind and make sure they weren’t killed off in the wrong kind of processing.
Strongest in Combination
For prebiotics, there are plenty of good dietary sources including a quality dry food. With probiotics, it’s more effective to supplement the diet with a concentrated source that has not been heat processed. Combine the two of these with a range of digestive enzymes and you can go a long way in keeping your working dog healthy and at the top of the performance curve.