Probiotics vs Prebiotics for Pets; What’s the Difference?

Gut health is a pretty mega topic these days (we’ve been tooting the horn for a while on this…), and it’s not just our own guts we should be thinking about, but our pet’s too. Good health starts inside the gut for us all, affecting everything from immunity to mental health. We often talk about probiotics and prebiotics, which you’ll find in our gut-friendly recipes for cats and doggies. However we often hear the two used interchangeably, so today let’s delve into what they each mean to clarify the difference between probiotics vs prebiotics

Probiotics vs Prebiotics

In a nutshell, probiotics are ‘good or friendly’ bacteria, whilst prebiotics are the food that the ‘good or friendly’ bacteria feed on. In this blog we’ll explain everything you need to know about each of them, as well as why they matter for your pet’s gut and overall health.

Firstly, why is the gut microbiome so important for our pets?

As soon as your puppy or kitten is born, their gut starts playing a vital role in what’s thought to be almost every one of their bodily processes, from digestion to immunity. The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of live microbes, mostly bacteria but also fungi and others, which live in the intestinal tract. There are so many in fact that they’re believed to weigh roughly the same as your brain!

We are only just beginning to understand the full role that the microbiome plays in our and our pet’s bodies, but it’s thought to assist in:

  • Controlling how the immune system works and defending against pathogens
  • Supporting digestion by breaking down complex carbohydrates/fibre into short-chain fatty acids
  • How the central nervous system works, which controls brain function
  • Producing vitamins and minerals such as vitamin K and biotin

gut health

How does food influence your pet’s gut?

Dietary choices can influence how your pet’s microbiome functions, both positively and negatively. For example foods high in sugar are known to feed the bad types of bacteria. Whilst artificial sweeteners and red meat change the composition of gut microbiome, which can result in weight gain, high blood sugar and other disorders, not to mention a heftier environmental pawprint! Other lifestyle choices, like the amount of exercise or sleep your fur baby gets and their stress level can also impact their gut health.

There are ways you can positively influence your pet’s gut health, such as by introducing probiotics and prebiotics into their diet.

Probiotics; what are they?

Probiotics are live microbes found inside our and our pets guts. As mentioned there are billions of different types of these live microbes, so probiotics specifically refer to the ‘good or friendly’ bacteria. Out of these ‘good and friendly’ bacteria, again there are many different types. Each one playing a different role in your pet’s body, from helping to prevent diarrhoea to helping those suffering with IBS.

Naturally your pet has billions of probiotics in their stomach already. If this delicate balance of gut flora is disrupted, it can result in symptoms like having an upset tum. This is what happened to our rescue kitty Boo, who was prescribed a probiotic paste by the vet as a result. This worked wonders for her #2’s, and is the reason why we add the probiotic Enterroccus Faecium to all our cat and dog dry food, to help restore and colonise your pet’s natural gut flora.

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Prebiotics; what are they?

Prebiotics are a specific type of dietary fibre that naturally occur in certain ingredients in our fur babies diets. If we want to get a little technical, they are known as complex carbohydrates, specifically oligosaccharides, which include fructans (from fruit) and galacto-oligosaccharides. Try saying that with a mouthful of food. To classify as a prebiotic the fibre must pass through the intestinal tract without being digested. This is because they essentially act as the food for the gut microbes. By feeding on the prebiotics the healthy bacteria break them down into short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. This is an acid which has many different roles, one being that it’s believed to help prevent cancer, alongside also preventing inflammation.

Prebiotics naturally occur in many different ingredients that are safe for your fur baby to consume. Some ingredients have higher levels of prebiotic fibre though, such as apples, oats, and the one we use in all our treats and wet food, Slippery Elm. You can find out why we specifically chose Slippery Elm for Dogs and Cats here. Here’s what it looks like:

slippery elm for dogs

So, what’s the difference between probiotics vs prebiotics?

Now that we’ve covered what probiotics and prebiotics are, you should have a clearer picture of how they differ. But to put it simply, probiotics are live bacteria, whilst prebiotics are the food that the live bacteria feed on. Simples.

How do I include probiotics and prebiotics into my pet’s diet?

Remember, probiotics and prebiotics are not the same thing. Therefore you need to consider how to include them separately, although some products do contain both.

If you’re looking to include probiotics into your floofs diet there are a number of different options. From probiotic pastes and tablets, to liquids and foods. Having experienced it ourselves, we know getting your pet to eat a tablet can be tricky. That’s why we chose it to add it to all our tasty dry food recipes. Meaning your cunning kitty or pooch doesn’t even notice they’re eating it. If you do opt for a probiotic-packed food, make sure to clarify that the bacteria has been added after the food’s been cooked. If not, the probiotics won’t work as the live bacteria would have been killed during the cooking process (any higher than 46C and they’re destroyed).

gut friendly dog food

Including prebiotics into your pet’s diet is a little more straightforward, as they naturally occur in plenty of ingredients. As mentioned though, certain ingredients have higher levels of these prebiotics, so the ingredients to look out for in your pet’s food recipe are:

  • Slippery Elm
  • Dandelion greens
  • Chicory root
  • Marshmallow root
  • Oats
  • Apples
  • Flaxseeds
  • Seaweed

Please do note that some ingredients which are high in prebiotic fibre and beneficial for us are toxic for our pets. This includes onion and garlic, so don’t feed these to your cat or dog.

The bottom line

So to conclude, both prebiotics and probiotics help support our pet’s overall health. Prebiotics are undigestible fibres that feed the good and friendly bacteria in the gut, whilst probiotics are the good and friendly bacteria themselves. Both can be given to your pet as part of a healthy diet, with prebiotics naturally occurring in high quantities in ingredients like Slippery Elm, whilst probiotics must be added, such as Enterococcus Faecium. Don’t forget that probiotics must be added to the recipe post-cooking, or they simply won’t do their poop-sculpting work! Happy feeding, and if you’re looking for a range of gut-friendly recipes for your cat and dog, tap here.

Gut Health Keywords

There are a few words in this blog you might not previously have been familiar with, so here’s a mini dictionary:

Probiotic: good bacteria found in your gut

Prebiotic: non-digestible carbohydrate that good bacteria feed on

Gut: the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the derriere.

Microbe/microorganism: teeny tiny living organisms we can only see under a microscope. They can be bacteria, fungi, archaea or protists.

Gut Microbiome: the assemblage of microorganisms present in the gut. Also known as the ‘gut flora’ or ‘gut microbiota’.

Complex carbohydrates: Carbohydrates made up of more than 3 sugar molecules, that also contain vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Whilst you’re here why not read:

  1. Probiotics for dogs; aka the journey to the perfect poo
  2. Probiotics for cats; what are they and what are the benefits?
  3. 6 benefits of Slippery Elm for Dogs and Cats