There are several proposed explanations about the mechanisms by which probiotics can protect your pet from harmful bowel bacteria:
- Produce inhibitory chemicals that reduce the numbers of harmful bacteria and possibly toxin production by these harmful bacteria.
- May block the adhesion of harmful bacteria to intestinal cells.
- May compete for nutrients needed for growth and reproduction by harmful bacteria.
- May degrade toxin receptors located on intestinal cells, preventing toxin absorption and damage by toxins produced by harmful intestinal bacteria.
- May also stimulate immune function of the intestinal tract.
Antibiotics can disturb the balance of the intestinal tract by killing friendly bacteria. When this happens, harmful bacteria and yeasts can move in, reproduce and take over. This is especially true in pets on long-term (several months) antibiotic therapy, and for pets with chronic diarrhea.
Conversely, it appears that the regular use of probiotics can generally improve the health of the gastrointestinal system.
The use of probiotics for treating diarrhea as well as maintaining health is often controversial. Although many holistic doctors believe they are helpful and perhaps even necessary for health, there is no daily requirement for probiotic bacteria. Probiotics are living creatures, not chemicals, so they can sustain themselves in the body unless something comes along to damage them, such as antibiotics.
Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir are good sources of acidophilus and other probiotic bacteria. However, many yogurt products do not contain any living organisms or only contain small numbers of organisms.
Some pets will eat these foods, and others won’t. Also, if the pet has any lactose intolerance, he may not tolerate yogurt well and may experience diarrhea (although this is rare). Most doctors recommend supplements to provide the highest doses of probiotics and avoid any lactose intolerance.
Various probiotics, while usually producing the same beneficial effects, may function differently within the intestinal tract. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus produces lactic acid to lower the pH of the intestines and acts as an intestinal bacterial colonizer. L. casei lowers oxidation processes, and L. lactis acts on hydrogen peroxide as well as amylase and proteases.
Dosages of Acidophilus and other probiotics are expressed not in grams or milligrams, but in billions of organisms. A typical daily dose in people should supply about three to five billion live organisms. One popular pet supplement provides 500 million viable cells to be given per 50 pounds of body weight. The suggested dosage range of probiotics for pets is approximately 20 to 500 million microorganisms.
Some doctors recommend that when administering antibiotics, the probiotic should be given at least two hours later, several times per day, and when the antibiotic treatment has been completed, owners should double or triple the probiotic dose for seven to ten days.
Another recommendation is that if taking several species of probiotics, Acidophilus is reported to flourish best if taken in the morning, and the Bifidus when taken at night. It is suspected this may follow the diurnal acid/alkaline tide that the body utilizes as a part of the detoxification process.
The most important thing is, regardless of when they are taken, probiotics should be taken when using (extended) antibiotic therapy and other conditions for which theses supplements are indicated. (As treatment for bowel disorders, for example.) Because probiotics are not drugs but living organisms, the precise dosage is not so important. They should be taken regularly to reinforce the beneficial bacterial colonies in the intestinal tract, which may gradually push out harmful bacteria and yeasts growing there.
The downside of using a living organism is that probiotics may die on the shelf. The container label should guarantee living Acidophilus, or Bulgaricus, and so on, at the time of purchase, not just at the time of manufacture.
There is fairly good evidence that many probiotics can help with various types and causes of diarrhea. Saccharomyces boulardii, Enterococcus faecium, and Lactobacillus spp. have been shown to help prevent antibiotic-induced diarrhea.
Saccharomyces has demonstrated the most promise for use in diarrhea caused by the intestinal bacterium Clostridium difficile, a common cause of bacterial overgrowth in pets and people. Some evidence suggests a particular type of probiotic, L. reuteri, can help treat diarrhea caused by viral infections in children. According to several studies conducted on the subject, it appears regular use of Acidophilus can help prevent “traveler’s diarrhea.”
There are no known safety problems with the use of Acidophilus or other probiotics. Occasionally, some people and pets notice a temporary increase in digestive gas. If your pet is taking antibiotics, it may be beneficial to supplement with probiotics at the same time, and to continue them for a couple of weeks after the course of drug treatment has stopped. This will help restore the balance of natural bacteria in the digestive tract.
In people, it is often suggested in addition to taking probiotics, patients take fructooligosaccharides supplements that can promote thriving colonies of helpful bacteria in the digestive tract. Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are naturally occurring sugars found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains. These non-digestible complex carbohydrates resist digestion by salivary and intestinal digestive enzymes and enter the colon where they are fermented by bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides spp.
The most beneficial effect of fructooligosaccharides is the selective stimulation of the growth of Bifidobacterium, thus significantly enhancing the composition of the colonic microflora and reducing the number of potentially pathogenic bacteria. Lactobacillus, another beneficial bacteria, was also seen to proliferate with the addition of FOS supplements. Because FOS increases the colonization of healthy bacteria in the gut, they are considered to be a prebiotic rather than a probiotic.
Taking FOS supplements are thought to foster a healthy environment for the beneficial bacteria living in the intestinal tract. Studies using FOS at a dosage of 0.75 percent to 1.0 percent (dry matter basis) showed decreased E. coli and increased lactobacilli intestinal bacteria in cats and dogs.
The typical daily dose of fructooligosaccharides for people is between two and eight grams. The correct dose for pets has been suggested as one supplement containing 50 mg for a 50-pound dog; research on FOS showed positive benefits when the dosage was 0.75 percent to 1.0 percent of the food when fed on a dry matter basis.
Other Natural Treatments
Other possible treatments for parvovirus include aloe vera juice, Boswellia, calendula, chamomile, German chamomile, marshmallow, raspberry leaf, and slippery elm. These can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies, as they are unlikely to be effective by themselves in most pets. The natural treatments are widely used with variable success but have not been thoroughly proven at this time.
As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.
Supportive care includes: antibiotics to control secondary infections, intravenous fluid therapy, force-feeding, replacement of serum protein when needed, and medications such as corticosteroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to control inflammation in the intestines.
Shawn Messonnier, DVM
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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
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