Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Taming Holiday Indigestion

The holiday season is quickly approaching and, all in all, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” with parties, out-of-town company, travel, festive decorations, and lots and lots of delicious foods. But, clients often forget that their four-legged family members are also experiencing the hustle and bustle and, perhaps secretly (or not so secretly), imbibing food, drink and garland! So, “wonderful “ can frequently turn into “woeful “ as the physical effects of changes in routine, over-eating, new food, trashy behavior, boarding and stress have their way with the pet’s gastrointestinal system. And GI upset can lead to lethargy, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, gas and    sometimes conditions requiring hospitalization.

With GI upset being prevalent during the holiday season, it seems prudent to look to support these pets against such insults, as well as to help with rapid recovery should they fall victim. When a pet is exposed to stressful circumstances the gut flora may become unbalanced, allowing potentially pathogenic bacteria to overpopulate and produce clinical symptoms. Bacterial overgrowth can generate diarrhea, but is also, frequently, the resulting consequence of a pet having an acute or chronic diarrhea condition.

Nutritionally, it is the perfect time to think about the use of probiotics and prebiotics for their benefits in re-establishing bacteria balance and promoting gastrointestinal health.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that provide health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition. However, not all probiotics are created equal: each species or strain of probiotic bacteria has a unique profile, which influences the health benefits seen in the pet. Careful consideration should be given to the selection of a probiotic, based upon its clinical effectiveness and the treatment goals.

Prebiotics, such as fructooligosaccharide, are not bacteria, but fibers. Prebiotics resist enzymatic digestion in the upper digestive tract and pass to the colon, where they are broken down or fermented by bacteria.  Uniquely, these specialized fibers act as fuel, or fertilizer, for select bacteria in the gut, stimulating their growth and/or activity and, thus, providing beneficial health effects. In addition, as prebiotic fibers are broken down by the bacteria for fuel they produce short chain fatty acids, which support intestinal cell health.

Probiotics and prebiotics operate, though through different methods, to increase the population of beneficial bacteria, which in turn can competitively exclude or crowd out potentially pathogenic bacteria through physical competition for space and nutrients. Beneficial bacteria also modulate immune function. Probiotic bacteria can utilize prebiotic fibers to increase their population and survival within the intestinal tract. Used together, through diet or supplementation, probiotics and prebiotcs may demonstrate a synergistic approach to regaining GI health.

With the holidays just around the corner, it is a perfect time to forewarn clients of the associated pitfalls of the season. Recommending use of probiotics or prebiotics (or both) can be beneficial, whether done proactively or reactively, and may keep your client’s pet from being the party pooper of the holidays.