Dr. Elliott: Bacteria That Are Important to Health

Learn about the different types of good bacteria for dogs, and why probiotics for canines are so important.

Normally when we think of bacteria, we think of the new strains of flesh eating bacteria, staph, E. coli and MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a difficult to treat type of staph that can cause a potentially life-threatening infection. We have relegated bacteria to the category of things to avoid but that’s not necessarily accurate.

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Three classes of bacteria inhabit the intestinal tract. The first are bacteria that live harmoniously in the intestinal tract, benefiting the body. These bacteria feed on waste products from food consumption; among the by-products of their metabolism are proteins, vitamins and other substances that benefit the body. Some of these bacterial by-products stimulate the immune system, while other friendly bacteria alter the acidity of areas inhabited by invading microbes preventing some from settling in to cause havoc. The word "probiotic" refers to these friendly bacteria and comes from two Greek words meaning "for life." The second bacteria peacefully coexist within the digestive tract doing neither good nor harm.

The third group is the potentially pathogenic group, again including hundreds of possible bad guys like E. coli and S. aureus. These parasitic or toxic bacteria also produce toxic metabolic by-products that can increase the risk of cancer, cause immune dysfunction or produce digestive diseases. The parasitic bacteria can convert substances in the intestinal tract into debris that is toxic to the body. This debris can be absorbed from the intestinal tract into the blood, where it can adversely affect the body’s organs. These bad guys have been linked to IBD and skin infections.

Probiotic bacteria work by competitive exclusion. This means that the greater number of different species of friendly intestinal bacteria that are present in the intestinal tract, the harder it is for the competing bad bacteria and yeasts to get started. The friendly bacteria like lactobacillus, acidophilus, streptococcus and others are destroyed by a variety of factors including antibiotics, chlorinated water, stress, etc. "Unfriendly" microorganisms such as disease-causing bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and parasites can also upset the balance by destroying a significant number of the good guys. Replenishing the good bacteria daily can help protect the balance and keep it in your dog’s favor.

Probiotics are not the same thing as prebiotics—nondigestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and/or activity of beneficial microorganisms already in the colon. Prebiotics like inulin are an important food source for probiotics. Prebiotics are found naturally in many foods, and can also be isolated from plants (e.g., chicory root) Some dog foods now contain both prebiotics and probiotics; all Great Life Performance Pet Products contain the important prebiotics and probiotics, making separate supplementation unnecessary.

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