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Understanding Prebiotics and Probiotics in Dog and Cat Food

Some buzzwords in dog food and cat food these days are "Prebiotics" and "Probiotics." While these ingredients have been around for awhile, the use of Pre- and Probiotics is just starting to become popular to use in dog or cat food. Humans have used these ingredients to help aid the digestive system, and research now shows that dogs and cats can benefit from them, as well.


PreBiotics are complex sugars that selectively stimulate growth of “good” bacteria in the intestine. Also known as Fructo Oligo Sacharides, or FOS, PreBiotics reach the colon in the same state as they were eaten. These non-digestible carbohydrates are the nutritional base of ProBiotics. In essence, they help enhance the growth and colonization of beneficial bacteria. They are sometimes called “non-digestible fiber,” due to the body’s inability to process this food in the normal digestive process.

PreBiotics help improve the intestinal flora of dogs and cats, which results in pets with longer and heavier small intestines. When that occurs, your pets’ intestines are more efficient at absorbing nutrients from their food due to higher levels of mucosa and greater absorptive surface areaa. The good stuff in your pets’ food will not go to waste since it will be better absorbed.

Oligofructose is a PreBiotic that tastes sweet but not digested, so there is no peak in blood sugar level or added calories. In addition to the normal benefits of a PreBiotic, Oligofructose can be given to diabetic and overweight dogs without fear of causing problems with diabetes or extra weight gain.

Ingredients to look for include fructo-oligosaccharide, chicory root, beet pulp (in a moderate amount), and/or garlic.

Please note, feeding your pet any food containing PreBiotics is not suggested if your pet has any GI conditions.


ProBiotics are live beneficial bacteria in your pets’ digestive tracts that promote the absorption of nutrients, aid in synthesis of certain vitamins, help limit growth of pathogenic bacteria, and prevent overgrowth of yeast organisms that can cause skin problems or ear infections. This is done by helping to restore the natural bacterial balance within the intestine. ProBiotics are also known as Direct Fed Micro organisms, or DFM's.

The “good bacteria” colonize in the large intestine and take over so there is no room left for the types of bacteria that makes your pet sick. The “good bacteria” also provide easy-absorbable energy to help pets digest food and absorb nutrients, antioxidants, and iron. In fact, the addition of ProBiotics to your pets’ food can help stop diarrhea, stimulate firm stool, and reduce inflammation if your pet has Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD).

In addition to helping with digestive issues, ProBiotics in dogs actually activate the canine immune system. ProBiotics help increase natural antibody levels and macrophage acitivity in dogs, as well as regulate and increase hormone levels. If the “good bacteria” is depleted or the balance of it is disturbed, pathogenic bacteria can overgrow and cause health problems. By preventing harmful bacteria from colonizing, ProBiotics can prevent digestive problems and support your pets’ bodies in fighting illnesses and diseases.

When Does My Pet Need PreBiotics & ProBiotics

ProBiotics in Dog and Cat FoodJust like humans, dogs and cats can have a problem with the beneficial bacteria in their digestive  systems. Digestive upset can occur during and after taking antibiotics. It can also occur if there are stressful conditions in your pet’s life, including moving, adding a new pet, or adding a new family member. Diet changes, disease, and even aging can cause an imbalance in the “good” and “bad” bacteria living in your pet’s intestines. PreBiotics and ProBiotics can help your dog or cat produce more of the beneficial bacteria, thereby reducing possible illness and helping your pet get through a tough situation without having digestive problems. Please note, though, that ProBiotics and antibiotics have the opposite effect of each other. You should not give your dog anything with a ProBiotic in it for at least 4 hours after an antibiotic.

Dog FoodSome dogs and cats just have digestive sensitivities in general. If your pet has a lot of soft stool, diarrhea, problems with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) or other GI conditions, ProBiotics can help make sure the intestines are absorbing enough nutrients and passing proper stools. In addition, the addition of ProBiotics will also decrease the smell of your pet’s stool. PreBiotics are not recommended for use in dogs with IBD or other GI conditions, as they are complex sugars, and complex sugars feed yeast.

While intestinal bacteria are only found in one area of your pet’s body, their effects can be seen in the whole body health. People who want their pets to maintain long-term digestive health, and thereby whole body health, should feed foods with PreBiotics and ProBiotics all the time.

What Dog and Cat Food Contains PreBiotics and/or ProBiotics

Many of the premium dog and cat foods found on today’s market contain PreBiotics, ProBiotics, or both (called symbiotics). However, you will only find ProBiotics in dry food. Pet food is cooked at very high temperatures when it is produced, which kills all the bacteria (good or bad) and removes or reduces many important dietary components. Dry food has ProBiotics added to it after it is cooked and dried, which allows it to live. Canned food is cooked at high temperatures right in the can, so you will not find ProBiotics in any canned food.

Dog Food Brand Contains PreBiotics Contains ProBiotics
Acana X X
Blue Buffalo   X
Canidae X  
Diamond X  
Earthborn Holistic   X
Eukanuba X  
Evo X X
Fromm Gold X  
Iams X  
Innova   X
Orijen X X
Wellness X X

Cat Food Brand Contains PreBiotics Contains ProBiotics
Acana X X
Blue Buffalo   X
Earthborn Holistic   X
Evo X X
Felidae X  
Fromm Gold X  
Innova   X
Orijen X X

If you are looking for a pet food that contains PreBiotics, you should look for keywords like FOS (fructooligosaccharides), inulin (a type of FOS), GOS (galactooligosaccharides), or TOS (trans-galactooligosaccharides), in addition to the word “PreBiotic.”

If you are looking for a pet food that contains ProBiotics, you should look for keywords like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus, in addition to the word “ProBiotic.”

Reader Comments (6)

There are certain pet food that dog and cat eat. We should be meticulous in whatever kind of pet food we give to our pet.

February 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhealthy pet food

Probiotics are the healthy bacteria which live in the intestines of all mammals. Prebiotics naturally help your pet's digestion by feeding the good bacteria in your pet's digestive tract.

February 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhealthy cat food

Very helpful article and list! If I am not mistaken, Wellness includes pre- & probiotics in their dry CAT foods, as well as dog foods.

April 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentervs jones

Thanks, VS Jones. Wellness may have Pre- and Pro-Biotices in their dry cat foods. However, I did not include that info, as we do not have dry Wellness in stock. I didn't want to include information that I couldn't personally verify.

May 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterKristen Sydelko

Both Blue Buffalo and Innova have dried chicory root which is listed above as a prebiotic...???

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina

Katrina, chicory root has the highest food concentration of inulin, a soluble dietary fiber. It is a naturally occurring oligosaccharide, which is a fructan. Basically, it is a fructo-oligosaccharide, which is a Prebiotic.

September 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterKristen Sydelko

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