What’s new in Functional Pet Food
By Anja Haagaard, DVM
The term “functional food” has been around for many years. The concept was introduced in the 1980s in Japan in the human food industry and it has since then made its way into the pet food industry due to increasing consumer awareness. The term has been defined in several ways during its existence, however, the basic definition remains the same; functional food is a food provides health-promoting and disease-preventing benefits by the addition of known or unknown biologically-active compounds.
So what are these biologically-active compounds? In basic terms, the biologically-active compounds used in functional pet food are probiotics, prebiotics and symbiotics. The health benefits of these compounds include
- maintenance of the intestinal microbial balance
- lowering of the pH
- production of organic acids and ammonia
- resisting infection
- improving the bioavailability and absorption of minerals
- and more
Prebiotics are non-digestible or selectively fermented food ingredients with several beneficial effects. Characteristics of prebiotics include resistance to gastric acidity, resistance to digestion, and resistance to hydrolysation and absorption by host enzymes or tissues. They are fermentable in the hind gut and they selectively stimulate the growth and activity of intestinal bacteria at the expense of pathogens. Thereby, prebiotics beneficially alter luminal or systemic aspects of the host defence system. Examples of prebiotics include
- oligofructose (scFOS)
- fructooligosaccharide (FOS)
- galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS)
Sources for these prebiotics are Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, bananas, onions and sugar beets among others.
Dr. Kore, PhD, assistant professor with the College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry at Navsari Agricultural University in India, also see potential in new prebiotics such as
- isomalto-oligosaccharides and
- soybean oligosaccharides.
A study conducted on cats by K. Kanakupt et al evaluated the effects on nutrient digestibility, fermentative end-product production and fecal microbial ecology when the diet was supplemented with scFOS and GOS individually and in combination. This study showed that low level supplementation of these prebiotics had a positive effect on select indices of gut health in cats.
Probiotics are viable microorganisms that are believed to provide health benefits to the host when consumed. Commonly used probiotics in human foods and petfoods include
- gram-positive cocci
Many treats on todays marked use probiotics, however, the Probiotic Live dog and cat food lines (Bacterfield Corp) are the first to include actual live probiotics. Bacterfield use the Enterococcus faecium strain as a probiotic, which is the only bacterial strain approved for dogs and cats in the EU. Due to advanced manufacturing technology, E. faecium are infused inside the kibble which helps these probiotic bacteria remain stable for at least 15 months and allows a dosage of 1 billion live E. faecium. Several studies show that combining prebiotics and probiotics (collectively called synbiotics) increases the persistence of the probiotic bacteria in the GI tract, and therefore, the Probiotic Live formulation also includes prebiotics such as FOS and inulin.
To sum up, prebiotics and probiotics are beneficial for your pet’s health and help to promote a well-functioning gastrointestinal tract and immune system. Probiotics Live is a super premium functional feed that contains Enterococcus faecium and prebiotics in adequate amount to achieve the right effects. By feeding your pets with Probiotic Live you make a responsible choice in regards to your pet’s health and well-being.
There is always room for improvements and further research is needed in order to find alternate sources of pre-, pro- and synbiotics. Dr. Kore points to the field of nutrigenomics as a way to explore the functional role of the food at the genetic level. This would open up for a whole new way of looking at nutrition and making food that is specifically designed for each individual. An exciting field where pre- and probiotics will most likely play a big part.
View Dr. K.B. Kore’s Petfood Forum Asia 2012 presentation, “Prebiotics, Probiotics and Synbiotics as Functional Foods for Dogs."
K. Kanakupt et al., 2011. Effects of short-chain fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides, individually and in combination, on nutrient digestibility, fecal fermentative metabolite concentrations, and large bowel microbial ecology of healthy adults cats.J. Anim Sci.1910 online January 2011. doi:10.2527/jas.2010-3201