September 11, 2019 Cats Dogs Nutrition

Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics for Dogs and Cats

A dog licks its lips after eating from a bowl of dog food

Probiotics, Prebiotics and Synbiotics for Dogs and Cats

These days, grocery stores are full of food that advertise a health benefit beyond the calories you need to power through your day. These foods are touted as “functional foods.” Common functional foods include probiotic-rich fare, such as yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.

Functional foods for pets are quite common as well. A quick check of the shelves at my local pet store found foods claiming to have probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics. Since the words are familiar to most, but, I suspect the underlying medical benefit is not, this blog post will explain these products.


Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote good health when ingested. Both humans and pets have a resident bacterial population, known as the microbiome, that supports organ health. Resident bacteria live in the digestive tract, respiratory tree and on your skin. Ingesting probiotics in food or nutritional supplements replenishes your microbiome supply when it’s depleted by illness or antibiotics and boosts your supply when healthy.


Although prebiotic and probiotic therapy both support your microbiome, prebiotics are not the same as probiotics. Prebiotics are foods or supplements that create favorable conditions for the growth of beneficial bacteria over harmful ones, like a sort of microbiome fertilizer. In turn, the beneficial bacteria produce nutrients favored by the intestinal cells, resulting in a healthy gut.


This is a new word for me, as it has only popped up in the veterinary literature recently. Synbiotics refer to products or supplements that combine probiotics and prebiotics.

Choosing the Right Pre-, Pro-, or Synbiotic for Your Pet

With the myriad of products on the market, choosing a pre- or probiotic can be confusing. First, you should check your pet’s food label. You might be surprised to find that you are already feeding one of these functional ingredients. A common source of prebiotic fiber in pet food is fructooligosaccharides or FOS. Pet food with probiotics will list the bacteria on the label. Two common bacteria used as probiotics are Lactobacillus sp. and Bifidobacterium sp..

If your pet’s diet does not contain a pre- or probiotic, then check with your veterinarian about the potential risks and benefits of these products for your pet.

Read our previous blog posts for information on how to choose the right pet food for your pet or how to switch your pet to a prescription diet.