Despite technological and medical advances, age-old remedies continue to provide a beacon for pet owners who seek alternatives to traditional health treatments. Unfortunately, many alternative and complementary therapies haven’t been tested and may adversely affect an ill pet.
Nutraceuticals, foods or food components that may provide medicinal benefits, are the latest buzzword in today’s medical markets. Nutraceuticals, which include probiotics, often provide hope for patients with chronic problems, such as irritable bowel disease (IBD). Their rising popularity on grocery store shelves has experts like Dr. Craig Webb, a scientist at Colorado State University, seeking scientific data to support marketing claims.
With Morris Animal Foundation funding, Dr. Webb and his colleagues are testing the efficacy of probiotics on pet cats that suffer from chronic vomiting and diarrhea, two common signs of IBD. Probiotics, which are sold for human and veterinary uses, contain live cultures thataccording to marketing claimsalter the environment of the gastrointestinal tract and calm IBD symptoms.
“It hearkens back to the days when grandma used to give you yogurt when you had an upset stomach,” says Dr. Webb. He emphasizes that though yogurt contains active ingredients found in probiotics, it shouldn’t be given to cats because they could have an allergic reaction.
Overall, when it comes to probiotics, the problem is that they are being used based on anecdotal reports. Dr. Webb’s goal is to gather scientific evidence to see if the anecdotal reports ring true.
He likens IBD to a neighborhood gone bad. In this scenario, “bad guys” (inflammatory bacteria) make cats sick; “good guys” are the body’s microflora that have been beaten into submission.
“Resident bacteria become dominated by bad, inflammatory bugs,” Dr. Webb says. “The million dollar question is, ‘how do we change who’s hanging out in there?'”
In theory, probiotics give the good guys a needed boost. Each probiotic product contains a specific species and number of microflora, and the combination affects efficacy.
By testing stool samples before and 10 days after probiotics are given, Dr. Webb has identified the feline gastrointestinal bugs that probiotics seem to combat. So far, owners of cats in the study say their pets’ diarrhea improved after treatment.
During his threeyear, Foundationfunded study, Dr. Webb will also conduct intestinal biopsies to see whether probiotics remain in the intestinal tract and continue to influence microflora levels.
“A lot of people use products that have nothing to do with the GI tract or do not have enough of the right bug to effect a change,” he explains.
To avoid expensive, ineffective products, Dr. Webb advises pet owners to talk with their veterinarian. While most commercial probiotics do no harm, they may not help either. Dr. Webb’s goal is to find out why some probiotics may help and how they can be used to promote better health in cats.