PREBIOTICS & PROBIOTICS – Similar name, but different

Although their names are similar and they are often confused, prebiotics and probiotics are very different. However, they do have a symbiotic relationship, as one is the food for the other.


Probiotics are living beneficial bacteria (microflora) that when consumed in adequate amounts, can provide a health benefit. Consuming a probiotic can help ensure the balance of intestinal microflora is maintained.

Probiotics have been used successfully in humans for hundreds of years, with many doctors recommending probiotics before and after taking antibiotics to help re-populate the intestines with the beneficial bacteria that antibiotics can destroy.

Many people support their intestinal health by taking a daily probiotic supplement or by eating yoghurt containing live cultures, which can be purchased at your local supermarket.

Cats and dogs can experience the same benefits.

Probiotics, for pets, can support the development of a healthy digestive system and help stabilise the digestive system during stressful events. Events such as diet change, antibiotic therapy or environmental changes, that could create a microflora imbalance and poor faecal quality.

The most common probiotics are lactic acid bacteria, which use fermentation to transform some sugars into organic acids (e.g. Lactic and acetic acids). These acids lower intestinal pH and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria have been used to produce fermented food products such as yoghurt, cheese and sauerkraut, and include Lactobacillus and Enterococcus ssp.

Unlike the resident bacteria found in the intestine, probiotics do not colonise and must be consumed on an ongoing basis or as needed to provide health benefits.

How do Probiotics work?

Probiotics work by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria which help protect the intestines from potentially harmful bacteria and pathogens. Some probiotics reduce attachment and the establishment of potentially harmful bacteria by:

  • Reducing intestinal pH and destroying potentially harmful bacteria and toxins;
  • Producing Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs), which lower the pH in the digestive tract and nourish intestinal cells.

Beneficial bacteria thrive in a more acidic environment, while potentially harmful bacteria prefer environments with higher pH levels –

  • Producing antimicrobial substances that inhibit pathogens;
  • Depleting and/or competing for nutrients that pathogens require;
  • Blocking binding sites on cells, making them unavailable to potentially harmful bacteria.


Prebiotics are dietary fibres that are fermented by the beneficial intestinal bacteria and act as their food source. As a result, prebiotic fibres promote the growth and/or activity of beneficial bacteria and digestive health in our pets.

Two common prebiotics are Inulin from Chicory Root and Wheat Aleurone.

How do Prebiotics promote digestive health?

The selective fermentation of prebiotic fibres by beneficial intestinal bacteria is responsible for many of its benefits.

Fermentation of prebiotic fibres produce Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). Examples of SCFAs are butyrate, acetate and propionate.

  • Butyrate is particularly important for enhancing digestive health as it is the main energy source for colonocytes (or cells of the colon).
  • SCFAs increase the weight and height of the cells of the mucosa (those lining the gut wall), which contributes to improved nutrient absorption and optimised intestinal cell function.
  • SCFAs reduce intestinal pH, which in turn provides a more favourable environment for the growth of beneficial bacteria and a more hostile environment for potentially pathogenic bacteria.
  • Decreased intestinal pH enhances mineral absorption (e.g. calcium).