Licking Their Way to a Healthy Gut: Probiotics and Pet Health

Published on 18 Dec, 2019

Probiotics or ‘gut friendly’ ingredients are used widely in pet grooming products. These products are designed keeping pet behavior in mind to bestow dual benefits: skin- and gut-related. Factoring in pet behavior in developing products is a new trend that is picking up gradually but has invited a fair share of criticism. Research in this domain is on and by 2020, most pet care products would display these functional claims. The article takes a look at the current players in this niche area.

Microbiome has found widespread application in the cosmetic, dietary supplements and odor control industries. Of late, probiotics or ‘gut friendly’ bacteria are being used in pet food supplements. However, there are some drawbacks in adding probiotics to pet food; for instance, this could lead to change in palatability and viability of the microorganism in food. Moreover, pet food brands could use this as an advertising gimmick, wherein the ingredients are misrepresented on the labels. Active research to establish the link between probiotics and overall pet health, including healthy skin, good level of activity, strong immune system and healthy weight, is on.

Pet grooming products fortified with probiotics have already gained traction in the last decade. The new approach is to factor in the behavior of pets in order to ensure the products provide dual benefits (improved gut health and a healthy skin). Self-grooming entails indirectly ingesting probiotics, which boosts the overall digestive health, simultaneously improving the skin and coat

Alpha Tech Pet, a well-known manufacturer of pet grooming products, has introduced a probiotic-fortified shampoo for dogs. The premium grooming product is a hypoallergenic mix of ingredients which deeply clean and condition the hair coat; when ingested during the process of grooming, the bacteria also strengthen the gut. The product does not include harsh irritants or chemicals that may prove detrimental to the gastric mucosa upon ingestion.

This did draw Alpha Tech Pet severe criticism. The primary concern is that the typical environment for probiotics in intestines is very different from that externally in the skin, rendering ingestion ineffective. The other line of argument is that the shampoo is in contact with the pet’s skin for a maximum of 10–15 minutes and would get washed off when rinsed. The manufacturer’s refrain, on the other hand, is that the formula contains probiotic bacteria in such a large proportion that simple rinsing will not suffice in washing it off the hair follicles. An additional premise is that the formula has been developed by a veterinarian, substantiating the innovation with expertise. Alpha Tech Pet thereafter secured a patent for its formulation (US10111829B2) and even went on to receive the ‘Editors’ Choice Award’ for the ‘Most Innovative Product’ in 2017. The functional claim, substantiated by the tag line ‘Clean on the outside; Healthy on the inside’, has contributed to differentiating this product from those of its rivals.

Following suit, a startup Paws and Pals launched a probiotic shampoo for cats and dogs. The company also claims their product promotes digestive health, apart from other usual claims. While there are a few players in the pet care market developing probiotic-based grooming products, very few have gone a step ahead and incorporated functional claims in their products. For instance, a startup Skout’s Honor has developed a (2-in-1) shampoo and conditioner which is infused with a live, colony-forming probiotic kefir culture. However, it does not claim additional gut health benefit.

Growing use of products with functional claims reflects changing consumer buying behavior. This is a spillover from the trend observed in the food and beverage space, where consumers are more likely to pick a product with functional claims and ingredients, such as probiotics, prebiotics and natural products.

Over the last five years, research on probiotic compositions targeting pet skin conditions and gut health has picked up significantly. By 2020, most pet care products would offer dual benefits (skin care and gut health). However, for this to happen, product manufacturers need to conduct targeted research to analyze the impact of microbiomes in grooming product on pet gut health and arrive at innovative probiotic delivery mechanisms.