Prebiotics – what are they?

Prebiotics are nutrients that can help support the essential beneficial or “good” gut bacteria and include carbohydrates and fibre. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines them as "non-digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and activities of specific bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract and exert beneficial effects on the host."

Posted: 02 May 2019

Prebiotics – what are they?


Traditionally, food ingredients were only considered useful if they contained nutrients that could be directly digested and absorbed by the gut. Non-digestible food ingredients, now called dietary fibre, were not considered nutritionally useful.

Over the last twenty years, the importance of the intestinal microbes on the gastro-intestinal tract and overall health has been investigated and recognised. Have you read our article on probiotics?

Common commercial prebiotics

Prebiotics are increasingly being introduced into pet foods, sometimes with scientific backing, but also at times with no known benefit. If we are to be able to give proper informed advice to our clients, we should perhaps check which fibres are being added to determine whether they provide the desired results.

As an example, a recognised and effective group of prebiotic additives are oligosaccharides (a soluble dietary fibre), with oligofructose and inulin being perhaps the two most well-known versions of this carbohydrate. Commercially, oligofructose, (also known as fructooligosaccharide), is produced from inulin (found in plants).

A. Oligofructose – this is a fructose-based saccharide molecule which is fermented in the colon, and then made available to healthy bacteria. Natural sources of oligofructose include;

  • Soybeans
  • Oats
  • Beet
  • Tomatoes

B. Inulin – this is also a fructose-based saccharide that ferments more slowly, also helping healthy bacteria in the colon. It’s also broken down into fructooligosaccharide by intestinal bacteria. Inulin is found in chicory, dandelion, asparagus, herbs and barley.

What are the benefits of prebiotics?

Prebiotic fibre is fermented by many beneficial gut bacteria, which leads to the generation of short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids then serve as an important energy source for intestinal mucosal cells, which, in turn, leads to;

  • Intestinal mucosal growth
  • Increased GIT motility
  • A decrease in pathogenic bacterial species
  • Reduced inflammation of the mucosa
  • Alteration of the gut immune system

At Burgess Pet Care, all our cat, dog and rabbit food contain prebiotics

This may come as a surprise to many of you, but at Burgess Pet Care, we’ve made a concerted effort to do the research and include these beneficial food additives to maximise and enhance the food.

What prebiotics do we add?

Profeed – this is a unique premium oligosaccaharide product and is also known as a short chain fructo-oligosaccharide.

There have been numerous reports and trials to support the consistency, safety and use of Profeed, demonstrating that it may;

  • Positively modify the gut microflora
  • Enhance digestive health
  • Reduce the risk of digestive upsets
  • Improve insulin sensitivity in the obese pet

Is there any advantage to giving prebiotics and probiotics together?

Using a combination of a prebiotic and a probiotic can be useful since the prebiotic may provide an optimal set of conditions in the gut to maximise survival, proliferation and adherence of the probiotic. A prebiotic may thus boost the beneficial effects of a probiotic.

Did you read our article on probiotics last month? >

Definition summary

  1. Prebiotic non-digestible food ingredients that selectively stimulate the growth and activities of specific bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract and exert beneficial effects on the host. 
  2. Probiotics - live microorganisms that give a health benefit to the patient. Essentially, they are non-pathogenic bacteria that help the host.
  3. Synbiotics are a combination of both probiotics and prebiotics.
  4. Nutraceuticals – these are defined as "nondrug substances produced in a purified or extracted form and administered orally to provide agents required for normal body structure and function with the intent of improving health and well-being."