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Probiotics

Probiotics In the olden days when all these lactose bacillus first came out, and the use of yogurt was being acclaimed, I was under the impression none of these were made from cultures that would reproduce in the digestive system of birds, so in essence they would just "pass though".

I used to feel exactly that this was the case and I still am not totally sure the bacteria reproduce for long in the guts of birds but I am positive they do make it through the gastric system at least in sufficient numbers to set up house and help re-establish positive gut flora! I have ran tests on plates to see if they indeed do survive and they do. Some strains of the exact same lactobacillus also might be stronger then others and this is important. When large Turkey and Chicken operations are using this stuff by the ton you know they know it works!

Don Wells 

Can probiotics be administered with antibiotics?

If probiotics are used at the same time as antibiotics, won't the strength of the antibiotics be wasted on the probiotics?

First of all, there is no possibility of antibiotics "running out of ammunition". Dependent upon the specific antibiotic, between 70-90% of the drug is returned unchanged by the kidneys. With the exception of certain semisynthetic penicillins such as the amoxicillin group, they are very resistant to penicillinase destruction. Only organisms such as G-resistant staph possess this capability. The ability to pass unchanged is even more marked in sulfa based preparations such as Bactrim.

The use of probiotics is very useful during antibiotic therapy. Even with such "gentle" drugs as Baytril, support with probiotics aids in maintaining 'normal' levels of microorganisms. With more agressive narrow spectrum drugs, the GI effect is much more profound. Keep in mind that serum absorption has occurred approximately 2 hours after administration of these drugs. As such, supplementation with probiotics can and will work on food materials in the GI tract, affecting an acceptable level of digestion. The bulk of the antibiotic is in the blood serum and tissues.

So the proper answer to this question is yes, concommittal administration of probiotics or yoghurt is beneficial to digestive health during antibiotic therapy. It is simply a matter of timing. Ask your vet as to what the absorption and clearance times are for specific antibiotics. If they do not know, perhaps it is time to find yourself a new veterinarian who knows what they are talking about, and understands what is going on. Patrick Thrush 

Are probiotics safe to give every day? In general probiotics are perfectly safe. So long as the rest of the product is OK the bacteria themselves are unlikely to do any harm if given daily. I would be dubious about daily application of any product containing large quantities of simple sugars like glucose or sucrose. Glucose is the most common diluent for probiotics and vitamin supplements. We don't use it in our products.

On the other hand I am not sure how much benefit the bird would get from daily addition of probiotics. We generally recommend it daily for breeding birds so the chicks get an inoculation of good bacteria from their very first feed.

Birds pick up beneficial bacteria from their environment (particularly their food). This is perfectly natural. Each bird's gut will contain hundreds of different strains. Personally I wouldn't give a probiotic daily all year round because it makes sense to let the naturally occuring bugs to get a fair chance. Malcolm Green The Birdcare Company

Freeze-dried probiotics

I have been reading the probiotic thread with some interest, but have always had a worry about the use of probiotics that someone on this list might be able to clear up for me.

The probiotic that we have available in Australia (from Vetafarm) is a dry powder, presumably representing freeze-dried bacteria. My concern is that the freeze-drying effectively kills all the bacteria - when the powder disappears into the gut of the bird, and supposedly reconstitutes to produce hungry bacteria, all the bacteria is dead, and so the product is a big con!!

My basis for wondering is that similar products are available for the aquarium hobby to introduce nitrifying bacteria into a new tank (fish are actually my speciality). A few years ago I had a microbiologist friend test some of the products to see which were the most effective. He found that the freeze dried powders were useless - no bacteria came out of them when wetted. The liquid bacterial sources did have some value, but it was very dependent on the date of manufacture - the older they were the less bacteria present.

If the same is true of the bacteria, and powders, used as probiotic for birds, then we might be wasting our money and the benefit is purely psychological to us rather than digestively to the birds.

Any comments? Mike Owen Queensland 

It's hard to believe that you can abuse living organisms by 1. freeze-drying them in a vacuum and then 2. reconstituting them in a little distilled water and expect them to be alive and functioning afterward, isn't it?

Yet we do that with vaccines, both bacterial and viral. True, some vaccines contain killed organisms but other vaccines contain modified-live organisms.

Another organism that is routinely expected to function after the lyophilization process is yeast that we use for brewing and other yeasts used for baking. Sometimes yeast doesn't function as expected, though.

I've already baked bread that didn't rise. A number of factors are involved in a successful bake and several of them involve the proper handling of the yeast. For example, it must not be reconstituted with water too hot or it will die. The water must be warm enough or it won't activate. Sugar must be present to feed it. It must be allowed to grow and multiply in an area that is warm and moist enough but not too warm and the area must also be free from drafts.

Bacterial organisms intended to repopulate the digestive tract probably have their own handling requirements. Many bacteria can survive in a limited temperature range. That is why some species have evolved with a survival characteristic called fever. When the body is invaded by a hostile organism, it will often produce an increase in temperature that will weaken or kill the invader...hopefully leaving the host alive.

Because of this sensitivity to temperature fluctuation, it is likely that reconstituting such bacteria in temperatures too warm will kill it.

You mentioned shelf-life and expiration date. Some probiotic products, even though freeze dried, are stored in the refrigerated sections of health food stores. I suspect that is where you will find a product that is most biologically active. Cold temperatures slow down biological activity, thus extending the length of time from manufacture that the organisms will remain viable.

Bird products aren't handled that well to my knowledge, though. I have also read that although some manufacturers claim to produce avain specific probiotics, this actually isn't true for our parrots.

Microflora differ from species to species. If the probiotics are manufactured from chicken microflora, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable feeding that to my birds. I doubt that it would establish itself in the digestive tract of parrots.

I sincerely doubt that the 'avian specific' microflora is produced from parrots. If it is, however, I definitely would not wish to give that product to my birds unless I could be assured that these birds are free from psittascene diseases like Proventricular dilatation disease. At this point, no one can assure me of that.

The probiotics I feed my birds are human probiotics from the refrigerated section of the health food store. It might not establish itself in the digestive tract of my birds, but it serves other functions. gloria 

You are right to question the viability of some freeze dried probiotic products. Here in the UK The Consumers Association conducted a trial of 13 brands of probiotic source from human Health Food Shops. Only 2 produced viable beneficial bacteria when cultured in the lab! Whilst the Consumers Assoc. certainly does not have a reputation for scientific rigor this is still a poor result.

I have always been particularly dubious about the probiotics added to hand rearing formulas and extruded pellets as the death rate in processing must be very high and possibly 100%. So I always advocate adding another probiotic to such products.

I share Gloria's view about avian specific bacteria. None of the products on the market contain strains specific to exotic birds. In any case the natural strains in a conure are bound to be different from a greys natural flora. What our artificial probiotics do is create a better environment for all the good bugs and a worse environment for the bad bugs.

For most of you freeze dried products are all you can get (we have one called BioPlus). In Europe we sell a totally different concept which is a live (planktonic) form of probitic called Potent Brew. This unique product has many benefits and some drawbacks. The key benefit is that the bacteria in planktonic form survive the journey through the upper gut much better than freeze dried ones. This makes the product much more effective as a sick bird treatment and as a growth and health stimulant for chicks.

The drawback is that the product has a short shelf life (3-4 months) and should be stored in a fridge for best performance. As a result we haven't made this product available through our USA distributor as yet though we do post it to people all over the world. Malcolm Green The Birdcare Company 

Personally I find that many products made/sold especially for pets are high price and low quality (I'm sure some of these companies think all pet owners are a soft touch!). I'm not at all surprised at your findings.

I prefer to use high potency refrigerated probiotics made for humans. In Australia you can buy Natren brand (from a good health food store) and Metagenics (from a natural therapy practitioner). Both of these brands are high quality with active ingredients and although expensive to buy are good value for money (as you only need to use a very small amount for a bird or other small animal). Most importantly - they work.

Carole Bryant, 

Carole Bryant wrote:

I prefer to use high potency refrigerated probiotics made for humans. In Australia you can buy Natren brand (from a good health food store) and Metagenics (from a natural therapy practitioner). Both of these brands are high quality with active ingredients and although expensive to buy are good value for money (as you only need to use a very small amount for a bird or other small animal). Most importantly - they work.

Following on from Malcolm's comments I would have my doubts about even supposedly high grade human probiotics. Judging from the testing that was done in the UK on human products, it is more than likely that none are of any use.

Gloria tried to assure me that micro-organisms can survive freeze-drying quite happily, however I venture to suggest that the simpler the organism is the better chance of survival. I might be getting out of my depth here, being a simple geologist by training, but most, if not all, vaccines are for viral diseases, and viruses are often much hardier than bacteria when it comes to survival. I know some are delicate, but others, such as PBFD and Polyoma can survive for very long time in the environment. Besides which all the vaccines I have seen are in liquid suspension and not powders. I think that yeast also is a much simpler cell than gut bacteria. I still therefore doubt the ability of the gut bacteria used in probiotics to survive the process of freeze-drying in numbers large enough to be useful.

I also doubt the need for probiotics to be used anyway, even if the bacteria do survive the processing. It would be hard to imagine a disease problem in a bird to be so severe, or the drug treatment to be so disastrous, to completely wipe out the entire beneficial gut bacteria. Even if only a small amount remains, these bacteria reproduce so rapidly that it would take very little time for an adequate gut flora to re-establish.

As for whether the bacteria used in these preparations are suitable for birds in the first place, that sounds like a can of worms to get involved in. Mike Owen Queensland 

Mike wrote:  It would be hard to imagine a disease problem in a bird to be so severe, or the drug treatment to be so disastrous, to completely wipe out the entire beneficial gut bacteria.

Even if that is true, if you have a long period of illness or stress, I would think the last thing you want to do is 'wait' for the gut bacteria to re-establish itself. Isn't it possible it would make a difference in how quickly the bird recovers?

Leanne 

Mike,

There is no doubt that plenty of the bacteria that get freeze-dried do survive the process and can make excellent products. Freeze drying has been used for this for ages. I would think that most commercial yoghurts are made using freeze dried starters as this is the easiest way to ship the little beggers around the world.

Even our liquid probiotic is made by innoculating a liquid medium with freeze dried bacteria.

The real issue is how much the manufacturer dilutes the bugs. You would not believe how much the strength of these products varies from supplier to supplier. It is not uncommon for one product to have 10,000 times as many bugs as another!

Personally if I have a sick bird with digestive or stress problems I would use a probiotic before I would try an antibiotic. Malcolm Green 

Personally if I have a sick bird with digestive or stress problems I would use a probiotic before I would try an antibiotic.

May I ask why you wouldn't just use a little yogurt?Dianne 

Good question. If desperate yogurt is fine so long as the bugs are still alive. Most yogurts are pasteurized to lengthen the shelf life and have no probiotic affect at all. So you must buy a live yogurt.

As a general rule I always advise avoiding dairy products. Birds cannot utilize lactose (the sugar on milk) and it will cause osmotic diarrhea if given in excess. This would be particularly important in tiny babies.

We once had a good example of a group of ostrich chicks reared with yogurt as a probiotic and another group on our Potent Brew and the yogurt babies were a lot smaller.

Malcolm Green 

Mike wrote:

I also doubt the need for probiotics to be used anyway, even if the bacteria do survive the processing. It would be hard to imagine a disease problem in a bird to be so severe, or the drug treatment to be so disastrous, to completely wipe out the entire beneficial gut bacteria. Even if only a small amount remains, these bacteria reproduce so rapidly that it would take very little time for an adequate gut flora to re-establish.

Sorry to disagree Mike - but probiotics (the refrigerated live ones - not the frozen ones) DO work and amazingly well on a variety of species. And no, the gut bacteria doesn't necessarily re-establish itself in the correct balance, hence the need for probiotics.

As for whether the bacteria used in these preparations are suitable for birds in the first place, that sounds like a can of worms to get involved in.

Humans and animals are much more alike than many people care to acknowledge. The things we have in common are much greater than our differences. Carole Bryant, Naturopath 

I'd like to add this to Carole's excellent reply: There is the possibility that the bird's natural gut flora isn't the same as the probiotics being introduced, as Malcolm said. So all of the bacteria in the probiotics would not find a hospitable environment in which to grow and establish themselves. However, what is very important is that by their sheer numbers (in a good product) they help to crowd out the overgrowth of opportunistic yeast and other pathogens ready to 'set up house' where the normal gut flora have been killed off or are not thriving....either because of antibiotics, stress, or other reasons.

Antibiotics are not selective. They don't kill off just bad bacteria, but good bacteria as well. If, as Mike points out, all the beneficial bacteria are not destroyed by antibiotics, then it stands to reason that some of the bad bacteria (pathogens) have also survived. All the more reason for probiotics to be administered. gloria 

Species Specific Probiotics?

The authors of the book "Parrots handfeeding and nursery management" did some of their own experiments using probiotics with chicks in their own nursery. They used cultures to establish whether or not the probiotics they administered would successfully ward off challenges by harmful bacteria if the bedding were allowed to become dirtier than normal. They found that although probiotics derived from parrots were able to affect the gut flora and chicken derived probiotics did not, neither were able to ward off the bad bacteria.

However, the book says that the babies were fed probiotics for only the first week of their life after hatch to attempt to establish gut flora in incubator hatched chicks. These studies were apparently done six to eight weeks after hatch and after administration of the probiotics, to see if the probiotics would have had a chance to establish normal gut flora in the chicks. They also stated that the contaminated bedding would not have been a problem for parent raised chicks. Apparently probiotics were not used therapeutically on any of the chicks to help them ward off the bad bacteria challenging them.

In "The Parrot in Health and Illness" lactobacillus is mentioned once, in reference to enteric organism caused infections. It states that the treatment in addition to general supportive care, antibiotics, and etc. lactobacillus can be used to help repopulate the gut with "friendly" bacteria. It doesn't say anything about what kind of lactobacillus.

In "Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery" the author states that a frequent side effect of antibiotic therapy is gut steralization. The administration of lactobacillus to restore normal flora is often advocated but is controversial. Some brands of yogurt do not contain viable latobacillus cultures...(true, the package must state "contains live cultures" or else the product has been pasteurized so all the bacteria used to produce the yogurt are dead.) The book also states that: "Some researchers feel that species-specific lactobacilli may be requred for gut colonization. Clinical improvement does often accompany the use of Lactobacillus, possibly resulting from temporary alteration of the gut environment, allowing proliferation of normal strains."

You will please note that the clinical improvement mentioned is not reliant on species specific strains to populate the gut themselves, but rather that introduced lactobacillus produce an enviroment which allows the growth of the body's own gut flora.

In "Complimentary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine" the authors state that "beneficail bacteria found in direct-fed (supplemented) microbial products help keep disease-causing microorganisms in check by producing antibacterial agents and enzymes that act on and kill many pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Benefial bacteria also help neutralize the toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria and produce a wide range of B-vitamins and beneficial enzymes. Research has led to the development of microorganisms that are more specific in their function and impact on the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These specific direct-fed (supplemented) microbials benefit the host animal by being more compatible than the generalized microbials. Also, specific strains are known to have different modes of action."

Note that the authors are not saying species-specific. They are saying specific strains of bacteria. The GI tract has many many kind of normal flora growing in the gut. Each type of friendly bacteria performs a different function. Specific strains of those bacteria are grown and manufactured because research has determined that those bacteria perform certain therapeutic functions. This is what the research determined: "Lactobacillus acidophilus produces lactic acid to reduce the gut PH and acts as a colonizer. Lactobacillus casei acts to lower oxidation processes and Lactobacillus lactis acts on hydrogen peroxide, amylase, and protease enzymes."

There are other strains of lactobacillus included in probiotic supplements but the book didn't mention them.

The book goes on to caution: "A variety of products are available commercially and the practitioner should become familiar with them to choose a good product. On recent study found that commercial probiotics may not contain the microbial species listed on the label or may contain no viable (able to live) culture at all; in fact only 2 of 13 products matched the labeled specifications quaslitatively and quantitatively."

My own observations have found this to be true. Of course, I'm not culturing the products to see if they contain the bacteria stated on the label, but I can see if they are effective when I use them. I've used enough products to know which ones I consider reliable and which ones I do not consider reliable.

Although some pet product manufacturers are getting better at producing quality products for pets (due to consumer demand), my experience is that quality control standards are better for human products. Why use echinacea produced for pets by some hole-in-th-wall entrepreneur when I can purchase top quality echinacea produced by a reputable company with ethical standards in a state-of-the-art facility?

In "Holistic Care for Birds", I found only one reference to probiotics on p 159. It just says they are beneficial bacteria and are found in all health food stores. It doen't mention anything about species specific.

In "A Guide to a Naturally Healthy Bird", two strains of lactobacillus are mentioned: lactobacilli acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidus. No mention was made of avian specific strains of these bacteria.

The only reference that speculated on the importance of avian specific strains of probiotics was "Parrots Handfeeding and Nursery Management." However, the purpose of the authors was populating the gut of incubator hatched chicks. Their purpose was not the therapeutic use of probiotics.

I'm also not conviced that lactobacillus acidophilus in mammals is not the same as lactobacillus acidophilus in avians. If they were different, they would have a different name. They would be called something like: lactobacillus acidophilus mammalia and lactobacillus acidophilus aves.

In my opinion, the promotion of species specific probiotics is a marketing ploy.

I also have a concern that avian specific probiotics derived from parrots could possibly be contaminated by psittascene diseases. For safety's sake I would prefer to use a product that has not been cultivated from other birds.

gloria