GI Microflora Changes in Aging Dogs and Cats

Gail Czarnecki-Maulden, PhD

Nestlé Purina Research, Saint Louis, MO  USA


Changes in fecal bacteria in aging pets and people have been linked with changes in immune function, the gut-brain axis and other health issues. While many studies have evaluated changes in the aging microbiome, few published interventional studies that look at how nutritional changes can improve health. This presentation reviews the changes in gut microbiota with aging, and results from a Nestlé Purina long-term dietary intervention study with elderly cats in which cats fed a prebiotic-supplemented diet lived significantly longer and had a slower health decline than cats fed other diets.

Key points

  • Digestion affects whole body health. While pet owners may notice differences in fecal quality of aging pets, they may not realize it is linked to age-related changes in gut microbiota or the ability to digest nutrients.
  • Differences in gut microbiota composition (fewer beneficial bacteria) have been documented between young adults and elderly people, as well as among younger and older pets. Studies in Beagle dogs also show there is individual and seasonal variation in fecal bacteria.
  • Inflammation and immunity have been correlated with aging and microbiota changes in humans and dogs. Probiotic supplementation can have beneficial effects on age-related changes in immune function.
  • Prebiotic supplementation (with chicory) studies in cats and dogs also show benefits, such as increased mineral digestibility and improved mobility in elderly dogs.
  • Recent research on the gut-brain axis has highlighted potential effects of the gut microbiome on age-related neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • In a study with centenarians, over 100 microbial genes were significantly correlated with aging.
    • There was a loss of genes for short chain fatty acid production and changes in saccharolytic and proteolytic genes with aging.
  • A Purina feline longevity study compared lifespan among three groups of cats fed one of three diets: a nutritionally complete control diet, control diet + antioxidant supplement, or control diet + a proprietary blend of antioxidants, prebiotic fiber and PUFAs. Results showed that cats on the proprietary blend lived an average of one year longer.
  • Clinical relevance

    With sophisticated technology, scientists can now profile the DNA of gut bacteria to track how the intestinal microbiome changes with age and diet. These bacterial DNA profiles can be a tool for general practitioners to follow how nutritional changes can improve gut health –­and overall health— in senior dogs and cats.

    Download full proceedings

    This document contains summaries of all presentations from the Companion Animal Summit, held May 3-5, 2018 in Charleston, South Carolina. Please note that these summaries represent overviews of the presentations and may include opinions and research of presenters, which do not necessarily reflect those of the Nestlé Purina Petcare Company.
    Produced by the Purina Institute, May 21, 2018
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