Doc Talk: Probiotics


We’ve all heard the warnings about eating processed foods. The lack of nutrition, diversity and bio-availability eventually takes a toll on human health. The same can be said for dogs, cats and horses. Imagine if your every meal came from the same wax paper-lined bag from the same factory every day for the rest of your life.

In order for the body to get adequate nutrition, ingested food must be broken down by stomach enzymes, enabling the body to absorb the nutrients. The process of digestion involves a complex set of factors that relies in part on small, single-cell organisms that live inside the digestive tract. These microflora, often called probiotics, are essential to digestion. The problem is, highly processed and sanitized foods don’t contain many of these natural organisms.

Dean Martin, owner of Equerry's Inc., based about 12 miles east of Salem in Stayton, Oregon, says that while dogs and other animals eating natural, wild food have access to a wide variety of beneficial probiotics, the modern dog doesn’t. “For safety reasons food is sanitized and doesn’t have any microbial influence,” says Martin. “Drinking from puddles one day, catching a rabbit another day and a grasshopper the next . . . eating some berries, some fruit . . .  this all adds up to an overall well-rounded digestive system.”

One way to improve the digestive health of pets who don’t get to hunt or gather their “daily bread” is to provide food or supplements fortified with beneficial microbials. In 1986, Martin began developing probiotic formulas for dairy cattle and horses. People noticed a difference in the wellbeing of their animals and asked him to develop products for their dogs as well. The microbes and enzymes in his probiotic formula seem to increase agility and decrease flatulence and general digestive upsets. Business has grown steadily, and today the 24-year-old company’s products are purchased throughout the U.S. and Canada.

A year ago, Corey Wisun’s holistic veterinarian recommended probiotics for his 11-year-old Shepherd-Hound mix, Guinness. “Guinness is getting old and as a senior dog probiotics definitely help with her quality of life,” Wisun says. “She was having some problems with constipation and the vet suggested they [probiotics] would help her be more regular.” Wisun gives Guinness two scoops of Rx Biotic powder mixed in her raw food morning and night. “She’s an 11-year-old dog and she kind of acts like a puppy still,” he says. “I think the combination of the probiotics and the other things I’m doing are really helping.” (Guinness also takes Omega-3 and glucosamine.)

Every animal has good and bad flora in their digestive system, but, as Martin puts it, it’s a system of numbers. “The bad guys are always there, but hopefully the good guys dominate the living space in the digestive system and keep the bad guys in check so they don’t have the opportunity to take over the digestive process. We put good microbes into the animals’ system.”

The good microbes and enzymes can enable an animal to better respond to stress and digestive upsets, and they go hand-in-hand with antibiotic treatments: that’s why you may have been advised to eat yogurt, which contains beneficial microbes such as Lactobacillus, while taking antibiotics. “The microbes open up the food, break it down better, so the dog can absorb more of those nutrients,” Martin says.

Martin’s formula for dogs, Spunk, comes in Regular and Level 2. It is a powder that can be dissolved in water or sprinkled over food. Spunk includes glucosamine, known to help with arthritis and hip dysplasia, and yucca extract, which minimizes ammonia in the digestive system. An unexpected benefit of yucca is decreasing burned lawn areas from ammonia in urine.

Level 2 has “a lot more juice,” Martin says, such as hyaluronic acid to help the animal produce synovial fluid for joint lubrication, glucosamine and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) to relieve pain and swelling in joints, vitamins C and E, yucca, kelp meal — which contains many trace minerals—and co-enzyme Q10, which aids circulatory and respiratory activity. “We’ve had people use it on cats and we have one vet who sends it home with virtually any animal, from parrots to iguanas to rabbits,” Martin says. “The microbes are missing in their diets also.”  

Wisun is among many pet owners who say that adding probiotics to their pet’s diet just makes sense. “I know from what I can see that it has definitely helped,” he says. “I think it’s just part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Contact Equerry’s at 888-921-2882 or 503-769-3041, or learn more at

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Vanessa Salvia lives with her two kids, one very sweet, fluffy cat (named Fluffy), and a husband (also very sweet), in Eugene, Oregon. When not clickety-clacking on a computer, you can find her browsing the farmers markets or feeding ducks from her patio. A freelance writer for more than 10 years, Vanessa has written extensively about music and entertainment in the Northwest. As mom, wife and companion to countless animals over the years, she has vacuumed more than her share of pet fur.