31 October 2022 – Not only are pet food sales continuing to explode, the number of specialized ingredients making their way into formulations is also booming. According to Cargill, postbiotics are one to watch as they are fast climbing the list of ingredients pet owners want to see in their dog and cat food.
In a recent chat with Feedinfo, the company’s Director of Companion Animal Research & Technical Support, Sharon Norton, Ph.D. explained that this could be due to the growing interest that pet owners themselves have in postbiotics for their health and wellbeing and are mirroring this with their pets. It is an opportunity which Cargill – thanks to its own long history in yeast cultures and fermentation and the expertise of its Diamond V subsidiary, which specializes in microbial fermentation products for livestock – is looking take full advantage of.
In this Industry Perspectives, Feedinfo finds out more from Dr. Norton about what Cargill is seeing in postbiotic demand in pet nutrition, why pet food producers should consider its TruMune™/TruPet™ and EpiCor™ Pets products for their formulations, its findings on supplementation in various companion animals, and whether there’s more for the company to explore in postbiotics.
[Feedinfo] Why has Cargill opted to place its focus on postbiotics for pets? Why not pre- and probiotics? What is an important difference to understand here?
Sharon Norton, Ph.D
[Sharon Norton] Cargill was instrumental in the development of postbiotic technology and the current AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) definition of “yeast culture” over 50 years ago with the introduction of yeast culture for dairy cows, and has expanded the knowledge base and realization of parallel gut and immune benefits in other species. So, it was logical to hypothesize that many of the same gut and immune outcomes in other species would be evident in pets.
Our knowledge of probiotics and prebiotics is also quite extensive given the interplay of both of these components in the production of our postbiotic nutritional solutions. We have just chosen for now, for all the reasons above, to focus on postbiotic nutritional solutions.
You can call it our sweet spot if you will. We also have key business partnerships with other organizations operating in probiotics, prebiotics, and botanicals to further complement our postbiotic offerings.
[Feedinfo] Please give us an overview of the use of postbiotics in pet nutrition. How common has their inclusion become over the years and what is driving interest in them?
[Sharon Norton] We recently completed an in-home study with our EpiCor™ Pets postbiotic brand and asked pet owners what they look for when selecting supplements for their dog. The graph below provides the insight. It wasn’t that long ago when this question would return the answer “protein and vitamins”. That was it! But today’s pet owners have become more knowledgeable about nutrition—likely through a clearer understanding of what they want in their own nutrition and mirroring that for their pets. So, today, they are seeking specific ingredients that support various health outcomes such as, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, fish oil and specific n-3 fatty acids, probiotics, antioxidants and specific vitamins like Vitamin E and C. And this matches up with the benefits they are trying to provide their pets and see as most important, i.e., improving overall health, mobility, and immunity. It has taken years for some of these ingredients to become established. But as you can see (below) postbiotics are garnering attention, which we feel is very significant given it is such a relatively new ingredient in the pet sector.
A schematic representation of results of an in-home study.
Pet owners are also increasingly seeking postbiotics for themselves—perhaps driven by COVID and the desire to support their own health and well-being, particularly immunity. A 2021 Lumina Intelligence survey illustrated a nearly 1,300% surge in Google searches for the term “postbiotic” from June 2019 to June 2021. Pets are considered family members so it’s natural for those elements that support human health and well-being to be considered and sought out for pets.
[Feedinfo] There are others in the postbiotics space in animal nutrition. Why should pet food makers be partnering with Cargill over them?
[Sharon Norton] It’s important for consumers to know what they are buying, especially given the complexity of the “biotic” space. A good resource, and the definition that we follow for our postbiotics, is that of the ISAPP (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics). An important tenet of the definition is that there must be data available demonstrating efficacy in the specific host animal that claims are being made for. There are some calling their products postbiotics, but they fail to meet this important qualification, instead leveraging their human or rodent studies when selling into the pet market and stopping there. At Cargill we have and will continue to invest in the development and understanding of postbiotics and their benefits in the target animal.
[Feedinfo] What are the performance indicators that you are using to measure the impact postbiotics can have in pets and what can you share with us on how Cargill’s postbiotic products faired?
[Sharon Norton] We have a growing body of evidence on postbiotics in pets that started back in 1985, focusing on nutrient digestibility and palatability benefits.
Over the past three decades we have expanded our scope to understand the beneficial influence of postbiotics in pets as it relates to immune health, digestive health, and vitality. Specific measures include an assessment of immune cell responses, like changes in markers for both innate and adaptive immunity, gut integrity, fecal quality and gut fermentation end-products, changes in the gut microbiome both in terms of the microbial community and their functional potential (metagenomics).
For vitality we measured increases in running speed and activity in dogs that receive postbiotics. Our hypothesis is that the gut and immune support that postbiotics provide can help support overall vitality in pets.
[Feedinfo] There seems to be more data on postbiotics in dogs. Why is that? Have you investigated their benefits in cats? What does the data suggest?
[Sharon Norton] We certainly do believe cats deserve the same rigor and depth of solutions as for dogs. However, we respond to the needs and gaps of the pet food and supplement manufacturers and, traditionally, product development here indexes higher for dogs than cats. This could be driven by the greater relative number of households owning a dog than a cat, as well as the greater volume of food eaten by a dog versus a cat.
We do have some initial studies in cats – and we are actively growing our data there – with initial results showing parallels to the gut and immune benefits observed in dogs. Of course, some differences in microbial populations were noted, but this is often the case between species.
[Feedinfo] What other companion animal and livestock species have you investigated the application of your postbiotics for? And what findings can you share on their impact?
[Sharon Norton] Cargill’s application of postbiotics for animals began in 1943. Since then, Cargill has conducted over 385 controlled research studies in humans, dairy and beef cattle, deer, broilers, layers and turkeys, and in the companion animal sector, including horses, dogs and cats. We have published these results in over 155 peer-reviewed publications and pioneered the understanding of the gut microbiome with proprietary intestinal models complemented by numerous in vivo studies. We also have over 90 technical experts in all aspects of fermentation, metagenomics, nutrition and immunity, just to name a few contributing to this ongoing body of knowledge and commercial application. We are not dabbling. This is our core business.
In the equine sector we have demonstrated how our postbiotics help support joint health and mobility, a healthy hindgut for optimal digestion and gut function, and stress management by balancing immune response.
In livestock animals our postbiotic research has repeatedly shown improvements in feed efficiency, growth rate, egg and milk production, and overall improved health status, which is the outcome of improved health and gut function.
[Feedinfo] Do you think there is more to explore in terms of the postbiotics and their application in animal nutrition? What does the future hold for this technology?
[Interviewee] Absolutely. There is always more to learn and new methods that help us understand the mode of action and benefits of postbiotics in new ways—some that were not possible previously with the analytical methods available. We continue exploring new technologies and targeting specific and relevant issues in companion animals such as allergy, skin and coat health, oral and renal health.
It is vital to remember that postbiotics are not all the same. There’s so much more potential to explore synergies among biotics and leveraging different strains of microbes, media, and fermentation methods to generate specific health outcomes.
Published in association with Cargill Animal Nutrition