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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

October 12, 2012

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics for Fish

By Patrick Donston

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Prebiotics are not probiotics. Probiotics are living microbes that are advantageous to animal health through the following: Increasing digestive measures in the gut so that the organism may absorb maximum vitamins and nutrients; outcompeting pathogens (known as CE, competitive exclusion); and acting as key components of innate immunity against certain viral and bacterial infections.

In contrast, prebiotics are not alive. They are dietary fibers from plants and fungi. They nourish probiotics to grow and populate. It is not only important to understand the difference, but also, how they can both work simultaneously to increase immune health in fish.

Healthy fish
Probiotics can be introduced via liquid conditioners for external growth of the aquarium-benefiting external CE. They are being used in dry food sources for digestive efficiency or gut CE. Fish also have the ability to take them in through the gills into their bloodstream, inducing immune health.

The thing to remember is that not all probiotics are the same nor are their functions or abilities. Most will agree that the generic name “probiotics” is good bacteria, although it is wise to understand what you’re using and how to use it. The functionality of the bacteria source and what you’re trying to accomplish is important when choosing a product.

Ichthyologists are currently studying various nutrients to increase autoimmune responses. Prebiotics are just one example. Other interesting work is being done with polyriboinosinic- polyribocytidilic acids (Poly I:C), which some scientists believe that when added to a food source, they transcribe hepcidin and other immunoglobulins. These are known to be antiviral and/or antimicrobial peptides.

Beta-glucans are polysaccharides notably used in food sources to trigger the immune system. Naturally occurring in fungi, they induce T & B cells to reproduce, grow and phagocytize. There are a number of liquid conditioners available that have B-glucans or other similar polysaccharides in the formula. Again, these are prescribed as uses for preventative health by modulating immune response.

I’m excited to read and learn of the new ways to keeping fish healthy. Educate your staff on the new products and start using them in your shop. The fish will love it.


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