September 24, 2020

Interpretive Summary: Label accuracy of commercial companion animal kefir products

Interpretive Summary: Assessment of commercial companion animal kefir products for label accuracy of microbial composition and quantity

By Anne Zinn

A recent study published in the Journal of Animal Science investigated the accuracy of label claims made by commercial kefir products designed for companion animals. Probiotics have become increasingly popular in human and companion animal health and niche markets for probiotic products and kefirs for companion animals have emerged. Kefir contains both yeast and bacteria produced by the fermentation of water or milk with kefir grains and could serve as an alternative to probiotic supplements in companion animals, but there is little existing regulation regarding the added probiotic quality, quantity or viability of kefir products. This lack of regulation for probiotic-containing fermented food sold for companion dogs and cats creates the potential for misreporting on viable microbial counts, taxonomy, and label claims, such as supporting healthy skin/coat, cognitive function, preventing allergies, and more. There is very limited clinical research testing the effects of kefir consumption in companion animals. Given the lack of regulation and limited research testing companion animal probiotic supplements, Metras et al. hypothesized that the kefir products tested would not match label claims or viable colony counts of bacterial taxonomy.

In the current study, the microbiota of six companion animal kefir products were measured quantitatively using standard plating techniques and microbial composition of these products were characterized by using high-resolution, long-read amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Results of this study demonstrated a low level of accuracy in the labeling of commercial kefir products intended for use in dogs and cats. Results indicated that better quality control and clinical trials are required to demonstrate and better understand potential health benefits for animals. It is suggested that, given the various health claims, inconsistent product quality, and absence of regulatory scrutiny, regulatory agencies, veterinarians, pet food professionals, and pet owners should be wary of these niche markets and products and demand a higher level of accuracy and quality in the future.

The full study will soon be available in the Journal of Animal Science.