My dog eats orijen dog food which contains this probiotic - dried enterococcus faecium fermentation product - I read that this is a dangerous bacteria so what's it doing in a dog food? Could it be harmful to people if you feed this to the dog as my sister is having chemo and we don't want to put her in danger.

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Probiotics seem to be turning up in a variety of high-end pet foods, claiming to stimulate good digestions.

I remain to be unequivolcally convinced that probiotics added to foodstuffs are actually worthy of merit, though they have been shown to be of some value in treating some cases of infectious diarrhoea. This is not to say that they are harmful, or that the idea of supplementing dietary bacteria is a bad one, it's more the case that: a) it is often used as a marketting ploy to increase the commodity value of something, b) they're often poor quality, frequently actually 'dead' and ocassionally don't contain the bacteria they're supposed to, and c) adding one or two species to the natural mix of gut bacteria (which are comprised of hundreds of species) seems a little hit and miss.

In any case, to answer your question Enterococcus spp. (i.e. numerous Enterococcal species, including E. faecium) are naturally occuring (commensal) bacteria that exist in the guts of humans and other animals, at varying proportions. However, many such commensal bacteria can become opportunistic pathogens when an animal is immuno-compromised, or when the bacteria enter another part of the body than where they're normally found. In those situations they can cause disease.

The probiotics in this food should not represent an overt health risk, any more than the dog itself, which like any human member of the family, will be full of a great many other bacteria of different types. If your sister is undergoing out-patient chemo, ensuring good hygiene practises is always a general recommendation to prevent easy-preventable infections, as you would the very old and very young. With regards the dog food - treat as you would any food item: always remember to wash hands after preparing food, keep food bowls clean and washed (wash with a separate cloth if your are concerned, I generally do anyway), and all of us should be in the habit of washing our hands before before eating in any case.

Hope your sister gets well soon.

Agreed with all of the above and I too am extremely sceptical about the "friendly bacteria" claims in many probiotic yoghurts and foods. The ONLY time I know when live bacteria really do help is when one has taken an antibiotic which has destroyed much of our normal gut flora resulting in severe diarrhoea. In that instance eating live yoghurt corrects the problem with in 2-3 days but even then I am not sure the "probiotic bit" adds much to any ordinary live yoghurt.

David, my position on probiotics (with some evidence) is pretty much reflected in the first half of this blog post of mine: