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Bovine Colostrum utilization in pets

October 25, 2023

Functional ingredients provide important health benefits to pets and have become an integral component of nutrition for companion animals. In recent years, the impact of gut health on the overall health status and well-being of pets has become increasingly recognized. As a result, many products promoting gut health have been developed and introduced to the companion animal market.

The “gut” consists of multiple different organs and signaling pathways that are impacted by diet, environment, and genetics. It is often referred to as the “first line of defense” to protect mammals from pathogens as it contains over 70% of the body’s immune cells and provides a barrier to entry. Additionally, and just as important, the gut is the primary site for nutrient absorption and subsequent utilization by the animal. The direct correlation between gut health, immune status, and food and supplements consumed presents an opportunity to positively impact an animal’s overall well-being.

Bovine colostrum supplementation has been associated with positive health benefits, including but not limited to, immune support, allergy relief, calming and stress management, and digestive health in a multitude of species.

What is Colostrum? 

Colostrum is the milk produced by a mammal prior to and within the first few days following giving birth; it is rich in maternal antibodies (immunoglobulins such as IgG), growth factors, proteins, vitamins, minerals. and antimicrobial factors (lysozymes, lactoferrin, lactoperoxidases, cytokines).

Most newborn mammals are born immuno-deficient, and colostrum fulfills a physiological need (maternal to neonatal passive immunity and gastrointestinal tract development) for neonatal animals as it provides early-life protection from diseases as well as the proteins, hormones, growth factors, vitamins, and minerals necessary to establish adequate gut health and promote optimal growth. Maternal milk produced later during lactation does not contain many of the immune-supporting components that colostrum does, therefore emphasizing the importance of neonatal colostrum consumption.

Mammals are born with a naïve immune system and require maternal antibodies (immunoglobulins) to help fight disease-causing pathogens until their own immune systems are fully developed and functional. In neonatal cats and dogs, approximately 80-90% of antibodies are provided by maternal colostrum (Rossi et al., 2021). Intestinal barrier closure occurs 12 to 16 hours after birth in puppies and kittens (Casal et al., 1996; Chastant-Maillard et al., 2012), after which the bioactive molecules from colostrum are no longer absorbed intact but do continue to elicit effects locally within the gut. Therefore, colostrum consumption is beneficial throughout the lifetime of the animal.

Colostrum as a Functional Ingredient 

The utilization of bovine colostrum in older mammals has gained traction in recent years, especially in the human and pet nutrition industries. The concentration of bioactive compounds and peptide-based nutrients gives colostrum a unique composition that makes it an attractive functional ingredient for disease treatment and prevention, enhanced immune support (Crooks et al., 2006), athletic recovery, and decreased exercise-induced gut permeability in humans (Marchbank et al., 2011). Although only a few studies have been conducted on dogs and cats, results are promising and allude to lifelong benefits for pets.

Puppies and kittens are negatively impacted by stressful events, such as weaning, environmental and dietary changes, vaccinations, and health programs. Bovine colostrum supplementation can be beneficial in supporting health during times of stress and disease susceptibility. A study observed puppies supplemented with bovine colostrum had improved fecal quality during an environmental and diet change (Giffard et al., 2004). Another study, with kittens, demonstrated positive immune and gut health benefits in response to colostrum. Kittens supplemented with dry bovine colostrum exhibited a more effective and efficient antibody response elicited by rabies booster vaccinations (Gore et al., 2021). 

The positive benefits of bovine colostrum supplementation are not limited to puppies and kittens. Research conducted in adult dogs fed diets including bovine colostrum demonstrated a stronger, more sustained immune response to canine distemper virus vaccination (Satyaraj et al., 2013). Huskies supplemented with bovine colostrum also showed increased fecal microbiota biodiversity, which is associated with overall improved gut health and function (Satyaraj et al., 2013).

Not all bovine colostrum supplements are created equal, as quality and nutrient composition varies by product. Most would agree that functional molecules are responsible for most of the benefits associated with bovine colostrum supplementation. The ideal bovine colostrum product should provide the highest concentration possible of bioavailable, functional molecules to ensure a maximum dose is delivered for optimal efficacy.

In addition to its physiological benefits, colostrum can be incorporated with confidence into a multitude of product types with varying physical characteristics in multiple application strategies. Colostrum products are stable at a pH as low as 4 and temperatures as high as 140°F.

Colostrum provides a palatable source of bioavailable immune boosting and overall gut health promoting factors to dogs and cats of all ages.



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