Q&A: Why is chicory good for digestion?

  • 2 November 2001

    Expert advice from Bailey’s nutritionist Katie Lugsden on keeping your pet in peak condition

    Q. I have noticed that the dog food I use contains chicory which is said to promote a healthy digestive system. What does chicory do and why is it beneficial for dogs?

    Janet Stevens, Doncaster

    A. Chicory is becoming a popular ingredient in pet foods as it contains a complex carbohydrate called inulin. Inulin is also found in other vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus and onions and so can regularly be found in the human diet, although as inulin is soluble in hot water, cooking will result in significant losses.

    Mammals, suchas dogs and horses are unable to utilise inulin as an energy source. This is because the enzymes that mammals rely on to extract energy from other food sources can not break the linkages between the molecules in inulin. Instead, beneficial species of bacteria that are known to be involved in promoting gut health are able to utilise inulin as an energy source.

    This allows them to reproduce and maintain their population numbers so that they can out-compete pathogenic (harmful) bacteria. In turn this can help prevent digestive upsets as harmful species of bacteria can cause problems such as diarrhoea.

    Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are closely related to inulin and can be found in some horse feeds and supplements such as Baileys Digest Plus. They are also used to enhance populations of beneficial bacteria and to reduce the incidence of digestive upsets.

    Both FOS and inulin are referred to as prebiotics because unlike probiotics they do not contain live bacteria, but they do have a positive effect on the beneficial bacteria present in the digestive tract. As their potential benefits become more widely recognised they are likely to be included in more animal feeds.

    Their potential benefits to human health may also mean that you, like your dog, will be consuming more of these products in the future.