Dr. Greg Sunvold holds a Ph.D. in animal nutrition and is the Chief Science and Technology Officer. Greg has earned an astonishing reputation within the pet wellness industry as the world's leading expert in the microbiome, pet food formulation, and gut health. Dr. Sunvold's personal mission is to advance the scientific communities understanding of gut health, the microbiome, and the role pre, pro and postbiotics play in the wellness journey for our canine companions.
Recently, we invited Dr. Sunvold to participate in an interview with our media team so we could share his wisdom with our community of pet parents and dog lovers. Enjoy!
Q: Why is it important for dogs to have a healthy gut? What can dog owners do daily to improve their dog’s digestive health?
A: Dogs (and cats, and people) need healthy guts because health starts on the inside. The alimentary tract is responsible not only for digesting food but for first sensing it and reacting to it. Quite literally, the alimentary tract is “outside” the body if you think about it. The alimentary tract protects the body from harmful substances and is designed to “sense” or sample what is inside the gut. If the gut senses good stuff, it can convey that information all the way back to the brain. If it senses bad stuff (including pathogenic populations of microorganisms) it also gives that feedback to the brain. To provide our dogs with the most healthy life, we need to make sure that what gets into the alimentary tract is going to give not only good nutrition but also good feedback to the brain.
Dog owners have so many things they can do to make their pet feel happy “on the inside.” It starts with good nutrition. Good nutrition can come in many forms. Of course, the dog’s food is important. But how about the other treats and snacks the dog consumes? They too are important for the dog to feel good on the inside. And with nutritional supplements for dogs, an owner can take a proactive role in providing those process-sensitive ingredients that are either destroyed or not added to traditional food sources. Ingredients such as probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics are all important nutritional sources that can be helpful to improving pet health.
Q: What was the ideation, creation, and testing process of HappyTails Canine Wellness™ products?
A: HappyTails products have been developed through an innovative R&D strategy, designed to create scientifically advanced proprietary formulas, for treats and supplements, that would appeal to the dog and the dog parent. Good nutrition is great as long as it gets into your dog's system. As such, these treats and supplements must be palatable to the dog. But it doesn’t end with just being palatable. The analogy of kids loving sweet treats comes to mind – very palatable but not necessarily good for one’s child. HappyTails took the broader, more appropriate view, that any treats made must have a nutritional purpose and health benefits that promote optimal canine wellness, as well as being palatable. Our treats have been tested with HappyTails associates’ personal pets, and our Chief Canine Officers, Ace & Rylee. Simply put, if it wouldn’t be fed to and enjoyed by HappyTails associates’ dogs, then why market them to others? The supplement products take good nutrition and canine wellness to a new level by providing key functional ingredients that will support the dog's overall gut health and immune system.
Q: Why is it important for dogs to consume prebiotics?
A: Prebiotics provide the foundation for modifying pets (and humans) gut microbiota in a favorable direction (ie, promoting more beneficial microbiota at the expense of opportunists). Prebiotics are generally expensive and, as such, are often not provided in high quantities in foods. Adding prebiotics into many of HappyTails products gives the pet parent greater assurance that treat time is not just a fun time but a healthy time of moving the gut microbiota in a favorable direction.
Q: What challenges do you still see in the pet nutrition industry? Why do you think the industry has ignored them?
A: The pet industry, like other industries, is susceptible to strong marketing influences. While marketing has a role, it doesn’t “feed the health” of the pet. Good ingredients feed health. It’s the constant battle between promotional dollars and putting money into the product’s ingredients. I believe strongly in advocating for the pet’s health. That’s why I fall on the side of providing great ingredients for the pet.
Q: What elements are other brands missing?
A: In the pet food industry it is quite common to hear about the “no’s”. No corn, no soy, no wheat, etc. I like to think on the other side – what can I do for your pet? We provide prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and so forth. We provide healthy ingredients that you would oftentimes find appealing for yourself. At the end of the day, however, we are guided by the dog’s nose and tongue. If you watch a dog or any predator for that matter in the wild, you will often see a common theme. The predator eats the prey from the inside out. Instinctively the dog knows that internal organs are the most nutritious parts of its prey. Analogously, the same approach happens at HappyTails when selecting ingredients. Provide the dog nutritious ingredients that it may not often have access to. In the industry, it’s often said that selling a product the first time is easy. Having that same product bought a second, third and beyond times is the real proof. Healthy ingredients will win the day long term. At their core, that’s why HappyTails™ products exist – to make all the difference in your dog's life.
Q: What is a probiotic?
A: A probiotic is a living microorganism that can impart a health benefit to the individual.
Q: What is a prebiotic?
A: Simply put, a prebiotic is food for beneficial microbiota in the intestine.
Q: What is a postbiotic?
A: This is any non-living entity derived from a probiotic. It may include formerly live probiotics as well as their outputs. Postbiotics produce beneficial substances such as organic acids, peptides, glycopeptides and a myriad of other small molecule substances which have shown to confer health benefits for our dogs.
Q: Why should we be aware of the afore-mentioned “biotics”?
A: The science continues to emerge showing the benefits of pro-, pre-, and post-biotics. But many more discoveries will undoubtedly happen in the near and intermediate future around biotics. These discoveries will point out the health benefits of various biotics on the host. And these biotics are naturally derived and very often sustainably derived.
Q. What is the future of the “biotics” science?
A: Good question. I wish I had magical insight! With that said, first I think the future is very bright. The way the biotics sciences are structured, there are almost limit-less possibilities for discoveries which will improve pet and human health. For example, did you know that non-digested substances are often transformed by gut microbiota into different substances before they are absorbed? This fact alone justifies greater study of who these gut microbiota are and what exactly are they doing in the gut. Many people are working in the area of microbiome research. Discoveries will be made that will undoubtedly impact you and your pet’s health!
Thank you Dr. Sunvold!
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