We’re just beginning to understand the potential benefits of probiotics for dogs. Unfortunately, veterinary research into the effectiveness of probiotics for pets isn’t all that common, and what studies do exist sometimes provide contradictory evidence.
But it does appear that, under certain circumstances, probiotics for dogs can:
Modulate the immune system
Provide intestinal benefits by producing short-chain fatty acids, which fight harmful bacteria
Improve diarrhea, irritable bowels, and intestinal inflammation
Prevent urinary tract infections
Reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation
Help dogs remain calm
Here’s a breakdown on probiotics for dogs—what they are, the types of probiotics, their benefits, and what they can be used for.
What Are Probiotics for Dogs?
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Billions of these bacteria (and some yeast) live in the gastrointestinal system of many animals, including dogs. These healthy gut microbes balance the internal environment to prevent disease and promote health.
Gastrointestinal microorganisms perform tasks like:
Helping break down food
Making nutrients and vitamins
Fighting off potential pathogens
Interacting with the “gut-brain axis” that plays an important role in mood
What Are Prebiotics?
You may have also heard of prebiotics. So, what’s the difference between the two? Prebiotics are types of fiber that nourish and promote the growth of good bacteria already living in the colon. In other words, prebiotics feed probiotics. Prebiotics are usually found in high-fiber foods.
Do Dogs Need Probiotics?
Probiotics are prescribed for maintaining a desirable intestinal microbial balance—essentially, to keep a dog’s gut health in balance.
A generally healthy dog should be able to maintain the balance of digestive microbes naturally. But during times of stress, illness, or malnutrition, an imbalance can occur.
Many dogs seem to respond well to probiotic supplements when their gut microbes have gotten out of whack.
Types of Probiotics for Dogs
Probiotics for dogs come in several forms. Some dog foods even include probiotics in the list of ingredients, such as Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials and Blue Buffalo True Solutions Blissful Belly. If you look at the guaranteed analysis section on a package of dog food with probiotics, you will see the type of bacteria added.
However, it’s usually better to use a dog probiotic supplement that’s produced as a powder, capsule, or chew. With these types of products, it’s possible to provide your dog with higher numbers of beneficial live microorganisms. The probiotic will be labeled with recommendations on dosage and frequency of use.
Species-specific strains of probiotics include Enterococcus faecium and Bacillus coagulans. Other types that have helped dogs include Bifidobacterium animalis, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs?
Studies have shown that certain species of probiotics may have specific benefits for dogs. For example, certain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help to:
Manage yeast and support the immune system
Provide relief from diarrhea and food allergies
Some Bacillus species can also support the immune response, and Enterococcus faecium has been shown to shorten the course of diarrhea in dogs.
Can You Use Probiotics for Dog Diarrhea?
Yes, probiotics can be used to improve dog diarrhea caused by:
Stress from boarding, moving, or any disruption in routine
Sudden changes to your dog’s diet, like eating a new or unusual food
A bacterial imbalance from long-term antibiotic use
Diarrhea caused by infections that result in a bacterial overgrowth within the gut may improve with probiotic use as well.
Can Puppies Take Probiotics?
Yes, puppies can take dog-specific probiotics. This may help them develop a balance of intestinal bacteria to support a healthy immune system and reduce the incidence of diarrhea, constipation, and infections of the digestive tract.
Can Dogs Take Human Probiotics?
Yes, dogs can take human probiotics; they are not harmful to pets. However, they may not provide the same benefits as a species-specific supplement because dogs have a different gut microbiome than people. Probiotics designed specifically for dogs take this into account and have appropriate dosing instructions printed on their labels.
Can Dogs Eat Yogurt and Other Foods With Probiotics?
Some human foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, have live cultures that may benefit some dogs. However, adding new foods to a dog’s diet can lead to diarrhea and other health problems, so it’s often safer to use a probiotic supplement.
Be sure to read the labels of human foods carefully to select plain, unsweetened varieties that do not contain artificial sweeteners, especially xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Limit quantities of probiotic foods for dogs to these ranges:
1 teaspoon per day for small dogs
2 teaspoons per day for medium-sized dogs
Do Probiotics Have Side Effects for Dogs?
Some dogs may experience side effects when starting probiotics, particularly at high doses, such as:
A digestive symptom may temporarily get worse before it improves. Changes in appetite may be an early indicator of an adverse reaction. Talk to your veterinarian if your dog does not respond well to probiotics or you have any concerns about their digestive health.
Featured Image: iStock.com/mladenbalinovac
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