Chronic digestive issues in dogs can be tough to manage and negatively affect your pup's health and happiness. Fortunately, probiotics for dogs may help in certain circumstances.
If your dog has a sensitive tummy, you've likely read about prebiotics, probiotics, and other products. But what are they, and what do we know about how well they work?
Probiotics have not yet been thoroughly researched in dogs, so there's much left to learn. In this article, we'll dive into what probiotics are, what the research says about how probiotics impact your dog's health, and what to consider when choosing a probiotic product for your pet.
What Are Probiotics for Dogs?
If you've ever eaten yogurt with live cultures, you've probably tried a probiotic. Probiotic products contain live "friendly" microbes, bacteria and yeast, specifically, that live in the gut.
Unlike germs that cause food poisoning or other ailments, billions of healthy probiotic organisms live in your dog's intestines naturally. This population of tiny critters is called the microbiome (1).
Here are a few ways that "good bacteria" in the gut microbiome help your dog:
- Digesting food
- Protecting the intestinal lining from pathogens
- Making nutrients and vitamins for your dog
- Supporting your dog's immune system
The main idea for probiotics is to replenish helpful bacteria and restore balance in your dog's digestive tract.
When Are Probiotics Used?
Veterinarians sometimes recommend probiotics to support digestive health in dogs with persistent diarrhea, constipation, or bloating issues (2). An otherwise healthy microbiome can also be disrupted by stress or after a course of antibiotics.
Probiotics may support overall gut health and immune system function, particularly in dogs with a history of antibiotic use. Additionally, initial research suggests that probiotics may positively impact skin health in dogs with a condition called atopic dermatitis (3).
A veterinarian's note on antibiotics: if your dog is prescribed antibiotics, always finish the entire course. Stopping the antibiotic once your dog starts to feel better can seem like the right thing to do. However, stopping too early can promote the growth of harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria (4).
Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs
Research suggests that probiotics may benefit dogs. More studies are needed to fully understand whether probiotics are effective in dogs, but the available evidence is promising.
The most well-established use of probiotics for dogs is to improve digestive health. For example, a 2017 study found that dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who took a multi-strain probiotic with their usual medication showed significant improvements in their symptoms (5). Markers of inflammation in the intestine did not improve during the study, but those changes may take longer to develop.
Remember, pre and probiotics will not replace your dog's medications. Probiotics are best used alongside regular prescriptions if your dog has a diagnosed health issue like IBD. Talk to your vet before you change your dog's diet or supplement regimen.
How to Purchase and Care for a Probiotic Product
There are a few essentials to consider when purchasing a probiotic product for your dog. First and foremost, look for a product that lists specific strains of probiotics on the label.
"Good bacteria" to look for on your probiotic product label include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Bifidobacterium animalis (6)
- Bifidobacterium bifidum (7)
- Bacillus coagulans (8)
Keep in mind that research on the efficacy of probiotics has mostly been done in people. We'll need more research to know whether they're helpful for dogs.
On a related note, choosing a probiotic formulated specifically for dogs is also important. Human probiotics may contain artificial sweeteners or other ingredients toxic to dogs.
Follow the product's dosage instructions carefully and give the probiotic at the same time of day, ideally with breakfast. Because probiotics contain live microbes, they are sensitive to temperature and humidity. Store your dog's probiotic product in a cool, dry place to protect the viability of the bacteria.
Natural Probiotics for Dogs
If you're interested in natural sources of probiotics for your dog, you're in luck. All probiotics contain live bacteria; therefore, all probiotic products are natural.
In addition to probiotic supplements (capsules or powder), you can also give your dog probiotics through food. Fermented foods like yogurt or kefir with live cultures can also be probiotics. Importantly, (fermented) probiotic foods for dogs can contain artificial sweeteners that are toxic to dogs. Only give dogs plain yogurt or kefir without artificial sweeteners.
There are also some brands of dog food that contain probiotics. Check the label for "direct-fed microbials" and an approval statement from the pet-food regulatory body AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
Prebiotics and Probiotics for Dogs
While probiotics alone can be valuable for replenishing your dog's microbiome, combining them with prebiotics is a smart match. Prebiotics are nutrients that feed the beneficial bacteria in your dog's gut, helping them thrive and multiply.
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are great sources of prebiotics. Generally, prebiotics provide a source of non-digestible fiber.
Most high-quality dog foods contain prebiotic ingredients. You can also feed your dog fruits and vegetables to supplement their regular food. Just be sure to avoid grapes, raisins, and other foods toxic to dogs.
Remember The Essentials
Managing digestive issues in dogs can be a struggle. If your dog is experiencing persistent bloating or other problems, probiotics may be a valuable addition to their wellness routine.
Most of the research done on probiotics has been focused on humans, so we can't say for sure whether dog probiotics are effective. Fortunately, side effects are generally mild.
When selecting a probiotic product, look for specific "friendly bacteria" formulated for dogs. Follow the dosage instructions carefully, and try to give the probiotic at the same time every day. Additionally, consider incorporating prebiotics into your dog's diet to support their microbiome.
Consult your veterinarian if you're interested in probiotics for your dog. They can diagnose any underlying conditions and help you build a management plan. These actions will get your dog back to feeling their best and living their happiest, healthiest life.