A Pet Parent's Guide To Probiotics For Dogs
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If your dog has stomach problems like diarrhea or vomiting, you probably want to get him relief ASAP.
Probiotics for dogs might be helpful in this case, since they can increase the amount of good bacteria in his gut — which can help with stomach problems, issues with his immune system or other underlying health conditions.
The Dodo reached out to three veterinarians to find out everything a pet parent needs to know about probiotics for dogs, including how they benefit your pet, potential side effects and how to find the best probiotic for dogs.
What are probiotics for dogs?
Dog probiotics are a type of bacteria that are super important for your dog’s gut health.
“Probiotics are nutritional supplements that contain live microorganisms (bacteria and/or yeast) that can potentially improve a dog’s health,” Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinary advisor for Pet News Daily, told The Dodo.
Your dog actually already has probiotics living in his gut, but sometimes a dog might not be producing enough probiotics naturally to keep him healthy — and that’s where probiotic supplements come in.
“Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria (and occasionally other microbes) that live inside the digestive tract of dogs (and really any mammal),” Dr. David Haworth, a veterinarian and pet wellness advisor for Well Groomed Pets, told The Dodo. “Sometimes, due to stress, malnutrition, eating something they shouldn't or disease, the bad bacteria can take over the gut.”
By giving your dog a probiotic supplement, you can increase the amount of probiotics in his gut, which can reduce the amount of harmful bacteria.
“Probiotics can outcompete ‘bad’ microorganisms that may play a role in diarrhea or other health problems,” Dr. Coates said.
“Probiotics essentially overwhelm the bad bacteria, replacing them with the good bacteria,” Dr. Haworth added.
To help paint the picture of how probiotics work, Dr. Haworth compares your dog’s gut to a city.
“Where ‘good’ bacteria dominate, it is a productive, thriving community, but where ‘bad’ bacteria dominate, it is like a crime-infested, run-down neighborhood,” Dr. Haworth said.
Prebiotics vs. probiotics
Probiotics shouldn’t be confused with prebiotics, although both are beneficial for your dog’s gut health.
While probiotics are microorganisms in your dog’s gut, prebiotics are actually just nondigestible carbohydrates that probiotics feed on to stay alive.
“Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics,” Dr. Haworth said. “Fiber and other nutrients that the good bacteria in probiotics eat can help establish their colonies and out-compete the bad bacteria.”
Using prebiotics and probiotics together can essentially make the probiotics more effective, and some commercially made supplements can even include both.
“In some cases, it is helpful for prebiotics to be provided alongside probiotics,” Dr. Haworth said.
Some types of fiber are considered to be prebiotics, so feeding your dog a diet high in fiber can also boost the benefits of probiotics.
“A healthy diet, high in digestible and nondigestible fiber, is also really helpful for your dog's gut to reestablish (or maintain) a healthy population of bacteria,” Dr. Haworth said.
What do probiotics do for dogs?
Probiotics for dogs can help promote good bacteria in your dog’s gut, which can have a huge impact on his overall health.
“They can help support normal gastrointestinal function and the immune system, which isn’t as surprising as it may sound because a large portion of the immune system is associated with the gastrointestinal tract.” Dr. Coates said.
Probiotic supplements are especially important for dogs with underlying health issues.
“Probiotics are helpful in restoring the right microbe balance in the gut, and as a result can correct certain conditions, like diarrhea and vomiting,” Dr. Haworth said. “Especially dogs with chronic conditions, like allergies, chronic ear infections, chemotherapy for cancer or long-term antibiotics, can use some help restoring a healthy microbiome in their gut.”
“Chronic diseases often require long-term probiotic therapy,” Dr. Coates added.
Some health problems that probiotics for dogs can help include the following:
- Chronic ear infections
- Side effects from chemotherapy
A huge change in your dog’s life might also stress him out and mess with his microbiome, which is another case where probiotics can be useful.
“Probiotics can also help dogs experiencing stress diarrhea from boarding, moving, loss of a family member or in shelter dogs,” Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, told The Dodo.
You might also want to use probiotics if your dog wasn’t transitioned to a new diet properly. “Diarrhea caused by an abrupt change in diet can also be helped with probiotics,” Dr. Burch said.
Probiotics can also benefit dogs who are taking antibiotics, which can create an imbalance of good bacteria in the stomach.
“Dogs who are started on an antibiotic for an infection elsewhere in the body can benefit from probiotics to help prevent diarrhea,” Dr. Burch said.
Dog probiotic side effects
For the most part, probiotics are totally safe for dogs — but, rarely, some pups have gotten mild stomach issues after taking probiotic supplements.
“It is not common for side effects to occur in dogs taking probiotics, but it can happen,” Dr. Burch said. “Some dogs may experience mild stomach upset, diarrhea, flatulence (passing gas) or bloating for the first few days of administration.”
Luckily, these mild side effects usually don’t last long.
“Those usually resolve in a couple of days to a week,” Dr. Haworth said. “If it goes on longer, owners should check with their veterinarian because something more serious may be happening.”
Types of probiotics for dogs
Probiotic supplements can come in several forms and include different types of probiotic strains.
Dog probiotic supplements can come in the following forms:
- Treats and chews
“The most common bacteria found in probiotics include Lactobacillus sp., Bifidobacterium longum, Enterococcus faecium and Bacillus sp.,” Dr. Burch said.
You should speak with your veterinarian to find out which strain will be the most beneficial for your dog depending on his condition, since some strains can be better than others in some cases.
For example, “a particular strain of probiotic called BL999 (a proprietary form of Bifidobacterium longum) is useful in the treatment of anxiety in dogs,” Dr. Coates said.
Can dogs take human probiotics?
Giving your dog human probiotics won’t harm him necessarily, but it probably won’t be as effective as you’d like. This is mainly because dogs and humans have different probiotics in their systems, so a human probiotic might not contain strains that are present in your dog’s body.
“Whichever product is used, it should be dog-specific,” Dr. Haworth said. “Human probiotics won't hurt dogs, but likely won't confer the same benefits.”
How to find the best probiotics for dogs
Even though there are a ton of probiotics for dogs on the market, not all of them will be super effective. So you’ll want to do your research to ensure the probiotic you choose is going to be the best one for your dog.
“There's a great deal of variability in the quality of probiotics,” Dr. Haworth said. “One study found really large variances between what companies said was in their product and what really was there.”
First and foremost, the product should state the probiotic strain(s) used in the formula and how much of each probiotic is present.
“As we have learned more about the different kinds of good and bad gut bacteria, lots of different probiotics have been developed, but it's a good idea to note how much and what kinds of bacteria are included in whatever product you settle on,” Dr. Haworth said. “These must be listed in the guaranteed analysis section of the product's label.”
“The product should list the number of live, microbial colony-forming units (CFU) per unit of weight and each organism's genus, species and strain,” Dr. Burch added.
Besides making sure the product is labeled appropriately, you also want to make sure the company you purchase your dog’s probiotics from is reputable.
“Find an established, well-regarded brand that can stand by their product, preferably with nationally accredited testing,” Dr. Haworth said.
Zesty Paws is an example of a supplement brand who sells probiotics that passed high-quality standards set by National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) and earned their seal of quality.
Their probiotics have 3 billion CFUs and contain six different strains of probiotics that provide digestive and immune support to your pup.
If you have any questions about how probiotics can help your dog, your veterinarian will be able to help. “Like any other health-related issue, your veterinarian is the best source of information,” Dr. Hayworth said.
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