Probiotics are definitely having their moment in the spotlight. In the past five years, searches for “dog probiotics” have increased by 94%.
But, what’s all the fuss about?
Probiotics, often referred to as “good bacteria,” have been praised for their countless benefits in human health. But did you know these tiny microorganisms can work wonders for your four-legged family member too?
Just like humans, dogs have their own unique microbiome. The combination of bacteria in their microbiome is essential to their overall health, and of particular interest for those with sensitive stomachs.
But what exactly are probiotics for dogs, and should your dog be taking them?
What are probiotics for dogs?
Probiotics are bacteria, but don’t worry, they’re friendly!
The term “probiotics” refers to beneficial gut-dwelling microbes (bacteria and yeast). Like humans, dogs have billions of these microorganisms in their stomachs, helping them fight infections, digest food, and strengthen their immune system.
This community of microorganisms is called the microbiome and a healthy dog needs a healthy microbiome.
A balanced combination of bacteria in a pet’s microbiome is essential for their overall well-being. Imbalances in the oral and gut microbiome can lead to health concerns, including diarrhea, diabetes, gum disease, or skin issues.
Do all dogs need probiotics?
A generally healthy dog should be able to maintain the balance of digestive microbes naturally. Should your dog’s microbiome undergo changes, they might show signs of illness in various ways, including:
- Weight loss or gain
- Upset stomach
- Bad breath
- General poor health
What causes changes in the microbiome and can it be prevented?
These changes can be triggered by various factors such as dietary alterations, antibiotic use, weaning, consumption of spoiled food, or experiencing stress.
It can be difficult to predict when your dog will undergo a microbiome change. However, if you anticipate situations such as moving house or dietary changes that could affect your dog, supplementing them with a probiotic could be extremely beneficial.
Can I feed my healthy dog probiotics?
“Probiotics are a powerful addition to any dog’s diet,” says Laura Ward, DFA’s nutritionist.
“The research into the microbiome and how gut health links to seemingly every other area of health shows us how important it is to maintain a healthy microbiome for our dogs.
“Probiotics provide benefits from easing anxiety and allergies to improving digestive health and boosting immune capabilities. They are a useful option to have for healthy dogs and those needing additional support.”
Benefits of probiotics for dogs
Probiotics promote digestive health by maintaining a harmonious balance of gut bacteria. As mentioned, they are a popular solution for diarrhea and general gastrointestinal upset.
But, they have also been found to counter urinary infections, boost the immune system, improve skin and coat, and help with allergies.
One of the more recent discoveries is how they support mental health. Your dog’s gastrointestinal system and brain are in constant communication, and appropriate microorganisms in the intestines can help with mental and emotional regulation.
Studies have demonstrated that dogs taking certain probiotics are more inclined to explore new environments and less prone to barking, jumping, or spinning in situations that typically cause distress.
Types of probiotics for dogs and what is recommended
There are many reputable probiotic supplements available on the market which come in different forms:
Opting for dog food with added probiotics may simplify your life and benefit your dog. Ensure the food also includes prebiotics to nourish the bacteria. Keep in mind that product quality and probiotic effectiveness can be influenced by factors such as production methods and the type of food.
Probiotic capsules are also available. Often this can be the best, most concentrated option, but ensuring your dog actually eats the pill can be tricky for some.
Powdered probiotics, particularly those in individual packets can be a good option as the air and moisture are controlled. However, powdered products can also be a struggle to give your dog and they might not consume the entire pouch.
Take time to research and buy one from a pet food company that tests the quality of their products. Labels should include an expiration date, the exact species, the number of microorganisms in the product, and a guarantee for the number of live organisms.
Should I feed my dog yogurt?
Human foods, such as yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables, have live cultures that may benefit some dogs.
You can feed your dog plain yogurt and kefir but ensure they don’t include artificial sweeteners or flavors such as xylitol which can harm your dog. It’s also best to limit these quantities of probiotic foods for dogs, for example:
1 teaspoon per day for small dogs
2 teaspoons per day for medium-sized dogs
3 teaspoons per day for large dogs or giant-breed dogs
“Yoghurt and kefir are great, and a nice addition to a dog’s diet,” says Laura. “But providing probiotics through a supplement is a more concentrated source, and there is more control of the quantities to give particular effects.”
If in doubt, opt for pet-specific products as opposed to human food, just to be on the safe side.
Probiotics vs prebiotics — what’s the difference?
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms in a dog’s tummy, while prebiotics are fibers that serve as food for probiotics. Prebiotics are the food that the live bacteria feed on.
Probiotics and prebiotics work together to strengthen the health of the microbiome and as a consequence, digestive health. Both occur naturally but can be given as a supplementation too.
“Prebiotics can be used to improve digestion, and help to reduce flatulence,” says Laura.
“Feeding prebiotics helps to improve the health of the microbiome — the good bacteria in the gut, which has shown many links to overall health.
“Many good quality dog foods will contain some prebiotic fibers, whether this is ingredients such as oats and flaxseed, or specialized prebiotic ingredients.
“The main prebiotics used in dog food,” says Laura, “are fructooligosaccharides/FOS (often from chicory) and mannan oligosaccharides /MOS which is derived from yeast cell walls.”
As well as dog food, you can purchase prebiotics in a supplement form if you believe your dog needs them.
Do probiotics have side effects for dogs?
When giving your dog any kind of supplement, there are certain precautions to take. While probiotic supplements usually aren’t dangerous, your dog might experience diarrhea, constipation, bloating, or gas. Your dog’s symptoms might even get worse before they get better.
If this does occur, don’t worry. It’s completely normal as your dog’s digestive system is suddenly being fed additional friendly bacteria — the bad bacteria are just putting up a fight.
If these side effects occur, reduce the supplement amount and gradually reintroduce it to ease discomfort. Think of this as an adjustment phase.
Rest assured, daily supplementation offers lasting benefits, supporting a healthy microbiome with dominant beneficial bacteria.
Overall, probiotics are an effective addition to any dog’s diet, particularly those who experience digestive issues.
If you are unsure about which supplement to choose, or worried about your dog’s symptoms, your vet will be happy to have a discussion.
It’s important for your dog to have a healthy microbiome as it can have an impact on their mental and physical health. A healthy gut means a happy dog.