Probiotics for Dogs

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Should you give your dog probiotics? Can a dog overdose on probiotics? Do probiotics for dog allergies exist? We’re answering these questions and many more in today’s article.

So, if you’ve ever wondered whether probiotics are actually useful, if they can treat some of your canine friend’s health issues, and if there are any side effects to them, check out the guide below.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics can be defined as microorganisms that reside in your dog’s gut, and that play a number of essential parts, especially in maintaining your pet’s health and immune system in check.

The majority of probiotics are bacteria. Something very important to note about them is that they are alive, which makes it difficult for manufacturers to add them to kibble, treats, or other such products for dogs.

A dog probiotics yogurt, for example, might contain pre- and probiotics since the environment makes it possible for the germs to survive in it.

Powders and pills can also contain probiotics, but the truth is that most of these bacteria are sensitive to the outside environment, temperature, and dryness, so few of them survive in commercial products.

Another aspect worth adding is that dogs do not have the same microflora in their gut as humans do. Why is this? Well, the characteristics of the digestive system in canines and humans are very different.

As you know, dogs should eat a diet mostly composed of protein and fat (although compared to cats, they can be considered partly omnivorous).

But people eat vegetables, fruit, legumes, and a variety of other foods besides meat all the time, which means that their intestinal flora differs from that of a dog.

Can you give your dog human-grade probiotics? In a nutshell, you can, but it’s very likely that the product is not going to influence your pet’s digestion in any way (or in a significant manner). Here are some of the bacteria that can be found inside the canine intestines:

  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Weissella confusa
  • Lactobacillus salivarius
  • Lactobacillus reuteri (bile-resistant, reuterin-producing, and Salmonella growth-inhibiting)
  • Bifidobacterium animalis (makes Clostridium difficile growth difficult)

These are merely several examples of the microbiota that can exist inside a dog’s gut.

If you don’t want to get a separate probiotic product for your canine friend, we advise you to have a look at the human-grade option you want to purchase and see whether at least several of the probiotics listed on the label can’t be found on the previously showcased list.

Benefits of dog probiotics

Now that you have a basic idea of what canine probiotics are, where they come from, and if there are different species living in your dog’s intestines, let’s look at why they’ve become so popular.

Some people say that there are probiotics for dog skin allergies or dog colitis probiotics currently available, but most products aren’t marketed for anything other than improving your dog’s immunity and digestion.

The truth is that manufacturers have no way of assessing how a dog’s body is going to react to their specific product since every dog is different – also in terms of stools, their frequency, consistency, water consumption/dehydration, and a variety of other factors.

So the only and most important benefit of giving your dog probiotics is that they keep the bacterial population in their gut within good numbers. From that comes everything else:

  • Could make your dog put up with stress better (for times when you have to take him/her to the vet often)
  • For colitis
  • For constipation
  • For recurring diarrhea/gastrointestinal distress
  • For times when your dog is undergoing treatment with antibiotics
  • For any kind of infection

Can you be certain that giving your dog probiotics is going to improve all of these conditions? In a nutshell, no. But doing so might have a positive effect, especially on a dog that has bouts of diarrhea or constipation on a regular basis.

Do talk to your veterinarian before deciding to add probiotics to your dog’s diet — the last thing you might want to do would be to cause a problem when it doesn’t even exist.

Are there different types of probiotics?

As previously mentioned, there are different strains of probiotics inside your dog’s gut. But probiotic products come in several different forms these days, such as the following:

  • Probiotic chews and treats
  • Probiotic powders
  • Probiotic-enriched dog food
  • Special doggy probiotic yogurt
  • Probiotic capsules

But how to choose the best dog probiotics? A new product shows up on the market every week, so it can be challenging for dog guardians to tell which one’s better than the other.

Well, asking your vet is the best way of going about things. But doing some research on that specific product is another piece of advice that we can give you. It’s quite likely that the probiotic product you choose is not going to endanger your dog’s health in any way.

On the other hand, it might also not offer any benefits. According to Veterinary Practice News, an associate professor from the department of pathobiology of Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, found that only four out of fifteen probiotic tested products lived up to the claims listed on their labels.

So you should take any claim with a grain of salt and do a bit of research before picking one product over another. Furthermore, performing negative searches can save you some trouble, such as looking for ‘product name problems’ or ‘product name side effects.’

Does your dog need probiotics?

Giving a clear answer to this question is quite challenging. In the past decade or so, veterinarians have developed a more favorable mindset with regard to probiotics, especially when used proactively.

Until recently, most vets recommended probiotics only when prescribing antibiotic medication to dogs or when stressful situations such as boarding were to be expected. But the number of vets that don’t recommend probiotics even nowadays is staggering.

Medications do their job effectively, but depending on the severity of the gastrointestinal issue, so can probiotics, especially when paired with the first. So if your dog has a history of digestive issues, he or she might need probiotics.

Do probiotics for dogs actually work?

Probiotics are a preventative product, so their effect on your dog’s health is difficult, if not impossible, to assess. The only test that can prove their effectiveness, to some extent, is a fecal one. A specialist can analyze the type of bacteria that exists in your dog’s feces and their number, too.

The way probiotics work also depends on the specifics of the animal. It is widely acknowledged that large and giant breeds have a higher chance of suffering from digestive problems compared to small, medium, toy, or miniature dog breeds.

This means that if you are the owner of a Saint Bernard, for example, or a Newfoundland dog, you should consider giving your canine friend probiotics on a regular basis.

The amount of probiotic powder (or whichever product) also makes a difference. A large/giant breed dog’s digestion is not going to experience any benefits if you give them the dosage recommended for a Chihuahua or Maltipoo.

In any case, many studies regarding the efficacy of probiotics on the way a dog’s digestion functions have been performed over the years and have found that they can improve it.

Dog probiotics side effects

Most probiotics are perfectly safe, especially if you give your pet dog-safe ones. But like anything else that you might want to add to your canine friend’s diet, you have to do so gradually.

If you give your dog the maximum probiotic amount allowed right off the bat, it’s quite likely that he or she is going to experience a number of side effects, most of which are not going to be worrying.

However, some dogs can experience the following adverse reactions:

Most allergic reactions are mild, but keep your vet’s telephone number closeby just in case. Some digestive distress is to be expected, especially if your dog is already experiencing a bout of gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or constipation.

Probiotics can also make a constipated dog have diarrhea, especially when given in large amounts.

Natural sources of probiotics

Did you know that some foods contain probiotics in them and that some are actually safe to give your dog? Of course, yogurt and kefir are at the top of the list, but you can’t expect your dog to show no potential side effects, especially if he or she is lactose-intolerant.

If you’re adamant about giving some yogurt to your dog, at least choose a low-fat goat variety — it’s usually safer than any of its full-fat cow counterparts.

Never give your dog sugar-free yogurt as it might contain xylitol or other types of artificial sweeteners that could prove to be lethal. Commercial yogurt varieties usually contain other nasty ingredients such as thickeners, sugar, or salt, artificial colors, binders, and more.

If you really have to feed yogurt to your dog, at least make it at home (using a yogurt maker) or get it from a local producer at a Farmer’s Market.

Fermented veggies are also safe to give to dogs, especially if they are homemade and if they contain no condiments, spices, salt, or any weird and potentially problematic ingredients such as onions or garlic.

You do have to pay a lot of attention to the fermentation process to keep the microflora growth in check.

Here are some examples of probiotic-rich foods:

  • Cabbage (especially sauerkraut)
  • Kimchi (we would recommend against it, though, as it’s too spicy)
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Apples (without the seeds and core)
  • Dandelions

Flax seeds can improve your dog’s digestion, too, especially if you add a small amount to a cup, add water, put the mix in the fridge, and then feed it to your dog the next day (you will notice that the flax seed shell will be covered in a substance resembling mucus). This can be particularly useful for treating a bad case of constipation in dogs.

Did you know that tempeh and miso also contain probiotics? Naturally, if you want to make your own tempeh, you have to use organic and non-GMO soybeans, and for miso, you should also opt for an organic variety, one made from unpasteurized soybeans.

What dog food has probiotics?

There are several varieties available nowadays, such as the following:

  • Nulo dog food
  • Purina Pro Plan
  • Instinct Raw Boost
  • Diamond Naturals
  • Taste of the Wild

You definitely have the freedom to pick any of these, try several, and eventually choose the one that your dog seems to like the best. But there is no way for you to tell whether the probiotics in the kibble actually do their job or not.

Although we do not like making product recommendations, according to some studies, Purina FortiFlora has the best amount of probiotics, so it’s the likeliest to truly provide benefits to dogs. So it wouldn’t, therefore, be far-fetched to assume that the same brand might use the right quantities in their commercial dog food, too.

But some Purina varieties can contain several additives that make it less recommendable, such as carrageenan, which is a binder that just so happens to be carcinogenic. It might be better to opt for a more natural alternative and simply add small amounts of sauerkraut to your dog’s diet.

Final thoughts

So, are probiotics good or bad for dogs? They’re definitely good for digestion and keeping your dog’s health in check by way of maintaining your canine buddy’s immune system in shape.

Before deciding to give your dog probiotics, talk to your vet and ask them about the brands or specific products that they recommend or whether probiotics are, in fact, a good option for your dog’s specific health status.

Avoid overdoing the probiotic dosage as it can lead to several side effects such as gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

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Cristina Vulpe PhD

Cristina Vulpe PhD

With a PhD in Veterinary Oncology, Dr. Cristina Vulpe loves researching and writing about the things that she’s passionate about. These range from animal nutrition and welfare to pet behavior, infectious diseases, and parasitology. In her spare time, she’s always in the company of her cat and a good book.

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