Few other supplements can have such a large impact on the immune system and health as probiotics for dogs. Gut bacteria play a large role in health and disease, so it’s important to support your dog’s microbiome by using the best probiotics for dogs at the right times.
There are many types of probiotics and in combination they provide a world of benefits for your dog.
But first, let’s start with the microbiome.
What Is The Microbiome?
Bacteria live in all parts of your dog’s digestive tract. There are just a few that live in the stomach … but as you travel down the intestines, the numbers of bacteria increase. But by far the greatest number of bacteria live in your dog’s colon.
The complex community of bacteria and other microorganisms in your dog’s gut is called the microbiome. These bacteria all function together and they work just like any other organ. In fact, scientists call the microbiome “the forgotten organ.” Each microbiome is unique to each dog, just like a fingerprint. That’s because every dog is exposed to a unique environment and diet.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics for dogs are live organisms that provide health benefits. These good bacteria are found in your dog’s gut, in fermented foods and in supplements. Certain yeast species are also considered probiotic.
Are Probiotics Good For Dogs?
Yes, they are! Beneficial bacteria have a few key jobs in your dog’s body. They help:
- Promote overall dog gut health
- Digest food
- Produce key vitamins (including vitamin K and B vitamins)
- Produce serotonin and influence mood
- Reduce the gut pH
- Crowd out harmful bacteria
- Produce enzymes
- Produce fatty acids that discourage the growth of harmful bacteria
- Support the immune system
How Probiotics Support The Immune System
Bacteria like to live in your dog’s gut because they eat the same foods he does (or more exactly, they ferment food). Bacteria especially love to eat fiber because your dog can’t digest it. When bacteria eat fiber, they “poop out” short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). So probiotics for dogs are a great way to get more healthy SCFAs into your dog. The three main SCFAs are:
Short chain fatty acids either remain in your dog’s colon or they travel into your dog’s body. Either way, they play a critical role in your dog’s health and immunity. They can:
- Feed friendly bacteria and discourage the growth of harmful bacteria
- Crowd out harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi
- Help form the protective mucus layer in the gut
- Act as an important barrier to cancer-causing toxins, drugs, heavy metals and allergens
- Keep the cells lining the gut close together (they prevent leaky gut)
- Reduce glucose levels, which protects against metabolic disease and obesity
- Build important T-cells in the immune system, which helps reduce chronic inflammation.
- Protect against food allergens
- Help the body absorb calcium, magnesium, iron and other nutrients
- Produce key vitamins (including vitamin K and B vitamins)
- Reduce the gut pH
- Produce enzymes
- Produce serotonin and influence mood
Since 80% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut, bacteria are critical to your dog’s health. Specifically, a diverse and well-populated bacteria population is critical to your dog’s health.
Other Health Benefits Of Probiotics For Dogs
The little bacteria and organisms that live in your dog are so important to his health that they outnumber his own cells 95 to 1! Most dogs can definitely benefit from probiotics. But there are a wide variety of health issues that can be helped by probiotics:
- Leaky gut
- Yeast overgrowth
- Urinary tract infections
- Colitis and bowel diseases
- Allergy symptoms
- Mood disorders
Small changes to the species of bacteria living in your dog’s gut can have a noticeable impact on their host. The above diseases are all linked to shifts in the bacterial populations in your dog’s microbiome.
If your dog has a lot of diverse bacteria in his gut, these shifts are less significant. Large bacteria populations mean bacterial shifts will have a smaller impact on your dog’s health. But bacterial shifts happen all the time. Bacteria shifts can be caused by:
- A high starch diet
- A high fat diet
Best Prebiotic And Probiotic For Dogs
Despite their importance to your dog’s health, there’s one thing probiotics can’t do: they can’t live without food.
The beneficial bacteria in probiotics are living entities that need to eat. That’s where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are soluble, indigestible fiber that feed probiotics.
Without prebiotics, probiotics will be less active, less effective and can eventually die off. But if the probiotics are well-fed, they’ll grow and encourage new colonies of friendly bacteria to populate your dog’s gut … and soon they’ll start to crowd out the harmful bacteria. So its the probiotics that can make it or break it when choosing the best probiotic for your dog.
Believe it or not, many probiotic supplements don’t contain any prebiotics. So your dog will essentially just poop them out. Make sure the jar states it contains prebiotics or that it lists prebiotic foods in the ingredients. Foods like dandelion root, burdock root, larch arabinogalactian (from the larch tree) or inulin (from chicory) are some of the additions you’ll want to look for.
Or you can feed foods like garlic, bananas, apples, cooked mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root or asparagus to make sure you get the benefits of pre and probiotics for dogs.
Now let’s look at 3 types of probiotics and how their individual qualities can help your dog.
3 Best Probiotics For Dogs
These are the best researched and most effective types of probiotics for dogs.
1. Lactic Acid Probiotics
The vast majority of probiotics for dogs are lactic acid bacteria, usually made from fermented milk. You’ll see their strain names on the supplement label, along with the species name. The Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species are often shown as B. Or L. So you might see B. Longum or L. acidophilus.
Lactobacillus species convert milk sugar to lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine. Like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium species produce lactic acid but they’re not considered a lactic acid bacteria. Bifidobacterium live in the colon and can interact with immune cells. They can crowd out harmful bacteria and help support the immune system. Low numbers of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been linked to anxiety.
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics are pretty fragile and they typically only last about 24 hours before they’re eliminated from the gut. But even though they’re unlikely to colonize, their DNA remains and they can still offer many health benefits. Overall, they’re useful probiotics for dogs with diarrhea.
Individual lactic acid probiotic strains include:
This is the tried and true bacteria found in most probiotics. It’s well researched in dogs and can increase Lactobacillus populations in the gut and reduce the populations of harmful clostridia. It also has a favorable effect on immune cells.
This probiotic lives in the mucus membrane of animals. It’s an important part of the gut-brain axis and can affect mood and emotions.
Lactobacillus Plantarum And Lactobacillus Rhamnosus
These probiotics have been studied in dogs and have been shown to have a much better survival rate. They help build healthy colon walls in dogs with IBS and can decrease antibiotic-related diarrhea. Low levels of Lactobacillus rhamnosus have been linked to anxiety in dogs.
This probiotic has been found to be helpful for managing acute diarrhea in dogs.
This probiotic has been studied in dogs and is another one that works on the gut-brain axis. A study done by Purina found that larger numbers of Bifidobacterium longum can reduce signs of stress in dogs. B. longum can also help with diarrhea and food allergies.
Enterococci are another lactic acid bacteria that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut. This probiotic does a better job of surviving the acidity of the dog’s gut than most Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. While this probiotic is healthy for dogs, scientists are worried it can cause antibiotic-resistant enterococcal infections in humans. But it’s definitely beneficial for dogs and is a well-researched addition to canine probiotics.
P. acidilactici is another lactic acid bacteria that’s showing a lot of promise in canine studies. It’s been successfully used to manage skin conditions and leaky guts.
Lactobacillus reuteri is native to the dog’s intestinal tract and has shown to inhibit bacterial growth like Salmonella. It’s been beneficial for dogs suffering from digestive disorders, including acute diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. It enhances gut health, reduces inflammation, and supports immune function.
2. Probiotic Yeast
Saccharomyces boulardii is a healthy yeast that’s in the category of probiotics for dogs. Saccharomyces boulardii is used to treat acute and chronic diarrhea in humans … and a recent trial in dogs showed the same benefits. S. boulardii has also been successfully used to treat Candida and yeast. S. boulardii also helps with digestive issues caused by chronic inflammation … it can alter cell signaling pathways in the immune system.
What’s unique about S. boulardii is that it can’t be killed by antibiotics. It can be taken at the same time as antibiotic use to help protect the beneficial gut bacteria and prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea. So this is one of the best probiotics for dogs on antibiotics.
3. Spore Forming Probiotics
Unlike Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, the Bacilli strains of probiotics are spore-forming. These bacteria can form a hard coating that protects them from heat, stomach acids and most antibiotics. In fact, many antibiotics are made from soil based probiotics for this reason.
Bacilli are also called soil based probiotics for dogs because they’re commonly found in soil and water. The most common strains used include:
B. coagulans is a lactic acid producing bacteria, meaning it can crowd out unfriendly bacteria. Bacillus coagulans is also anti-inflammatory and can have a marked effect on inflammatory digestive diseases, which makes it a good probiotic for dogs with diarrhea. And a 2016 study also shows that it improved rheumatoid arthritis in rats.
B. indicus is a unique probiotic … it produces large amounts of carotenoids. These are the yellow and orange pigments in plants. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants. B. Indicus also produces B vitamins, vitamin K2 and quinols. This is an advantage for dogs with EPI and those needing digestive enzymes.
B. Subtilis is an inhabitant in the guts of healthy dogs. It was used to treat urinary tract infections before antibiotics were developed. Like B. coagulans, B. subtilis has a strong influence on the immune system. It helps produce IgA, an antibody that’s often low in dogs with autoimmune disease. IgA bolsters the gut lining and also produces vitamin K.
Many Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterum probiotics are made from dairy, but S. boulardii and spore-forming probiotics aren’t. This makes them some of the best probiotics for dogs with allergies, especially dairy allergies.
For specific health concerns, some types and strains of probiotics have properties that offer better results than others.
What Type Of Probiotic Is Best For Dogs?
As already discussed there are many types of probiotics and various strains with specific qualities and benefits. But when you choose probiotics for dogs, the type you use really depends on his individual health and needs.
Best Probiotics For Dogs On Antibiotics
A 2018 study found that giving Lactobacillus probiotics after antibiotic use caused a delay in the microbiome’s recovery. And the recovery was less complete compared to the group where no probiotics were given.
The best probiotics to help restore your dog’s microbiome after antibiotics are S. boulardii and soil based probiotics (Bacillus subtiliis and Bacillus coagulans). They survive antibiotic use so you can give them at the same time to help protect the gut bacteria and prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea.
Best Probiotic For Dogs With Diarrhea
If your dog has diarrhea, then a high CFU (colony forming units … more about this in the next section) lactic acid probiotic should help within a few days. Some studies show that probiotics can cut the recovery time roughly in half. It’s best to continue the probiotics for a few weeks, to help resolve the underlying gut issues.
If your dog has chronic diarrhea or a digestive disorder, then a good multi-strain probiotic given with gut-soothing herbs is a good choice. In this case, you’ll want to keep your dog on the probiotics long-term or until the diarrhea completely resolves.
Best Probiotic For Dogs With Allergies
Probiotics can be a way to help with your dog’s allergies. Probiotic bacteria can help reduce bad bacteria in your dog’s gut to help reduce inflammation and autoimmune responses. And you can give probiotics for itchy dogs. There have been a number of studies done showing probiotics reduce allergy symptoms, and you can give probiotics for itchy dogs. In some cases probiotics help remove the symptoms.
Soil based probiotics are more resilient than standard probiotics as they’re more likely to survive the trip through your dog’s gut so you only need 1 to 5 billion CFU.
If you use a Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium product, you want to make sure that the probiotics have:
- More than one strain of bacteria
- At least 30 billion CFU
The easiest way to give your dog probiotics for allergy relief (or any condition) is with supplements. You should be able to find the strain and number of CFU listed on the label of the probiotic. Don’t buy a probiotic that doesn’t disclose these details.
Best Natural Probiotic For Dogs
If you prefer to add probiotic foods to your dog’s diet, here are some to try … but a few have some drawbacks.
Tripe is the stomach lining of grazing animals like cows. Green means it has not been processed or treated. Raw green tripe is an excellent source of probiotics and digestive enzymes for your dog. It has living cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus and amino acids.
Kefir is made from milk fermented with kefir grains. It has the benefit that it can be made with cow, goat, coconut or rice milk, so you can choose a non-dairy product. Kefir grains are strains of lactic acid bacteria that contain many species and strains of bacteria, vitamins, proteins and yeast.
Yogurt is fermented milk made with the bacteria species Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. There are a few problems with using yogurt as a probiotic. First, dairy products can cause inflammation and immune issues in dogs. Second, most yogurt contains very few probiotics. And most yogurt is high in sugar, which can cause unwanted changes to the gut flora.
Fermented foods like chaga, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi can be a healthy part of your dog’s diet. You can make them yourself as homemade probiotics for dogs. What’s unique about fermented foods is their high prebiotic content. Prebiotics aren’t particular about the species of bacteria they feed, so fermented foods can potentially feed harmful bacteria and yeast. Fermented foods can also be a problem for dogs with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and yeast infections, so use in moderation and with caution.
How To Choose A Probiotic Supplement For Dogs
You can give your dog a human probiotic or a probiotic powder for dogs … just make sure it doesn’t have fillers, and use the information that follows to help you choose what you need.
Probiotic brands should guarantee the amount of colony forming units (CFU). This is a unit of measure to determine the number of bacterial cells in a probiotic supplement. Many of these little soldiers will die off as they work so you want to ensure you have high amounts like 6 or 10 billion CFUs, or higher. Vet recommended probiotics for dogs should meet these requirements as well. Despite clever marketing, probiotic yogurt for dogs, or even people, might not list CFUs so you know they’re minimal.
In your search for probiotics you’ll find there are various products such as a probiotic chew for dogs, liquid probiotics for dogs, probiotic paste for dogs and probiotic bites for dogs. You want to check ingredient labels to make sure they aren’t filled with inactive, non-essential ingredients like starches and sugars.
How To Dose Probiotics For Dogs
The amount of probiotic you give your dog depends on the type of probiotic you choose. For the lactic acid bacteria, you’ll want to look for a supplement with several strains. Most studies on probiotics use a mix of strains because results with single strains aren’t as good.
Because lactic acid bacteria are easily destroyed in the gut, you will need a product with a large number of CFU. You’ll usually want to see at least 10 billion CFU for any live probiotics to survive in your dog’s gut. This is fine for healthy dogs, but if your dog has digestive or immune problems, then look for about 25-50 billion CFU for a medium to large sized dog.
Saccharomyces boulardii is much hardier than the dairy based probiotics, so a smaller amount can be given. In general, you can give a half billion to 5 billion CFU.
If you’re considering a spore forming dog probiotic, you can also use a smaller amount of CFU because they easily survive the gut acidity. Look for about 1 billion CFU.
Is it OK to give my dog probiotics daily?
Most dogs would do well with a daily probiotic, especially dogs eating kibble or a high starch diet. However, dogs with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or dogs with excessive gas should not take probiotics daily.
What do vets say about probiotics for dogs?
Most vets are fine with giving dogs probiotics and many even sell them in their own clinics. They will usually just want you to give your dog a probiotic with well researched strains.
Do Probiotics Have Side Effects?
For the most part, probiotics for dogs are a completely safe supplement that have numerous safety studies. The most frequent side effects are digestive upset, gas and bloating.
The more frequently found issue with probiotics is that they don’t work. SIBO is one condition where probiotics for dogs might not be the best approach to health:
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO)
Most of your dog’s bacteria are meant to live in his colon. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) happens when abnormally large numbers of bacteria take up residence in the small intestine. These bacteria can interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption in the small intestine. It’s estimated that about 80% of people with chronic digestive issues actually have SIBO. And the number in dogs might be just as high.
Because SIBO is an overgrowth of bacteria, giving your dog probiotics will be like adding fuel to the fire … depending on the probiotic. So if your dog’s symptoms get worse with probiotics, it could be a sign he has SIBO.
Spore forming (soil based) bacteria are a better choice if you suspect your dog has SIBO. These probiotics have a protective coating that allows them to stay in their spore state until their environment is safe. This allows them to pass through the small intestine and colonize in the colon.
How Long Should Dogs Be On Probiotics?
If your dog has diarrhea, then a high CFU lactic acid probiotic should help within a few days. But it’s best to continue the probiotics for a few weeks, to help resolve the underlying gut issues.
If your dog has chronic diarrhea or a digestive disorder, then a good multi-strain probiotic with gut-soothing herbs is a good choice. In this case, you’ll want to keep your dog on the probiotics long-term or until the diarrhea completely resolves.
If you’re giving probiotics for dogs as part of a preventative health plan, then you can give them most days. Soil based probiotics are typically a better choice for everyday probiotics since they are less likely to cause SIBO.
You can easily bolster your dog’s health with easy-to-use probiotics. And they can be an important addition to his diet, especially if he’s ever had antibiotics or drugs, if he’s ever eaten cooked or processed food or if he suffers from allergies, digestive upset or many other common immune-related health issues.
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