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Nutritional Probiotics for Dogs

If you've ever eaten yogurt or put sauerkraut on your hot dog, you've gotten a dose of probiotics—and you might not have even known it. These tiny, naturally occurring organisms have become a human health trend and a multibillion-dollar industry. Now, probiotics for dogs are gaining popularity as pet parents search for natural remedies for common pup problems.

Are probiotics right for your dog? And how do you know what to give them? Let's dig into the facts behind probiotic bacteria for dogs.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are natural, microscopic organisms that live in your dog's gut. They're primarily bacteria but include some types of yeast, and they're part of your dog's microbiome. The microbiome is a "community" of sorts—it's made up of all the microorganisms in the digestive tract that work together to regulate and balance their environment, just like an organ.

Your dog has billions of probiotics living in their gut at any given time. These healthy bacteria are live organisms that "eat" fiber and then eliminate short-chain fatty acids as waste. These short-chain fatty acids are essential to gut health and can provide many of the benefits of probiotics for dogs. They play a part in:

  • Forming the mucus layer and lining of the gut
  • Lowering glucose levels
  • Creating T-cells—an important part of the immune system
  • Crowding out harmful bacteria
  • Making and absorbing nutrients
  • Breaking down food
  • Producing mood chemicals like serotonin

Probiotics are busy little organisms, and it's easy to see why some pet parents' interest in natural probiotics for dogs is rising.

When should you give your dog probiotics?

Because they're so vital to the digestive tract, many dogs can benefit from probiotics even if they don't currently suffer from a health issue. However, probiotics for dogs are often recommended when there is an obvious imbalance in the gut. Imbalances can be temporary—for example, when they are caused by stress due to moving, boarding or a diet change. They can also be long-term due to old age, medications and chronic illnesses.

If your pup is suffering from a digestive disorder—whether temporary or long-term— probiotic bacteria for dogs can help them, but you should consult your veterinarian to be sure you get to the root of the problem. You can also combine probiotics with other dog vitamins and supplements as part of their general health and wellness routine. Probiotics for dogs may even be able to prevent some gut problems before they start.

Are there side effects of probiotics for dogs?

Probiotics are generally appropriate for most dogs, but there's always a small risk of adverse symptoms. Dog probiotic side effects can include upset stomach, diarrhea, constipation, gas, nausea or changes in appetite and lack of interest in their usual dog toys or activities. These usually occur when a dog has just started probiotics and may improve over time. However, you should consult your veterinarian if your pup shows any of these symptoms.

What do probiotics do for dogs?

As in humans, probiotics can help improve a variety of issues in dogs. Here are the most common uses of probiotics for dogs.

General digestion aid

Thanks to their crucial role in gut health, probiotics are often given to dogs—and humans—as a general aid for digestion. Even if you don't notice a glaring issue, things like gurgling, noisy tummies or stool that is very soft or hard can be improved by probiotics for dogs. As dogs get older, probiotics are often given to help prevent any digestive problems before they start.

Upset stomach and diarrhea

Diarrhea is one of the most common issues that lead pet parents to discover probiotics. Probiotics for dogs with diarrhea can help restore balance to the digestive tract. If your dog has diarrhea due to a specific cause—like stress or diet changes— probiotics can help within a few days. However, you'll want to keep administering probiotics for several weeks to get to the root of the problem. Dogs with chronic diarrhea can be given probiotics long-term.

Urinary tract infections

UTIs occur when unhealthy bacteria invade the lining of the urinary tract. Probiotics can help by producing good bacteria that crowd out the bad and discourages its growth. Your veterinarian will also likely prescribe an antibiotic prescription medication for dogs, which should wipe out good bacteria and bad. Probiotics for dogs can help to restore balance.

Inflammation

Harmful bacteria in the digestive tract can significantly influence other systems in the body, including the autoimmune response. In humans, probiotics may help reduce inflammation caused by disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. While probiotics haven't been conclusively proven to do the same in canines, it could be worth looking into probiotics as an anti-inflammatory for dogs if your pup suffers from arthritis or other disorders related to inflammation.

Immune support

Healthy bacteria interact with various cells in the gut to produce cytokines— chemicals secreted by the immune system. That's why they're often given for immune support in dogs with chronic diseases. Probiotics for dogs may even help allergies, which are an overreaction of the immune system to a particular substance.   

Anxiety and stress

This might be the most surprising advantage for pet parents. While the effects are still being studied, the benefits of natural probiotics for dogs suffering from anxiety are showing promise. A study from Purina showed that a specific strain of good bacteria—Bifidobacterium longum—can help reduce chronic anxiety. Researchers theorize that a healthy microbiome can better regulate the stress response, which can affect feelings of anxiety.  

Types and sources of probiotics for dogs

A healthy microbiome is made up of billions of bacteria, which may come from hundreds or even thousands of different species. In fact, to be considered healthy, this diversity is required. Here are the probiotic bacteria for dogs you're likely to come across.

  • Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium These are by far the most common types of probiotics. They're lactic acid bacteria that come from fermented milk. Lactobacillus lives in the intestine, while Bifidobacterium lives in the colon. Both help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and support the immune system.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii A probiotic yeast with a rare trait—it isn't affected by antibiotics. It's used to treat diarrhea in both humans and dogs and may help with inflammatory digestive issues.
  • Bacilli strains Spore-forming probiotics that are not as susceptible to heat, antibiotics and stomach acids. They're anti-inflammatory and help strengthen the immune system.

Can a dog take human probiotics? They can, but they will benefit more from taking a probiotic formulated for dogs. What about giving your dog yogurt as a probiotic? Not a great idea. Most dogs aren't used to eating dairy, and yogurt is also usually high in sugar, so it can actually cause an upset stomach rather than preventing one. While dogs shouldn’t eat yogurt containing lactose which can be difficult for them to digest, there are dog-friendly yogurt treats and dog probiotics and digestive aids available.  

Probiotic chews for dogs

A popular choice because they're easy to administer—most dogs will gladly eat them. They don't make much of a mess, and there are plenty of quality brands from which to choose. 

Probiotic Dog Chews

Probiotic powder for dogs

This can be easily blended into food if your pup has dental issues. It often comes flavored and is easy to "hide" from your dog—sometimes, they won't even know they're eating their vitamins. 

Probiotic Powder for Dogs

Dog Food

Another good option for digestive health. Many dog foods come with enzymes and probiotics added as part of a special diet formula.  

Dog Food with Probiotics

Buying and storing probiotics for dogs

Now that you know why pet parents buy probiotics for dogs, there are still just a few things to know about what you should do during and after your visit to your neighborhood Petco Pet Care Center or shopping online.

  • Look at the guaranteed analysis The ingredients will list the types of probiotics in the supplement, but the guaranteed analysis should also tell you the quantity. Probiotics are measured in colony-forming units—or CFUs—and around 95 million CFUs are typical for dog formulas.
  • Check the expiration date Because probiotics are living organisms, the expiration date is important. Look at the dosage for your dog's weight and make sure they won't expire before you run out.
  • Store them properly Probiotics for dogs are sensitive to moisture and temperature extremes, so it's recommended to store them in a cool, dry place.

Natural probiotics for dogs have many benefits and few side effects. If you've been considering adding them to your dog's diet, it could be worth trying in small doses. Your pup's tummy should feel better—and that means you'll feel better, too. 

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