Probiotics for Dogs: A Nutritional Tool to Support Your Best Friend’s Health

Have you ever considered giving your dog a probiotic? If you’re familiar with the benefits of probiotics for humans, you’ll be glad to know that they can be just as beneficial for our furry friends. Probiotics are “friendly” gut-dwelling microbes, including bacteria and yeasts, that reside in the gastrointestinal system. They play a crucial role in digestion, immune system function, and overall health. Probiotics for dogs are a nutritional tool worth considering to support the well-being of your beloved pet.

Boosting Beneficial Bacteria

Sometimes, the balance of beneficial microbes in a dog’s gut can be disrupted, leading to various issues such as stomach upset and a decline in overall health. If your dog experiences diarrhea or seems to get sick frequently without any apparent reason, your veterinarian might suggest using methods to boost beneficial bacteria. Two popular options are:

  • Prebiotics: These are nutrients designed to nourish and promote the growth of good bacteria that are already present in the colon.
  • Probiotics: Also known as “direct-fed microbials” by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), probiotics are live bacteria that can be beneficial to your dog’s gut health.

Different Forms of Probiotics

Probiotic products for dogs come in various forms, including:

  • Yogurt or Kefir with Live Cultures: Not all yogurt cultures are created equal, so it’s important to choose yogurt with live cultures. Opt for unsweetened, plain yogurt, and be sure to read labels carefully to avoid artificial sweeteners.
  • Powders
  • Capsules
  • Chews
  • Dog Foods
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These products usually contain bacteria strains that are commonly found in the canine gut, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecium, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium breve.

How to Purchase and Care for Probiotics

When selecting a probiotic product for your dog, it’s crucial to be mindful of a few key factors. Gail Czarnecki-Maulden, Ph.D., a senior research nutritionist for Nestle Purina and one of the developers of FortiFlora, emphasizes the importance of preserving the delicate nature of probiotics. These living bacteria have adapted to thrive within the gastrointestinal tract, so exposure to air, moisture, or extreme temperatures can damage their viability.

To ensure the effectiveness of the product, consider the following:

  • Packaging: Some probiotic products are sold in individual serving packets to protect their viability.
  • Temperature Conditions: Avoid purchasing probiotics during extremely hot weather and be cautious about leaving them in a hot car for extended periods.
  • Product Label: Look for specific probiotic strains listed on the package, as different strains have varying benefits. Also, check the guaranteed analysis to determine how many live bacteria will be present at the end of the shelf life, and be aware of the use-before date.

When to Use Probiotics

Probiotics are often recommended for maintaining a desirable balance of intestinal microbes, particularly when an animal is stressed or sick. Disruptions in this balance can result in diarrhea, gas, cramping, and bad breath.

Some common triggers for digestive disorders in dogs include:

  • Infection or bacterial imbalance
  • Stress: Similar to humans, dogs can experience colitis due to emotional stress caused by situations like boarding, moving, or losing a home. Probiotics have shown promise in clearing up diarrhea in shelter dogs.
  • Diet: Abrupt changes in diet or consuming spoiled food can also lead to digestive issues.
  • Old age
  • Medications: Antibiotics and long-term steroid use can disrupt the balance of good bacteria and cause diarrhea.
  • Parasites
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Consider giving your healthy dog a probiotic if they are prone to developing diarrhea during stressful situations, such as attending a show or being boarded. Additionally, puppies who experience diarrhea after training classes or vet visits may benefit from a few days of probiotics before the event to help prepare their digestive system.

Do Probiotics Work?

While anecdotal evidence exists to support the effectiveness of probiotics for dogs, some scientific studies also indicate their benefits. Probiotics have been shown to enhance immune responses in growing dogs and reduce the duration of diarrhea. In one study, supplementation with a specific strain of Bifidobacterium animalis reduced the duration of diarrhea from seven to four days, eliminating the need for antibiotic treatment by around 10% compared to a placebo.

By incorporating probiotics into your dog’s diet, you can provide them with the support they need to maintain a healthy intestinal microbial balance, promote digestion, and bolster their overall well-being.

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