Probiotics have become very popular supplements on the market today – for people. But did you know they are equally valuable for your dog?
We're not talking about feeding your human probiotics to your pup – don't do that, it could be a serious mistake. Canine needs are much different from yours as far as beneficial gut bacteria are concerned. Our pets have strains of bacteria that are unique to them. In fact, one of the best and most efficient strains for your dog is considered a pathogen for humans! For best results, dogs need organisms that come from their own species and have been tested for effectiveness in dogs.
First, a short primer on natural probiotics for dogs. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. There are certain species that thrive in dogs: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus.
Where they live in your dog’s gut often depends upon the strain. Some of these, such as Lactobacillus, live chiefly in your dog’s small intestine, while others, such as Bifidobacterium, reside in your pet’s colon or large intestine.
Natural probiotic products for dogs introduce “good” bacteria and allow them to take up residence in your dog’s gut. With greater numbers of beneficial bacteria, the “bad” guys can’t flourish and multiply as well. In other words, probiotics help bring your dog’s gut microorganisms into a healthy balance.
Probiotics nourish your dog’s gut flora, aid digestion, and even helps keep his immune system working well. They do this by producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which can help inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens. SCFAs also provide other benefits to your dog’s intestines.
By nourishing and strengthening your dog’s gut membrane, probiotics may help prevent allergens from passing through the gut into the bloodstream where they can cause widespread inflammation in the body. In fact, if your dog doesn’t have enough good gut bacteria, or if the balance is off, he may be at an increased risk for disease!
Not too many years ago, if you asked your traditional vet about giving your dog probiotics, you might have received a blank look. While holistic vets have known about and used natural probiotics for dogs for decades, probiotics have remained outside the traditional community – until recently.
Now, increasing numbers of vets and even shelters use probiotics for many purposes:
Even veterinary students are finally being taught about the value of probiotics for maintaining healthy digestion and promoting health – good news for our pets!
Luckily, there are probiotic products on the market today that taste fairly neutral, or even flavorful, to your dog, so getting your dog to accept them shouldn’t be a problem. The best way to feed them is to simply mix them into wet food. Look to the bottom of this post for a couple of good examples.
If you are still feeding your dog dry kibble, take advantage of this opportunity to introduce your dog to a healthier diet of moist foods. Try feeding some species-specific raw diet you prepare yourself or a commercially prepared wet canned or frozen food. There are many benefits for your pet with moister, more natural foods.
What if your pet’s dry food claims it contains natural probiotics for dogs? Be very suspicious! All dry kibble is heat-treated and heat destroys many of the natural or even added enzymes or probiotics. Remember, the bacteria in a probiotic must be live and able to reproduce in order to do its job in your pet's GI tract. A heat-treated food will render the probiotics useless.
Even if probiotics are added to pet food after being treated with heat, the other processing methods used to package the food and extended shelf life of processed diets can damage the probiotics. Just opening and closing the package each day to feed your dog can affect live, active probiotics (if there were any there to start with!).
More than likely, if the manufacturer does add probiotics to a processed food, the quantities won’t be anywhere near high enough to help your pet’s gut flora in any meaningful way. Keep in mind that probiotics must get to your dog’s intestine where they do their work. Many cheap, ineffective probiotics only get as far as the stomach and the acids can make them useless.
You’ll find a wide range of dog probiotic products with varying number of strains and number of organisms. Probiotics are measured by colony forming units (CFUs), the higher the better.
Just a quick word about expiration dates… Because natural probiotics for dogs should contain live active probiotic strains, the expiration date is important. Never waste your money on any dog probiotic that doesn’t have an expiration date! That may be a serious tipoff to the quality of the product. Always follow package instructions for storage.
Look for a probiotic designed specifically for dogs and cats with at least several strains and high CFUs. Many products contain only a couple of strains – these may offer your pet only minimal benefit because the strains are so limited. When you feed a concentrated formula with many stains, there’s a much greater chance the organisms will survive and reach the small intestine where they’re most effective.
Few studies have been done to determine ideal dosages, but you want a probiotic formula that provides at least 4 billion CFUs, or preferably higher per serving. High CFUs help guarantee that your pet will receive adequate probiotics.
Follow the directions on the label, and if your pet, especially a small dog, develops loose stools, reduce the dosage slightly.
You can feed probiotics either mixed into your pet’s food or between meals wrapped up in a bite of treat. If giving them between meals, aim for feeding them after your dog has taken a drink of water as that may help dilute his stomach acid and move the probiotics more quickly into the digestive tract. Probiotics may be given short-term or long-term, but long-term use is ideal.
These strains have been found to be useful for dogs.
Bifidobacterium lactis: A friendly bacteria often found in yogurt that is known to help stimulate immune responses.
Bifidobacterium animalis: A unique bacteria that promotes optimal health and protection within the digestive tract. Has been shown to reduce the time for acute diarrhea to resolve in dogs.
Lactobacillus acidophilus: Guards the health of your pet's entire digestive tract. May improve frequency and quality of stools in dogs with sensitive systems.
Bifidobacterium longum: Keeps your pet's digestive system running smoothly, and helps enhance their immune system.
Bifidobacterium bifidum: Helps promote a healthy balance of flora in your pet's intestine and is especially useful for enhancing immune response.
Lactobacillus casei: Works with other helpful organisms, and helps to encourage the growth of other "good" bacteria.
Lactobacillus plantarum: Helps ensure that the nutrients in vitamins and supplements are getting to your pet's cells.
Lactobacillus rhamnosus: Assists your pet's elimination and occasional intestinal discomfort by working to stabilize their intestinal microflora. Is one of the highest concentrated bacteria found in normal healthy dog gut flora, and can help crowd out the bad, pathogenic bacteria.
Lactobacillus bulgaricus: Works with other Lactobacillus strains to provide your pet with a potential source of dietary antioxidants.
Bacillus coagulans: Helps enhance your pet's intestinal health and provides back-up for sporadic intestinal discomfort.
Look for a probiotic that contains as many of these valuable strains as possible. As you can see, just settling for a couple of strains can rob your dog of important potential benefits!
Refrigeration or not? A well-formulated, dry, stabilized probiotic doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and refrigeration doesn’t mean it’s a better product when it comes to dog probiotics. When the dry bacteria are reconstituted in your pet’s GI tract, they can go to work and multiply many times over.
One last word, try to avoid formulas that include magnesium stearate. While it may sound like a desirable mineral, it can be potentially harmful to your pet’s intestine and may even prevent the absorption of nutrients. It’s an additive that’s added to some formulas as a “flow agent” to keep ingredients from sticking to equipment during processing. Good for the processor but not ideal for your pet!