By: Teresa Manucy, DVM
We’re just beginning to understand the benefits of probiotics for dogs.
What we do know is that probiotics for dogs can:
- Aid digestion
- Modulate the immune system
- Provide intestinal benefits by producing short-chain fatty acids, which inhibit harmful bacteria
They may also:
- Treat diarrhea, irritable bowel, and intestinal inflammation
- Prevent urinary tract infections
- Reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation
Here’s a breakdown on probiotics for dogs—from what they are and the types of probiotics to their benefits and what they can be used for.
What Are Probiotics for Dogs?
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. Billions of these bacteria (and some yeast) live in the gastrointestinal system of animals. These healthy gut bacteria balance the internal environment to prevent disease and promote health.
They perform tasks like:
- Helping to break down food
- Making nutrients and vitamins
- Fighting off potential pathogens
- Strengthening immunity
What Are Prebiotics?
You may have also heard of prebiotics. So what’s the difference between the two? Prebiotics are types of fiber that nourish and promote the growth of good bacteria already living in the colon. In other words, prebiotics feed probiotics. Prebiotics are usually found in high-fiber foods.
Do Dogs Need Probiotics?
Probiotics are prescribed for maintaining a desirable intestinal microbial balance. A generally healthy dog should be able to maintain the balance of digestive microbes naturally. But during times of stress, illness, or malnutrition, an imbalance can occur. Many dogs respond well to a supplement of beneficial microbes to bring the digestive microflora back in balance.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs?
Studies have shown1 that certain species of probiotics may have specific benefits for dogs.
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help to:
- Manage yeast and support the immune system
- Prevent anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Affect mood and emotions
- Improve diarrhea and food allergies
Bacillus species can also support the immune response.
Can You Use Probiotics for Dog Diarrhea?
Yes, probiotics can be used to improve dog diarrhea caused by:
- Stress colitis from boarding, moving, or any disruption in routine
- Sudden changes to your dog’s diet, like eating a new or unusual food
- A bacterial imbalance from long-term antibiotic use
Infections that cause a bacterial overgrowth may clear with probiotic use as well.
Can Puppies Take Probiotics?
Yes, puppies can take dog-specific probiotics. This will help their developing balance of intestinal bacteria to support a healthy immune system and reduce the incidence of diarrhea, constipation, and infections of the digestive tract.
Types of Probiotics for Dogs
Probiotics for dogs come in several forms. Some dog foods even include probiotics in the list of ingredients. If you look at the guaranteed analysis section on a package of dog food with probiotics, you will see the type and quantity of bacteria added.
Species-specific strains include Enterococcus faecium and Bacillus coagulans. Other probiotic strains that have helped improve stool quality and consistency in dogs include Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Dog probiotic supplements are produced as powders, capsules, and chews. Each are labeled with recommendations on dosage and frequency of use.
Can Dogs Take Human Probiotics?
Yes, dogs can take human probiotics; they are not harmful to pets. However, they do not provide the same benefits as a species-specific supplement. The dog-specific bacteria may be found in combination with similar bacterial strains found in human supplements.
Can Dogs Eat Yogurt and Other Foods With Probiotics?
Some human foods, like yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, have live cultures that may benefit some dogs. Be sure to read the labels of human foods carefully to select plain, unsweetened varieties that do not contain artificial sweeteners, especially xylitol, which is toxic to animals.
Limit quantities of probiotic foods for dogs to these ranges:
- 1 teaspoon per day for small dogs
- 2 teaspoons per day for medium-sized dogs
- 3 teaspoons per day for large dogs or giant-breed dogs
Do Probiotics Have Side Effects for Dogs?
Some dogs may experience digestive discomfort, diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation, or nausea when starting probiotics. A digestive symptom may temporarily get worse before it improves. Changes in appetite may be an early indicator of an adverse reaction.