Most pet guardians want nothing more than long lives for their four-legged friends, and will do anything to try to ensure their continued health — including offering them supplements like probiotics. So, let’s talk about probiotics for dogs. Are probiotics for dogs beneficial and safe for our pups?
According to Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, veterinarian and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide, probiotics for dogs are “good bacteria.” Dr. Richter says that probiotics for dogs can provide an array of benefits for your pooch, ranging from improved gastrointestinal health to a stronger immune system.
“In the wild, animals are eating things that contain bacteria … but in our world, food is pretty much scrubbed clean,” he explains. “We’ve found there’s a real benefit to supplementing the canine diet with beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics.”
Found in supplements and certain foods, probiotics are live microorganisms in the form of bacteria and yeasts that live in various parts of your dog’s body, including the gastrointestinal tract. Both human and canine bodies are full of bacteria — probiotics are considered to be “good” bacteria because they keep the gut healthy and counteract “bad” bacteria that can cause issues ranging from infections to serious illnesses.
According to Dr. Sarah Bahan, DVM, a veterinarian practicing at University Veterinary Hospital and Diagnostic Center in Utah, examples of probiotics are fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, and other fermented foods, like sauerkraut and tempeh. Probiotic supplements can be purchased in small pouches, in which the microorganisms exist in a dormant state.
“Probiotics are actual colonies of living microorganisms that are considered beneficial to a well-balanced gut flora (measured as colony-forming units, or CFUs),” Dr. Bahan explains. “Probiotics are products that help maintain a healthy GI microbiome, thus contributing to the overall health of an organism … whether it be a person or their Golden Retriever.”
Probiotics are believed to aid in the digestion of food, make nutrients and vitamins, fight off potential pathogens and boost the immune system. When beneficial microbes are damaged or destroyed, symptoms like stomach upset or other health issues may occur — which is why many veterinarians are encouraging the use of probiotics to help boost the production of beneficial bacteria in a dog’s body.
“New studies establishing the importance of the trillions of microorganisms that live on and in our bodies are being published every day and a lot of them are focusing on the value of our gastrointestinal biota, also known as gut flora, in particular,” Dr. Bahan says. “Our GI systems are naturally full of symbiotic microbes such as bacteria, fungi and parasites that aid in the digestion of our food, provide essential nutrients and protect us from harmful pathogens … microbiomes are not unique to people, and our pets benefit from their own suites of microflora as well.”
Beyond an improvement in GI symptoms such as gas, soft stool or vomiting, Dr. Richter adds that probiotics for dogs can help decrease the overall level of inflammation in your pet’s body. “When used in conjunction with other therapies, probiotics can help improve issues like allergies or arthritis,” he says.
Dr. Jenifer Preston, a holistic veterinarian practicing in Washington, notes that if your pet is on a balanced, high-quality diet, she may not necessarily need the additional supplement of probiotics. “Now that there’s a trend of people starting to feed their pets a raw diet, those pet owners may want to consider adding probiotics as a tool to aid in their dog’s digestion,” she advises.
While there are numerous probiotic supplements on the market — Dr. Richter notes that it’s safe to offer your dog a probiotic formulated for humans — there are also some foods known to have probiotic qualities, such as yogurt or kefir with live cultures. Supplements may come in the form of chews, powders or capsules, and contain certain kinds of bacteria often found in the canine GI tract, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus casei, Enterococcus faecium, and Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium breve.
“The main risk from giving dogs probiotic supplements stems from the fact that not all of these products are as well-regulated as drugs — so the source, efficacy and accuracy of labels is not guaranteed,” Dr. Bahan adds. She notes that at least one veterinary school study showed that only a fraction of probiotics labeled for pets included the type and amount of CFUs that they claimed on the label. “The safest, and so far most efficacious, products for pets are those labeled for human use,” she says.
“If you’d prefer not to give your pet a supplement, incorporating foods with natural probiotic qualities, like yogurt and cottage cheese, into your pet’s diet isn’t a bad idea,” Dr. Preston adds.
Discuss probiotics for dogs and any other supplements with your pet’s veterinarian. Dr. Lisa Brienen, DVM, a certified veterinary homeopath practicing at Mercy Vet on Mercer Island, Washington notes that pet guardians with dogs who have certain issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease or severe acute digestive disease, should partner with their veterinarian to ensure their pet has had a complete diagnostic work up when starting or continuing the use of probiotic supplements.
“There are various types of supplements that are available for animals, and probiotics may be the one that’s most ubiquitously recommended,” Dr. Richter concludes. “You almost can’t lose with a good quality probiotic because it’s almost guaranteed to improve your pet’s GI health … and negative reactions are few and far between.”
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