By Aurus Sy
Published: 08/16/2023, edited: 08/18/2023
Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
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If you’ve ever skimmed the ingredients list on a bag of dog food, chances are you’ve seen some bacteria names on the list. Many dog foods include probiotics, or the friendly gut bacteria that’s present in all animals. Though we’re only beginning to understand the benefits of probiotics for dogs, these beneficial bacteria play an important role in the normal function and maintenance of your pup’s digestive health.
Should you give your dog probiotic supplements? How much probiotics do dogs need, and what are sources of probiotics for dogs? Let’s dive in to find out!
What are probiotics?
The word “probiotics” is derived from the Latin word “pro” meaning “for” and the Greek word “bio” meaning “life.” The World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) define probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”
These beneficial microorganisms, which include bacteria and yeast, live in the gastrointestinal system of all animals, including your canine companion. Sometimes these friendly gut-dwelling microbes are damaged or destroyed, resulting in stomach problems and a general decline in health, which is why many dog foods contain probiotics.
Probiotics that are added to dog food are usually bacteria that can be found in your pup’s gut, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecium, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus casei, and Bifidobacterium breve.
What do probiotics do for dogs?
While there still isn’t a lot of research on the effectiveness of dog probiotics, studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that dog probiotics can benefit a dog’s health in various ways.
Supports digestive health
Probiotics boost the healthy gut bacteria which break down food and are often used to treat diarrhea, indigestion, and gastrointestinal upset. Probiotics can support the gut microbiome when it has been disrupted by disease, medication, diet changes, or stressful events. Specifically, Enterococcus faecium may have a positive effect on dogs with intestinal problems according to one study, and Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium breve may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
Other studies found that young dogs who were fed a probiotic prior to traveling to a training kennel were less likely to experience loose stools, and that dogs who received a probiotic recovered from diarrhea 40% faster than those who didn’t.
About 70% of your dog’s immune system is in their gastrointestinal tract. By supporting and maintaining the good bacteria in your dog’s gut and keeping the bad bacteria in check, probiotics allow the immune system to function properly. A 2022 study found that Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Bifidobacterium animalis increased beneficial bacteria and decreased potentially harmful bacteria in young, senior, and training dogs.
Probiotics may be beneficial to a dog’s mental health as well. Because your dog’s brain and gastrointestinal tract are connected, maintaining a healthy gut can help with mental and emotional regulation. Research has found that Bifidobacterium longum alleviated symptoms of anxiety in dogs. Anxious dogs who were supplemented with the bacteria were less likely to bark, jump, spin, or pace in day-to-day situations, and were more likely to explore a new environment during a formal anxiety test.
Helps with various health conditions
Probiotics may also help with other conditions, including:
- Skin disorders
- Food allergies
- Bad breath
- Immune disorders
- Liver disease
- Intestinal inflammation
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Urinary tract infections
What’s the recommended amount of probiotics for dogs?
Vets recommend 1 to 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per day for dogs. The guaranteed analysis on most dog food labels won’t list the amount of CFUs, but the types of bacteria added will be included in the ingredients list.
Healthy sources of probiotics for dogs
There are several healthy food sources of probiotics for dogs, including fermented foods. These include:
- Plain yogurt
- Plain kefir
- Plain kombucha
- Unpasteurized sauerkraut
- Green tripe
Remember to always start with a small amount when introducing a new food to your dog. When giving your dog probiotic-rich foods, you’ll also want to include foods that have prebiotics, which will feed and nourish the good bacteria and make them more effective.
Foods that contain prebiotics include:
Probiotic supplements for dogs
According to a 2015 review of studies on probiotics for dogs and cats, probiotic supplementation has been proven to prevent and/or treat allergies, acute gastroenteritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In one study, Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus was found to have a positive effect on puppies who have a genetic predisposition to atopic dermatitis, even three years after probiotic supplementation was discontinued. Another study showed that probiotics had a protective effect on dogs with IBD and may successfully be used as therapy, although further research is recommended.
How often should I give my dog probiotic supplements?
You can give your dog probiotics days before a potentially stressful event, such as boarding, moving, traveling, or any disruption to your dog’s daily routine. You can also give your dog probiotics daily to support digestive health as they’re safe for long-term use.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplement. There are many kinds of probiotics available, and your vet may prescribe a particular product based on your dog’s health history.
Potential side effects
Since studies on probiotics for dogs is limited, information on possible side effects is also limited. However, dog probiotics are considered to be very safe, with few reported side effects. That being said, some dogs may experience side effects, particularly when they first start taking a probiotic supplement, such as:
Here are some other things you’ll want to consider when supplementing with probiotics.
- While human probiotics aren’t harmful to dogs, they may not provide the same benefits since the canine gut microbiome is different. Therefore, it’s better to choose a probiotic supplement that’s specifically for dogs, such as Proviable or Fortiflora.
- Probiotics contain delicate living things, so be mindful of temperature conditions when buying and storing them. Don’t go shopping and leave your probiotics sitting in a hot car for hours as they likely won’t survive, and store them in a cool, dry place away from light.
- Unless recommended by your vet, don’t give probiotics at the same time as antibiotics and antifungals as these may reduce their efficacy.
- Dogs who are severely immunocompromised should only be given probiotics under veterinary supervision as their bodies may not be able to handle the strain of any bacterial load regardless of pathogenicity.
Probiotics for dogs
- Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in your dog’s gastrointestinal system.
- Probiotics support and replenish damaged and destroyed microbes. Studies have shown that probiotics aid immune system and digestive health, and can even alleviate symptoms of anxiety in dogs.
- Aside from supplements, probiotics can be found added to dog food and in food sources such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.
- Probiotics are safe to take daily. The recommended amount for dogs is 1 to 10 billion CFUs per day.
- Always consult your vet before giving your dog a probiotic supplement.
Got more questions about probiotics for dogs? Chat with a veterinary professional to get answers any time of the day or night!