Do dogs need probiotics? What the research says

From humans to animals, probiotics are having a moment. The microbiome is a hot topic, and for good reason — it can affect your immune system, brain function, and digestion. And if you have a dog at home, you have the added concern of making sure there is an appropriate balance of bacteria in all of that fur.

Although pet probiotics are not as popular as their human counterparts, you can still find a plethora of canine probiotics. Surprisingly, according to Explodingtopics.com, about one in four dogs takes a probiotic. But does your dog need one?

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living organisms (microorganisms) that, when administered in appropriate amounts, provide health benefits to the host. Probiotics can be bacteria or yeast. The term “probiotic” comes from the Greek words pro and biota, meaning “for life.”

In humans and animals, probiotics are abundant in the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and vagina. They’re sometimes called “friendly bacteria” because when ingested, they help maintain a healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut. They also help with nutrient absorption and gut health. There is also evidence that the composition of the gut ecosystem may play a role in immune health and weight control.

Humans and animals can get probiotics from certain foods, such as fermented foods, or by taking a probiotic supplement. Commercial dog food does not contain probiotics or prebiotics, fermentable fibers that feed probiotic bacteria and help them thrive. So dogs don’t get many of these friendly bacteria from eating a diet of commercial dog food.

Does Your Dog Need Probiotics?

Research suggests that probiotics may benefit dogs with certain health conditions. According to the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, probiotics may be helpful for dogs with conditions such as:

  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • Other digestive problems
  • Poor fur quality
  • Bad breath
  • skin diseases
  • urinary tract infection
  • obesity
  • allergies

The question is whether dogs can benefit from a probiotic supplement to maintain a healthier gut microbiome or to prevent health problems. Since 70% or more of a dog’s immune system (and human immune system) resides in the gut, probiotics could be beneficial for maintaining immune and digestive balance. It is unclear at this point whether probiotics can prevent health problems in dogs.

Veterinarians also point out that giving a dog a probiotic during times of stress, such as B. when boarding, can be beneficial, as stress can lead to disturbances in the gut microbiome and gut health. Also, during antibiotic therapy, probiotics can reduce the incidence of diarrhea, a common side effect of antibiotics. However, talk to your dog’s veterinarian first.

Some concerns about canine probiotics

One concern with available probiotics for dogs is whether the bacteria will survive in high enough amounts during storage to be of benefit. When giving your dog a probiotic, do your research first and buy one from a reputable company that tests the quality of their products. Veterinarians recommend that a dog gets between 1 and 10 billion colony forming units (CFU) per day.

Some companies that make probiotics for dogs take an extra step and encapsulate their probiotic bacteria in microcapsules to increase their ability to survive. If you’re shopping for a probiotic supplement, don’t stock up. The longer you store the product, the greater the loss of viable probiotic bacteria. In a study that looked at 26 probiotic products, only 2 had the amount of probiotic bacteria advertised on the label.

What about food sources of probiotics?

Another way to optimize a dog’s gut microbiome is to feed them fermented foods that contain active probiotic bacteria. They have a wide range including yoghurt, kefir and fermented vegetables like fresh sauerkraut. A tablespoon of any of these foods in your dog’s diet will help seed his gut with probiotic bacteria that he doesn’t get from commercial dog food. It’s best to introduce these foods into your dog’s diet slowly, as adding fermented foods too quickly can cause diarrhea and stomach upset.

The final result

Dogs that eat commercial dog food can easily suffer from constipation, diarrhea and other gut problems, and these foods do not contain probiotics for gut health. Your dog can benefit from a probiotic, especially if he has digestive issues, but choose his probiotic wisely to ensure it contains viable organisms. Giving your dog fermented food daily is another way to support their gut microbiome and digestive health.

References:

  1. ExplodingTopics.com. “Canine Probiotics”
  2. “Prebiotics and Probiotics for Dogs and Cats – Today….” todaysveterinarynurse.com/articles/prebiotics-and-probiotics-for-dogs-and-cats/.
  3. “Clinical Effect of Probiotics in the Prevention or Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disease in Dogs: A Systematic Review” by Anders P. Jensen and Charlotte R. Bjørnvad, July 16, 2019, Journal of Veterinary Medicine.
    DOI: 10.1111/jvim.15554
  4. “Understanding the canine intestinal microbiota and its modification by pro-, pre- and synbiotics – what is the evidence?” by Silke Schmitz and Jan Suchodolski, January 11, 2016, Veterinary Medicine and Science.
    DOI: 10.1002/vms3.17
  5. The power of probiotics. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Published July 8, 2021. Accessed March 1, 2022. vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/canine-health-center/health-info/power-probiotics

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