Probiotics are the “good” types of bacteria that play a role in supporting gut health and immune system function, both in humans and pets. There are trillions of microbes (bacteria and yeast) living in the gastrointestinal systems of all animals, including your dog, which is why probiotics for dogs can support their intestinal microbial balance.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s digestive health, perhaps because he/she struggles with common issues like diarrhea or food allergies, or if you’re just trying to be preventative when it come to your pet’s long-term health, you’ll want to consider giving your pooch a quality probiotic supplement.
What are the best probiotics for dogs?
It’s a good idea to give your dog at least several different types of probiotics, ideally along with prebiotics, since various strains live in different parts of the digestive tract and therefore have unique benefits.
Whether you choose to give your dog a probiotic powder, chew or feed (you’ll find more on the different types of products available below), you’ll want to purchase a brand that includes probiotic strains, such as Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus coagulans and Lactobacillus acidophilus — which have been shown to offer benefits like protection against infections, parasites and more.
What Are Probiotics for Dogs?
Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” In this case the host would be your dog.
Many benefits are now being attributed to the presence of probiotics in our guts and the guts of our pets. For example, there’s evidence that some probiotic benefits for dogs include inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause infections, treating diarrhea, reducing intestinal permeability and inflammation, decreasing allergies, and helping with nutrient absorption. Of course you want to focus on giving your pet a nutritious diet, and adding a probiotic to its feed can further boost your pet’s health, mood and appearance.
According to an article published in the Whole Dog Journal, probiotic species that are known to benefit dogs include:
- Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68)
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7)
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG)
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bifidobacterium breve
To date, much more research has focused on the positive attributes of probiotics given to humans compared to dogs. However, we do have some evidence about specific probiotic strains that seem to work best for improving microbial balance in canines.
There have been four bacterial strains/products have been examined by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for their safety and efficacy as probiotics in dogs, including two Enterococcus faecium strains (E. faecium NCIMB 10415 E1705, E. faecium NCIMB 10415 E1707), Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium sp. animalis.
What types of signs may indicate that your dog can benefit from a probiotic supplement?
- Infections, parasites or bacterial imbalance of microbes in the gut
- Stress, just like with humans
- Changes in diet, especially if they happen suddenly
- Eating food that is spoiled
- Old age
- Use of medications, such as antibiotics that can kill off probiotic good bacteria
5 Potential Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs
1. Can Help Treat Diarrhea and Constipation
Certain bacterial strains have been shown to help reduce the time for diarrhea to resolve in dogs. Two of the best probiotics for dogs with diarrhea seem to be Bifidobacterium animalis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (LGG). Some types may also be able to treat constipation by improving regularity of bowel movements (both frequency and quality of stools).
A 2010 study found that giving dogs the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium animalis reduced the duration of diarrhea from seven to four days and eliminated the need for antibiotic treatment by about 10 percent. In this study probiotics were given once daily starting when the puppies were approximately 6 months of age. B. animalis was administered for at least 12 consecutive weeks and was found to be both effective and well-tolerated.
2. Help Reduce Allergies
Giving your dog a probiotic supplement can help to decrease GI distress, gas, itching and bad breath that are associated with allergies. Studies suggest that two of the best probiotics for dogs with allergies or other types of immune system dysfunction are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These strains seem to help with supporting the immune system and warding off allergies, as well as increasing nutrient absorption and reducing diarrhea among dogs.
If your dog has allergies, speak to your vet about using a formula that will be safe and non-aggravating, such as a non-dairy probiotics intended for dogs.
3. Help Boost Immune Function and Protect Against Infections
Probiotic supplementation has been successful in certain studies in treating acute gastroenteritis and inflammatory bowel disease, obesity/overweight, uro-genital tract infections, Helicobacter gastritis and parasitic infections in dogs. Additionally, some strains have been shown to inhibit the growth and activity of certain types of harmful bacteria that can cause infections among pets, including E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens.
Some types offer protection against urinary tract infections in dogs, while others fight intestinal infections that can lead to diarrhea, irritable bowel and inflammatory/autoimmune responses. In addition to helping to treat GI abnormalities, probiotics for dogs may help prevent problems like obesity and liver disease.
4. May Improve Your Dog’s Mood and Behaviors
A healthier gut can translate to improved, stabilized moods in your pet, thanks to factors like decreased inflammation affecting the brain, enhanced nutrient absorption and better digestion.
5. Can Help Improve Your Dog’s Skin Health and Coat Appearance
While this benefit may not be as important as the others when it comes to protecting your dog’s health, a daily probiotic supplement may lead to improved breath and a healthier appearance for your pet. It make your pet’s coat thicker and shinier and skin less itchy and dry.
How to Use Probiotics for Dogs (Plus Dosage Recommendations)
You may wonder, what probiotic can I give my dog?
There are now a number of different types of probiotics supplements made for dogs/pets that are available online and in pet food stores. These include:
- Powdered probiotics, which can be added to your dog’s food each day
- Probiotics in commercial foods. These may be referred to as “direct-fed microbials,” which are regulated by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials)
- Refrigerated capsules or liquid, which can be broken open if need be and added to your dog’s meals or homemade dog treats
- Freeze-dried probiotics
- Probiotic chews
Are “human probiotics” for dogs safe?
In most cases, yes. Some people choose to give their dogs the same probiotic supplements they take themselves, although the dosage may need to be adjusted depending on the size of the dog. It’s usually safe to give human probiotics in a full dosage to dogs weighing 40 pounds or more, but less needs to be given to dogs that weigh less. A sign that your dog is taking too high of a dose if is it starts experiencing diarrhea/loose stools. That being said, some veterinarians recommend that pet owners opt for a probiotic that is specially made for dogs, since these should contain the most effective strains and doses.
Look for information on probiotic supplements stating how many live bacteria there will be at the end of the shelf life. When it comes to storing probiotics it’s important to read label recommendations carefully, since certain species need to be refrigerated in order to survive and remain effective. Also check the expiration date of any supplement you’re considering purchasing. Keep probiotic supplements in a cool place tightly sealed in order to keep moisture away from (especially from powdered products).
Probiotics can be taken either with food or on an empty stomach, although they may be most effective when taken alone without food, in between meals. That said, if you’re giving probiotics to your dog to help manage digestive issues, they should be taken with meals. If giving your dog probiotics between meals, try giving them with some water. This can help dilute stomach acid, making it easier for the strains to survive as they move through the digestive tract.
Do dogs need probiotics every day?
Probiotics can be taken by dogs either short term or long term, depending on their health and reaction. It’s best to follow label suggestions for dosage and duration of use, since every product works a bit differently, and/or to ask your veterinarian his or her opinion.
Another tip for boosting the effectiveness of probiotics for dogs is also giving your pet a prebiotic supplement, which contains ingredients that essentially help “feed” probiotic bacteria so they can thrive in the gut. Prebiotics are selectively fermented in the gastrointestinal tract. This allows specific changes in the composition and activity of the healthy microbiota found in probiotic supplements. When probiotics and prebiotics are taken together, it is called a “synbiotic,” suggesting a synergistic relationship between the two.
Finally, consider giving your dog probiotics in the natural form of fermented foods, such as cultured veggies, or goat’s milk yogurt or kefir, which are usually safe for dogs to eat.
Potential Side Effects
What potential issues can giving your dog probiotics cause? For example, can a dog “overdose” on probiotics? Can probiotics give my dog diarrhea instead of helping resolve it?
Probiotics are generally considered to be safe, low-risk and well-tolerated for dogs when taken in recommended amounts. However, in some cases possible probiotics for dogs side effects can include:
- Gas and bloating
- Diarrhea/loose stools
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Allergic reactions
Start with a low dose of probiotics to give your dog time to adjust. If you suspect that your dog is reacting poorly to probiotics, then you should try changing the dose and species. Speak with your vet if you have any major concerns and notice that side effects are not getting better. In order to determine if probiotics are helping or harming your dog, keep an eye on how your pet is reacting. Monitor your dog’s weight, the condition of his/her coat, his/her energy level and the quality of his/her stools.
- Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Not only do probiotics help humans by supporting gut health and immune function, but they can also offer many benefits for your pet.
- Probiotics for dogs benefits include treating diarrhea, regulating bowel function, reducing allergies, preventing infections, treating gastrointestinal parasites or inflammation, improving their breath, and improving their skin and coat.
- Some of the best strains of probiotics for dogs include Enterococcus faecium, Bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium animalis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus plantarum.
- While they are considered safe for the vast majority of dogs, possible probiotics side effects in dogs can include gas, nausea, loose stools and loss of appetite. Monitor your dog’s weight, the condition of his/her coat, his/her energy level and the quality of his/her stools after you start giving him/her probiotics.