What Are Probiotics for Dogs and Are They Worth It?

Four Minutes
Mar 02, 2023

You may have heard about probiotics for humans and the benefits they provide, but are probiotics good for dogs? If your dog is prone to certain health problems like gastrointestinal issues or allergies, and just gets sick often, they may benefit from taking probiotics. However, healthy dogs could also benefit from probiotics supporting their long-term gut health. So what are probiotics for dogs, how do they work, and are they worth investing in? Read on to find out.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms (bacteria and yeast strains) aimed to help improve functions in the gastrointestinal tract.1 Some of the benefits include helping to break down food during digestion and fending off potential pathogens in your dog’s gut. You may commonly hear probiotics referred to as good or beneficial bacteria. They’re naturally found in yogurt and other fermented foods, but are often taken in as supplements to increase intake (much like with vitamins).

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are types of fiber that feed the good bacteria (probiotics) in the intestines so they can continue to grow and thrive.1 Prebiotics can be naturally found in certain foods like beans, legumes, and some fruits, but they can be supplemented. Since dogs can’t eat some of these high-fiber foods, feeding them prebiotic supplements might be a good way to increase prebiotic levels in their gut.

What Do Probiotics Do for Dogs?

Typically, a dog’s gut is able to naturally regulate the balance between good and bad bacteria.1 When it’s having trouble doing that on its own, probiotics can step in and help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.

Both good and bad bacteria need the same kind of nutrients to survive. By supplementing with probiotics, you can potentially add more good bacteria to counteract the bad bacteria within a dog’s gut. Probiotics make it harder for bad bacteria to survive because the good bacteria consume more of the nutrients available, leaving the bad bacteria with less to eat. The levels of bad bacteria decrease, allowing the dog’s gut to function better.

So if you’re wondering, “Do dogs really need probiotics?” the answer is, it depends. Probiotics can help dogs in a number of ways — let’s take a look at some of the benefits.

The benefits of probiotics for dogs

There’s a wide variety of probiotic benefits, and studies are finding new benefits all of the time. Here are a few of the main benefits probiotics can provide for dogs:2

  • May improve digestion: When bad bacteria find it hard to survive in a dog’s gut, the gastrointestinal tract can function better and may help with intestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea.
  • May strengthen the immune system: Approximately 70% of a dog’s immune system is in their gut. With a properly functioning digestive system, it may be harder for pathogens to permeate the gut lining and go into the rest of the body to cause illness or disease.
  • May offer relief from skin conditions and allergies: By controlling inflammation and decreasing intestinal permeability, symptoms from environmental allergies and food allergies/sensitivities may decrease.
  • May help regulate mood: The gut and brain are constantly communicating, so when the gut is happy it’s easier for the brain to be happy — which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

The side effects of probiotics for dogs

Most of the time, dogs don’t experience harmful side effects from taking probiotics — they are considered safe by many scientists and veterinarians.2 However, since probiotics help change the microbe balance in a dog’s gut, your dog may experience short-term gastrointestinal discomfort after initial use. Upset stomach, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea are side effects that your dog may experience for a few days after first taking probiotics.3

Giving your dog probiotics while they are on antifungal medication or an antibiotic may reduce the efficacy of the probiotic.3 There may be interactions with probiotics and other supplements or medications, so it’s recommended to talk with your veterinarian to see if it’s safe for your dog to take probiotics.

Small jack russell terrier waits for his bowl of dry dog food to be placed on the ground

When Are Probiotics Used?

As with any medication or supplement, the use of probiotics can be closely tied to the benefits they provide. Probiotics can be used in a number of situations, including:

  • Relieving or helping prevent diarrhea caused by stress (like when your pup is boarded at a kennel), by food allergies and sensitivities, by colitis, or by eating bad food.
  • Helping an older or sick dog’s digestive and immune systems function better.
  • Making it harder for parasites, infections, or bacterial imbalances to thrive in the body, whether as a preventative measure or after an infection has occurred.
  • Helping to increase levels of good bacteria in the gut after long-term antibiotic or steroid use.
  • Daily supplementation to support long-term health. Yes, it should be ok to give your dog probiotics every day after consulting with your veterinarian — most healthy dogs can benefit from them.

You may not want to give a severely immunocompromised dog probiotics, as even good bacteria may be too much for their already sensitive system.2 A vet should be able to tell you if it’s safe for your dog to take probiotics based on their current health.

Are probiotics worth it?

Every dog is unique, and you’ll have to take into account their health, lifestyle, and environment, as well as your budget, to decide if probiotics are worth investing in. Probiotics may be worth it if your dog could get relief from a digestive issue or allergies, along with building a stronger immune system. They can also help rebalance your dog’s gut bacteria after they’ve taken antibiotics, steroids, or suffered an infection.

Choosing the Best Probiotic for Dogs

If you’ve decided to add probiotics into your dog’s diet, you should talk with your vet to get their recommendation on which brand to use, the proper dosage, and routine. That being said, here are a few suggestions that can help you choose the best one:

  • Pick a probiotic formulated for dogs vs. one for humans.
  • Look for probiotics that contain active and live bacteria.
  • Choose a probiotic with a higher number of colony forming units (CFUs) as it will have a higher potency. Some vets recommend 1 – 10 billion CFUs per day for dogs.2
  • Ensure there’s no xylitol (an artificial sweetener) because it can be toxic to dogs.
  • Make sure it’s within your yearly dog budget. You may be able to find a probiotic for dogs that costs between $10 and $50, but it will depend on things like the brand, the quantity, the form, and where you purchase it.
  • Dig into the science behind a product and check the reviews, as supplements aren’t closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Check that the label has a guaranteed analysis of the amount of live bacteria that should be present at the end of the advertised expiration date.2

Types of probiotics for dogs

Probiotic supplements can come in forms such as capsules, powders, and soft chews. You may also be able to give your dog food that has live probiotics in it, like plain yogurt. Just make sure it’s not food that’s toxic to dogs.

Probiotics also come in different strains meant to help with a specific activity. For example, bifidobacterium animalis helps with acute diarrhea and lactobacillus acidophilus helps with stool quality and frequency.2

Just know that a probiotic supplement with multiple strains doesn’t always mean it’s better than a probiotic with one or a few strains — some strains may work against each other. You may not want a probiotic containing strains that help relieve diarrhea combined with strains that increase stool frequency, as they could counteract each other. Talking with your vet may help you figure out which strains are best for what your pup needs.

Relieve Discomfort With Pet Insurance

While probiotics for dogs have been shown to help improve gut health, there could be underlying conditions causing the discomfort that may require a trip to the vet. A dog insurance policy from MetLife Pet Insurance may help make that pet care more affordable by reimbursing you for covered expenses. Learn more about how pet insurance works or get a free quote today from MetLife Pet Insurance — winner of the “Pet Insurance of the Year” award at the 2023 Pet Innovation Awards.4

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1 “Probiotics for Dogs: Do They Work?,” PetMD

2 “The power of probiotics,” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

3 “Probiotics,” VCA Animal Hospitals

4 “2023 Pet Insurance of the Year Award” Winners, Pet Independent Innovation Awards

Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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