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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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 2022 Pet Innovation Awards.4
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 “2022 Pet Insurance of the Year Award” Winners, Pet Independent Innovation Awards
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