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
- 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.
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.