If you’ve ever eaten yogurt, you’ve likely ingested a probiotic. There is plenty of marketing about the benefits of probiotics for humans, but can probiotics for dogs give our canine family members the same potential health advantages?
Our team has compiled the information you need to know about probiotics and how they work and help you decide whether they may be right for your dog.
What Are Probiotics?
When you look at your dog, what do you see? You likely focus on the features you love the most about them — their floppy ears, their wagging tail, the way that their eyes are slightly different colors, etc.
But your dog is so much more than that. Like most other creatures on Earth, our dogs are made up of complex colonies of microscopic bacteria and fungi. Don’t panic, though, because the vast majority are working hard at keeping the body balanced — helping to digest food, control and protect the immune system, fight off harmful bacteria, etc.
Together, these colonies are known as the microbiome; without them, your dog would likely be in a world of trouble. So, where do probiotics come in?
Probiotics are a combination of live bacteria and other microbes that help support and boost your dog’s existing microbiome, specifically the one that lives in their digestive tract — Bifidobacterium animalis, Enterococcus faecium, and Lactobacillus acidophilus, for example.
Each has its own specific target, but they also work together to create more general results. These beneficial bacteria and microorganisms are commonly measured in CFUs, or colony-forming units, the number of live microbes found in each serving.
Probiotics work even better when paired with a prebiotic, supplements that are meant to be taken first and function as “fertilizer.” Prebiotics can also work well on their own, feeding the friendly intestinal bacteria already present in your dog’s gut.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs?
There are many potential health benefits of using probiotics for dogs, although not all of them have been conclusively backed by lengthy scientific research. When you help ensure that your dog has all the good bacteria they need to maintain a healthy digestive tract, you’re also giving them the right tools to support the rest of their body.
Support Immune and Digestive Systems
One of the most significant benefits of probiotics supplements for dogs is their potential to support the immune and digestive systems. Most probiotic usage is aimed at managing gastrointestinal concerns — gas and diarrhea, specifically.
You may think of the immune and digestive systems as separate things, but they’re far more connected than you may know. About 70 percent of the immune system is located inside your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, which makes it crucial for stopping pathogens from spreading further into their body. Probiotics help to support a healthy gut, which also supports healthy immune function.
But the most obvious benefits of probiotics in dogs occur in their digestive tract. Because your dog ingests probiotics in some way (usually in a chewable form or something you can add to your dog’s diet), the first stop on its journey is into the stomach.
Once inside your dog, they work to balance gut flora and change local stomach acidity and digestive enzymes to make it a healthier, more supportive environment for gut bacteria. The result of a healthier, more well-balanced gut are numerous — less bloating, more well-formed poop (less diarrhea or constipation), less gas, etc.
If you’re looking to treat a specific issue, pay attention to the type of probiotic strains present. Bifidobacterium animalis, for example, is beneficial for helping dogs with acute diarrhea, and Lactobacillus acidophilus helps improve the quality and frequency of bowel movements.
In addition to the immune and digestive systems, probiotics may also be beneficial for helping support and maintain the urinary tract. A pet probiotic may be a small piece of your dog’s routine, but it can have a significant impact.
Promote Overall Wellness
Some people think of probiotics the same way they think of a multivitamin — they don’t use them to treat or manage any conditions specifically but to help keep their dog’s body at an optimal level of overall wellness.
Although most dogs don’t need to take a multivitamin the same way humans do (as long as they’re getting healthy, balanced dog food), a general probiotic may be beneficial for keeping their body running smoothly.
But how can a product that is taken to help your dog’s gut health impact the rest of their body? While we think of each system as a separate entity, remember that they are each just a part of a much larger whole.
Each system communicates with the others, so what happens in the gut greatly affects your dog’s overall health and wellness. Poor digestive health can contribute to other health issues, including bad breath, poor coat or fur quality, liver and kidney problems, or weight changes.
May Prevent Stressed Behaviors
Stress can wreak havoc in your dog’s life; worst of all, they can’t speak up and tell us about it. It’s up to us, as pet parents, to pay attention to their behavior and interpret what they’re trying to say so that we can manage their stress and anxiety more easily.
Reducing stress can be tackled both externally and internally. Consider your dog’s external environment — is there another dog in the home they’re having trouble getting along with? Do they cower when people come over? Do you notice increased stress when you’re getting ready to leave for the day?
These are all external factors that you may be able to modify to help make your dog’s life a little bit more stress-free. Don’t stop there, though.
Helping your dog manage their own internal feelings can also reduce their overall stress level. CBD + CBDA chews, for example, can be beneficial.
Unmanaged stress can also lead to physical side effects, like a lowered immune system or diarrhea. Probiotics may not be able to treat the causes of that stress, but they can help support your dog’s body while you’re making the necessary changes to lower it. They can also impact and improve the gut-brain axis (GBA), which can help your dog better regulate their own internal stress.
One specific bacterium, Bifidobacterium longum (known more commonly as BL999), is being studied as the most likely to provide these benefits. One study showed that dogs who took BL999 were calmer in the face of stressors that would ordinarily trigger a fear response, making them less likely to bark, pace, or spin. These dogs were also more likely to feel confident enough to explore new environments.
How Often Should You Give Your Dog Probiotics?
How often you give your dog probiotics depends on your veterinarian’s recommendation and the directions on whichever probiotic you’ve chosen. Different probiotic strains may require different dosing, and you don’t want to give your dog too much or too little of a good thing.
Some dogs may only need to take a probiotic when having issues with their intestinal health and can experience an upset stomach if they take them regularly.
In addition to ensuring that you’re giving your dog probiotics with the right frequency, you’ll also want to ensure that you’re sourcing them from a reputable company. The best probiotics for dogs are high-quality and designed just for our canine family members, so don’t give them human probiotics unless your veterinarian specifically recommends them.
Even over-the-counter supplements can have side effects, so choosing the best option and giving it to your dog as directed is crucial for reducing those risks.
Are There Any Other Supplements Your Dog Needs?
Every dog is individual, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to canine supplementation. In most situations, it’s advised to let the ultimate decision be up to your veterinarian. They may want to do bloodwork to verify if there are any vitamin or mineral deficiencies present, for example, before starting your dog on a nutritional supplement.
Supplements should always be catered to your dog’s specific concerns. It’s worth mentioning that many supplements, like colloidal silver, also have potential risks.
Discussing those risks and if they outweigh the associated benefits is a conversation you should also have with your veterinarian. You’ll also want to stick with supplements with a proven safe track record and those backed by scientific research. It pays to do your research.
The Bottom Line
Maintaining our dog’s health requires a multi-faceted approach. Probiotics for dogs can not only help prevent digestive issues and may also extend their benefits to their immune health and stress levels. Choosing the right probiotic, whether capsules, soft chews, or probiotic powder, can keep your dog happy and healthy for as long as possible.
When combined with other ways of supporting your dog, like a balanced diet and paying attention to their behavior, you can stay on top of their health and get them the necessary care quickly if changes occur.
The Gut Microbiome of Dogs and Cats, and the Influence of Diet | Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice
Microbiota and probiotics in canine and feline welfare | PMC
The power of probiotics | Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine