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Probiotics for Dogs

By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
published: July 6, 2023 - updated: July 18, 2023 • 4 min. read
woman giving white dog a pill

Probiotics have become increasingly popular in human health. Similarly, probiotics are gaining traction in the pet world.

But what exactly are probiotics? How do they work, and can dogs benefit from taking them?

Let’s take a deep dive into probiotics and answer your questions about this hot topic in pet health and nutrition.

What Are Probiotics?

First things first, let’s define what probiotics are. Probiotics are microorganisms—primarily bacteria, but also some yeast—that live in the gut. They make up what is known as the ‘gut microbiome’ and are known as good bacteria.

You may have also heard about prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that promote the growth of probiotics in the gut; in short, probiotics feed on prebiotics. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods like pumpkin and sweet potato.

Probiotics promote good health in many ways. Here are a few examples of probiotics’ health benefits:

  • Relieving diarrhea
  • Improving digestion
  • Fighting off harmful bacteria
  • Promoting good immune health
  • Making vitamins and other nutrients

These benefits are taken from what is known about probiotics in people. Probiotics have not yet been studied extensively in pets.

Here are some probiotic species that are found in a dog’s gut:

  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum

These bacteria perform different functions in the gut.

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How Can Probiotic Supplements Help Dogs?

Probiotic supplements can provide many health benefits for dogs, but not every dog needs them. Dogs in good overall health don’t necessarily need probiotics because their gut health is probably in good shape, too.

However, the gut microbiome sometimes becomes imbalanced from an overload of bad bacteria. Here are some medical conditions that can disrupt the gut microbiome balance:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Obesity
  • Liver disease
  • Food allergies
  • Immune disorders
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

This imbalance can lead to uncomfortable digestive symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. A probiotic supplement helps to restore the balance and relieve digestive upset by increasing the number of good bacteria the gut.

Talk with your veterinarian if your dog has a medical condition that could benefit from probiotics. Your veterinarian can thoroughly assess your dog’s health and determine if probiotics are appropriate for your dog.

How Are Dog Probiotics Formulated?

Probiotics for dogs typically come in three formulations: chewable tablets, powders, and capsules. Each formulation is absorbed a bit differently by the body. Also, your dog may prefer one formulation over another. For example, a dog that refuses tablets or capsules may be okay with having a probiotic powder sprinkled over their food at mealtime.

Some dog food companies may add probiotics during manufacturing, but the amount in the food may be too low to provide health benefits.

Regardless of formulation, remember never to give a human probiotic supplement to your dog. The human gut microbiome differs from the dog microbiome, so the bacteria in a human probiotic supplement may not benefit your dog and may even be harmful.

What Should You Consider Before Giving Your Dog a Probiotic Supplement?

Here are some things to think about before starting your dog on a probiotic supplement:

  • Probiotics have different functions. Some probiotics have opposing functions, such as being anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory. Having probiotics with opposing functions in the same supplement may not help your dog.
  • Probiotics are sensitive to air, moisture, and extreme temperatures. Probiotics are live bacteria. Storing the container according to the manufacturer’s instructions will help preserve the bacteria’s viability.
  • Probiotics don’t work overnight. It can take several weeks for your dog’s gut to adjust to the probiotics. Do not expect an immediate improvement in your dog’s gut health after starting the probiotic supplement.
  • Probiotics should be given with caution to immunocompromised dogs. For dogs with weakened immune systems, a probiotic supplement can introduce a bacterial load in the gut that overwhelms the immune system, potentially worsening their health.

What Are Potential Drawbacks of Probiotic Supplements for Dogs?

Probiotics have many benefits but also a few cons.

For example, probiotics can have uncomfortable side effects, such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating. These side effects could result from a dog’s gut getting adjusted to the huge influx of good bacteria.

Also, probiotic supplements for dogs are not FDA-regulated, meaning that they have not undergone the rigorous process of testing and evaluation to gain FDA approval. Manufacturers may take advantage of this lack of regulation by putting misleading information on the label about what is in the supplement.

Finally, as mentioned before, dogs with a healthy gut don’t have a medical need for a probiotic supplement. The supplement could overwhelm the gut, disrupting the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut and potentially causing digestive problems.

What Should You Look For on The Label?

Just like it’s good to read the label on your dog’s food, read the label of probiotic supplements for dogs before making your purchase. Here’s what to look for:

  • List of bacterial species: The label should list the exact bacterial species in the supplement.
  • Number of microorganisms in the product: Probiotics are measured in colony-forming units (CFUs). A probiotic supplement for dogs should contain 1 to 10 billion CFUs of probiotics per daily serving.
  • Guaranteed analysis: This analysis says how many live bacteria will be present when the product expires. The number of live bacteria at the end of the supplement’s shelf life may be far less than how many are alive at the time of manufacturing, meaning you may be giving your dog fewer probiotics than you think.
  • Expiration date: If you give your dog the supplement after the expiration date, the bacteria may all be dead, providing no benefit to your dog.
  • Manufacturer contact information: Look for the manufacturer’s contact information on the label (phone number, website). Be wary of any probiotic supplement that does not provide this information.
  • Other ingredients: Probiotic supplements may contain other ingredients, such as yeast and enzymes. Contact the manufacturer if you want to know more about these other ingredients.

How Long Can You Give Probiotics To Your Dog?

This depends on your dog’s health condition. Work closely with your veterinarian and let them know if the probiotics are not improving your dog’s condition or if your dog isn’t tolerating them well.

Bringing it Together

Probiotic supplements for dogs can be a healthy way to manage various medical conditions. Follow the label instructions closely and work with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog gets the most benefit from their prob

joanna pendergrass
By JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM

JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After graduating from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with her veterinary degree, JoAnna completed a 2-year research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University. During this fellowship, she learned that she could make a career out of combining her loves of science and writing. As a medical writer, JoAnna is passionate about providing pet parents at Healthy Paws with clear, concise, and engaging information about pet care. Through her writing, she strives not only to educate pet parents, but also empower them to make good health decisions for their pets. JoAnna is a member of the American Medical Writers Association.

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