Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) that live in the digestive tract of your dog. These “friendly” gut-dwelling microbes balance the internal environment to prevent disease and promote health. They help to break down food, make nutrients (vitamins and fatty acids), fight off pathogenic organisms in the intestine, strengthen immunity, and produce serotonin which influences the dog’s mood. Probiotics supplements have been a huge success in the human health market.
Recently, they have become increasingly popular for pets and are often recommended for dogs with various digestive issues. Though more research is needed, many clinicians and pet parents can attest to the health benefits of a good probiotic supplement. As with any nutritional supplement, not all are created equal. With so many choices available, how do you choose the right one for your pup? Here are a few things you should look for.
How to choose the best probiotic for your dog
When you choose probiotics for dogs, the type you use really depends on their individual health and needs.
Different strains of bacteria do different things in the dog’s gut. There are several strains of bacteria, and each does something different. Some bacteria strains showed anti-inflammatory activity, while others were immune stimulants. You’ll see the strains on the supplement label. Most canine probiotics are lactic acid bacteria - The Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains. The Lactobacillus bacteria live primarily in the small intestine, while the Bifidobacterium reside in the large intestine (colon).
Here are some common lactic acid strains found in most canine probiotic products.
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus
This is a very common bacteria strain found in almost all canine probiotics. It’s well-researched and it functions to reduce the population of unwanted ‘bad’ bacteria within their dog’s intestine, improving overall intestinal health and restoring their digestive functions at physiological levels.
- Lactobacillus Casei
This probiotic lives in the mucus membrane of animals. It helps protect the digestive tract lining. It also plays an important part in the gut-brain axis and can affect mood and emotions.
- Lactobacillus Plantarum
On top of improving symptoms of IBS, a study has shown this strain to be beneficial for emotional stabilisation. The study showed that general behavioral stability was improved, and the problems of aggression and separation anxiety were ameliorated after a 14-day treatment with this bacterium.
- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus
This strain helps to build healthy colon walls in dogs with IBS and may help to decrease antibiotic-related diarrhea.
- Bifidobacterium Longum
B. longum helps with diarrhea and food allergies. This probiotic works on the gut-brain axis too. A study found that larger numbers of Bifidobacterium longum can reduce signs of stress in dogs.
Probiotic supplements can exist as single-strain or multi-strain products. A multi-strain probiotic can be a good option as an everyday supplement to support your pup’s gut health. Most multi-strain probiotics contain around 5 or 6 different strains. The benefits of multi-strain mixtures may include a broader range of effects. One good lactic bacteria supplement is The Dom & Cleo Probiotics Supplements For Dogs & Cats. This supplement is a powerful blend of 8 friendly lactic acid bacteria strains, stabilised to better survive stomach acids and make it to the intestines. This is a good everyday canine probiotic supplement to support healthy digestive and immune systems.
Sometimes, when a targeted approach is necessary for a specific health issue, a single-strain probiotic or a unique blend with a very specific role may be a better choice. One example is the popular single-strain probiotic supplement Saccharomyces boulardii, a tropical yeast. S. boulardii prevents diarrhoea stemming from antibiotic use. This yeast strain has also been shown to be effective against candida and yeast infection in both humans and dogs. The Furment Postbiotics Gel for Dogs & Cats is a unique blend suitable for use with antibiotics. Not all probiotics can be used with antibiotics. Most probiotic strains do not survive when taken directly alongside antibiotics.
Fermented foods like yogurt and kefir are natural probiotics. Feeding your pup some probiotic-rich foods is another way to get good healthy bacteria into his digestive system. Plain yogurt and kefir are delicious probiotic foods that most dogs love. For pet parents who prefer natural food over supplementation, try this Nurture Pro Kefir 118 Probiotics + Plant Enzymes Freeze-Dried Powder For Dogs & Cats. This product is the world’s first freeze-dried kefir for pets. It’s a probiotic with antioxidant properties and it supports gut health, promotes healthy skin and coat, and aids in glucose regulation.
Number of CFUs
CFU stands for the colony-forming unit, which simply refers to the number of live and active microorganisms that can be found in each serving of the probiotic you are taking. The general understanding is that the number of Colony Forming Units (CFUs) will determine the potency of the probiotic. A higher CFU is often seen as a better, more potent product. However, research has shown that this is not always the case. A high CFU may be beneficial to dogs that have experienced a significant alteration to their gut microbiome due to illness or extensive use of antibiotics. On the contrary, certain health conditions may benefit more from the strains found in the probiotic and not the number of CFU.
Added prebiotics, postbiotics, and nutrients
You may have also heard of prebiotics. Prebiotics are types of fiber that nourish and promote the growth of good bacteria already living in the intestine. But, have you heard of postbiotics? In simple terms, probiotics (live microorganism) consumes prebiotics (usually fibre) and secretes postbiotics. Postbiotics are the metabolites of probiotics that confer a health benefit on the host. Studies have shown that postbiotics are effective in treating diarrhea.
Prebiotics are usually found in high-fiber foods. Some probiotic supplement like this LactoGold Probiotic Powder for Dogs & Cats has added prebiotic fibre in the form of inulin to support the growth of good bacteria and improve the overall health of the digestive system. Others like this Furment Postbiotics Plus Gel for Dogs & Cats is formulated with postbiotics and kaolin to absorb toxins in the gut and remedy digestive disorders such as diarrhoea and food poisoning in dogs. This probiotic is best for dogs suffering from active diarrhoea.
For dogs suffering from a digestive enzyme deficiency, you may want to consider choosing a probiotic supplement with added digestive enzymes like this NaturVet Evolutions Probiotic + Superfoods Digestive Powder Dog Supplement. This supplement has prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes to aid in food digestion and nutrient absorption.
Here are indicators that your dog may need some digestive enzyme support in his probiotics.
- Burping and farting
- Regurgitating undigested food
- Smelly breath
- Acid reflux
- Tummy rumbling or gurgling
- Foul-smelling stools
- Undigested food in stool
‘Use By’ date
Check the ‘Use By’ date of the supplement. Newer products will generally have more live bacteria. Some companies may say how many live bacteria are in the product at the point of manufacture, but by the time you purchase the product, all the live probiotics may have died. This is especially true if the product is not shelf-stable and has not been properly kept at the right temperature.
Probiotics are sensitive and affected by temperature fluctuations and moisture. Proper storage is key for the bacteria to be alive. They must remain dormant inside the capsule or powder and be protected from warmth and humidity. The only way to achieve this is through refrigeration - a stable temperature of 4° to 8° Celsius. However, in recent years, newer technology has been developed to make probiotics shelf stable and fridge free. As such, you’ll find more probiotic supplements to be shelf-stable and does not require refrigeration. These newer moisture protection technology is able to keep the probiotic bacteria alive and at full strength at room temperature. Using a refrigerated or shelf-stable probiotic is mostly a matter of convenience and preference.
How do I know if my dog needs probiotics
There are a few things you can look for. Dogs that suffer from diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and a reduction in appetite may need probiotics.
Conditions that may benefit from a probiotic supplement:
- Bad breath
- Skin disorders
- Chronic diarrhoea
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Frequent infections (poor immune health) and frequent use of antibiotics
If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, consult with your veterinarian to see if probiotics are right for them. As highlighted, there are many different types of probiotics available, so it is important to find one that is best suited to your dog's needs.
In summary, it’s important to choose the right probiotics for the specific situation you’re dealing with. For a healthy pup, a broad spectrum probiotic with multiple strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium or simply feeding your dog some probiotic-rich foods, is a good enough option to maintain a healthy gut. However, for dogs with health challenges, choosing the probiotic strain specific for the dog’s condition may be necessary. There are many different types of probiotics supplements available, so it is important to find one that is best suited to your dog's needs.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.