Probiotics are popular among people, and these beneficial bacteria may help dogs, too.
dog looking at camera; probiotics for dogs
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Probiotics are all the rage these days. It seems like you can't get away from advertisements about yogurt or probiotic supplements that promote regularity and help with gastrointestinal issues. Maybe you've even eaten yogurt after taking antibiotics to restore beneficial bacteria to your GI tract or taken a probiotic supplement to ease gastrointestinal distress.

This may lead attentive pet parents to wonder if probiotics are good for dogs as well. Probiotics certainly have a place in dog health—not as a cure-all, but as a way to help support various bodily functions. 

The Microbiome

Before discussing probiotics, it's helpful to understand the microbiome. Dogs (and all animals, including humans) have a balance of microorganisms in their gastrointestinal tracts that they acquire at birth. The canine GI microbiome contains various forms of beneficial bacteria and similar microorganisms that help dogs in several ways, including:

  • Aiding in digestion
  • Protecting against harmful microorganisms
  • Helping regulate metabolism
  • Providing vitamins for nutritional benefit
  • Supporting the immune system 

It's a symbiotic relationship, meaning both the dog and microorganisms will benefit from a healthy microbiome. 

There's even evidence that the microbiome plays a role in mental health. "Your dog's gastrointestinal tract and brain are in constant contact, and proper microorganisms in the intestines can help with mental and emotional regulation," according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CUCVM).

A dog's gut microbiome may become imbalanced for a number of reasons, including illness, use of pharmaceuticals, stress, and malnutrition. Fortunately, probiotic supplements may be able to help replenish beneficial bacteria and improve health.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support a healthy gut microbiome and replenish healthy bacteria when an imbalance occurs. Probiotic products can contain one or more strains of beneficial bacteria. Many include various strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.

Probiotics are found in many fermented foods and drinks such as yogurt and kefir, but dairy products are not ideal for dogs, especially in large quantities. Several brands of commercial dog food coat their kibble with probiotics to help with digestion and promote health. In addition, probiotics are available as nutritional supplements that can be given to dogs therapeutically. 

Commercial probiotics often come as capsules, pastes, liquids, powders, and chews. They can be added to dog food or given directly by mouth. 

How Can Probiotics Help Dogs?

Probiotics for dogs work by adding beneficial bacteria to the intestinal tract, thus maintaining a healthy microbiome. Both healthy dogs and those with medical concerns may benefit from probiotic treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend probiotics for your dog to help with:

It's important to understand that probiotics alone are typically not enough to treat these illnesses. Your vet may recommend a number of other therapies along with probiotics.

Choosing Probiotics for Your Dog

There are several probiotic supplements on the market for humans and pets. Though this may seem obvious, it's best to use pet-specific probiotics for dogs and keep the human options for yourself. While human probiotics are unlikely to harm pets, they'll probably be ineffective because the canine microbiome differs from our own.

Nutritional supplements are not held to the same standard as prescription pharmaceuticals, so the claims on the label may not be accurate. When choosing a probiotic, it's important to pick ones made by a reputable source. Your veterinarian can help you choose the most suitable product for your dog. 

Your vet can do research to ensure that the product has been tested for the presence of beneficial bacterial strains and that the bacteria can survive the digestive acids and be absorbed into the dog's GI tract. Popular veterinary-specific products include FortiFlora by Purina (a powdered food additive) and Proviable by Nutramax (capsules and paste), but there are many other brands. 

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics can be easily confused, especially because they work together in the body. But "prebiotics are fiber upon which the probiotics feed," states CUCVM. Your vet might recommend a specific diet or fiber supplement to help nourish your dog's microbiome and help probiotics work more effectively.

Warnings and Precautions

The good news: Probiotics are generally considered safe for dogs, even if they are not always helpful in treating health concerns. Some dogs may be sensitive to probiotics or the ingredients in supplements, which can cause vomiting or diarrhea. Probiotics should be used with caution in dogs with severe immune deficiencies as they can make matters worse. Remember to consult with a veterinarian before using any supplements or medications for your dog.