What Are Probiotics for Dogs?

Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
By Karina Carbo-Johnson, MS
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
Two dog owners smile and cuddle with a dog on a couch

Probiotics are live microorganisms similar to those found naturally in your dog’s intestines. When consumed through food or as a supplement, probiotics for dogs can help maintain balance in the digestive tract. This can have a positive impact on their overall health.

From digestive upset to separation anxiety, there are a few common reasons pet owners may give their dogs probiotics. Read on to learn more about how probiotics work, the benefits they offer and more.

What Do Probiotics Do for Dogs?

The intestines contain billions of bacteria, collectively called the microbiome. When there’s an imbalance in the microbiome, symptoms like excess gas and loose stool may occur. Probiotics are live, good bacteria that promote balance in the intestines.

“Probiotics decrease the pH in the gut and that helps the dog’s own good gut bacteria thrive,” says Purina veterinarian, Emily Cross, DVM, DABVP (canine/feline).

Probiotic bacteria can also support a dog’s digestive system by attaching to the intestinal cells and releasing substances, which helps promote the growth of good bacteria.

Can Dogs Have Probiotics?

In many cases, dogs can have probiotics. Often, they’re given as a preventative measure or as treatment for digestive health problems, as well as other conditions. Before you offer them to your pet, however, check with your veterinarian.

Do Dogs Need Probiotics?

Whether or not your dog needs probiotics should be determined by your veterinarian. They’ll make a decision based on factors such as your pet’s symptoms and other concurrent medications.

If your pet is generally healthy, they likely don’t need them. That said, even healthy canines can experience phases of stress and anxiety, which may trigger digestive upset. In which case, vet-recommended probiotics for dogs may be appropriate.

Probiotics for Dogs – Benefits

If you’re wondering, “Are probiotics good for dogs?”, research shows they can have some positive benefits: 

“A large part of the immune system of dogs and cats is located in the digestive tract. This creates lots of opportunities for the good bacteria to interact with immune cells and support immune health,” notes Dr. Cross.

Additionally, the benefits of probiotics for dogs may be amplified by prebiotics, a soluble fiber that nourishes the healthy bacteria in your pet’s microbiome. If you’re interested in probiotics for your dog, ask your veterinarian if feeding a prebiotic dog food is also a good idea. 

What Type of Probiotic is Best for Dogs?

The type of probiotic that’s best for your dog depends on their particular problem. Your veterinarian can advise you but here are some common categories of probiotics for dogs.

Probiotics for Dogs with Diarrhea

Probiotic strains found in the Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Enterococcus genera, like strain Enterococcus faecium SF68®, have been shown to improve gastrointestinal health and reduce diarrhea in dogs.

These probiotics may be used to treat or prevent diarrhea when it’s caused by stress and diet. They might also reduce bacterial imbalances in your pet’s gut related to infections or long-term antibiotic use.

Probiotics for Anxious Dogs

Dr. Cross also recommends probiotics for dogs with anxious behaviors as well.

“We’re learning about the importance of what’s called the ‘gut-brain axis.’ That means there’s a connection between our intestines to our brain, via the nervous system, and vice versa,” she says.

“We’ve found feeding a specific strain of beneficial bacteria—BL999—can help dogs maintain calm behavior.”

Signs Your Dog Needs Probiotics

A sign your dog needs probiotics may be digestive system problems. “I used probiotics every single day when I was in practice,” Dr. Cross says, “and the most common reason was for digestive upset.”

There are a variety of symptoms related to an imbalance in intestinal health, such as: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Sensitive stomach
  • Stress caused by changes to your dog’s home environment, boarding, moving and other factors
  • Allergies
  • Poor immune health

Puppies and senior dogs may be more susceptible to bacterial imbalances, as are dogs taking antibiotics.

Probiotics Aren’t a Cure-All

Although there are many benefits of probiotics for dogs, they aren’t appropriate for every canine or every situation.

“There are conditions where probiotics might not be recommended, such as in dogs with a significantly compromised GI tract or those undergoing treatments like chemotherapy so the decision to start probiotics should be made with the veterinarian’s advice. If your pet is not feeling well, you should always consult with your veterinarian,” suggests Dr. Cross.

How Long Do Probiotics Take to Work in Dogs?

If you’re asking, “How long should a dog be on probiotics?”, know that some probiotics work faster than others. It also varies by the issue being managed. 

When using a product like Purina Pro Plan FortiFlora for digestive upset, “we’re looking for improvement within a few days, but we often continue for longer to ensure a return to digestive health,” says Dr. Cross.

For immune health, your pet should experience a positive impact in about four weeks.

For dogs with anxious behaviors, Dr. Cross notes you can expect to see improvements within about six weeks with a supplement like Purina Pro Plan Calming Care.

Should I Give My Dog Probiotics Every Day?

Whether it’s a supplement or dog food with probiotics, always follow the directions on the package and your veterinarian’s advice when determining how often to give your pet probiotics.

Dog Probiotics – Side Effects

Because you’re adjusting the balance of bacteria in your pet’s intestines, there may be some side effects of dog probiotics. Certain dogs might continue to experience their current symptoms (perhaps to an even greater degree) but only temporarily.

Side effects of dog probiotics may be diarrhea, gas, bloating and other digestive issues. If the problems you’re trying to treat don’t improve after a short period, contact your veterinarian.

Can Dogs Take Human Probiotics?

No. Just because a probiotic is safe and effective for humans doesn’t mean the same is true for dogs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has specific guidelines on probiotics for humans that can be applied to pets as well. According to these guidelines, “The most important thing, first and foremost, is to have demonstrated safety,” says Dr. Cross.

Once safety is established, the bacteria must also demonstrate a beneficial effect in the animal.

If you’re wondering, “What kind of foods contain probiotics?”, note that, although yogurts that are free from sugar and artificial sweeteners like xylitol aren’t toxic to dogs, Dr. Cross doesn’t recommend them. 

“Safety and efficacy have not been shown for yogurt products in dogs and cats. More importantly, yogurt contains other ingredients, like dairy, and dogs can be intolerant to that level of dairy. With the exception of a few products out there, most yogurts do not guarantee live bacteria numbers,” she says.

According to Dr. Cross, if you’re searching for probiotic foods for dogs, the product or food should: 

  • Have an efficacious number of probiotic bacteria
  • Contain bacteria that remain alive on the shelf
  • Survive to the lower gastrointestinal tract where bacteria have the most impact

How to Supplement Your Dog’s Diet With Probiotics

Want to add probiotics to your pet’s diet? Whether it’s probiotic chews for dogs, dog probiotic powder that you add to their meal, or dog food with probiotics, there are a variety of options. 

Regardless of form, “It’s important to choose the right probiotic(s) for the specific situation you’re dealing with,” Dr. Cross says. “Some probiotics are good for digestive health or resolving digestive upset. Some help support the immune system, while others are anti-inflammatory.”

Remember, the best probiotics for dogs are formulated with strains of bacteria known to support your pet’s particular problem.

Whether your dog has anxiety, is experiencing digestive upset or you want to promote their immune health, talk with your veterinarian to find the right probiotic solution for your pet. 

For more expert tips on caring for your canine companion, explore our other dog health articles. 

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