Whether your dog has an upset stomach or struggles with separation anxiety, you’ve probably searched high and low for solutions.
Probiotics for dogs could be just the thing he needs. Purina veterinarian Dr. Emily Cross explains how probiotics work, the benefits they offer and more.
What Are Probiotics & How Do They Work?
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 are live bacteria that when fed, have a beneficial effect,” says Dr. Cross. “They decrease the pH in the gut and that helps the dog’s own good gut bacteria thrive.” Probiotic bacteria can also attach to the intestinal cells and release substances, which helps promote the growth of good bacteria.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?
If you’ve looked into probiotics for dogs, you may have also come across prebiotics. Although they sound similar, prebiotics and probiotics serve different purposes. Unlike probiotics, which are live bacteria, “Prebiotics are specific fiber sources you feed to encourage the growth of a dog’s own good bacteria,” Dr. Cross says.
Are There Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs?
Probiotics offer numerous benefits for dogs. In addition to helping the good bacteria thrive, specific probiotics can also benefit dogs’ immune health.
According to Dr. Cross, “Most of our immune system is located in the digestive tract. This creates lots of opportunities for the good bacteria to interact with immune cells and support immune health.”
When to Give Your Dog Probiotics
A variety of circumstances can cause an imbalance in intestinal health. These can include stress from boarding, moving and other changes in environment.
Puppies and senior dogs may be more susceptible to these imbalances, as are dogs taking antibiotics. If your dog is experiencing digestive upset, probiotics may help. “I use probiotics every single day in my practice,” says Dr. Cross, “and the most common reason is for digestive upset.”
In addition to probiotics for specific needs, she also recommends Purina Pro Plan SAVOR dry food for dogs to her patients.
“Their probiotic technology keeps dogs healthy overall and helps to maintain a healthy digestive tract, too,” she says. 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.
“We’ve found that by feeding a specific strain of beneficial bacteria—BL999—it can help dogs maintain calm behavior.”
How Long Does it Take Probiotics to Work?
Some probiotics work faster than others. It also varies by the issue being managed with the probiotics.
When using a product like FortiFlora for digestive upset, “we’re looking for improvement within a few days,” says Dr. Cross.
For immune health, your pet should experience a positive impact in about four weeks.
For dogs with anxious behaviors, she says you can expect to see improvements within about six weeks with Calming Care.
Probiotics Aren’t a Cure-All
Although there are many benefits of probiotics for dogs, they aren’t appropriate for every dog or every situation.
“There are other conditions where probiotics might not be recommended, such as in dogs with a significantly compromised GI tract or those undergoing treatments like chemotherapy, in which case 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.
“There are many issues we don’t have a probiotic option for that we manage in other ways. Hopefully we’ll have an expanding knowledge of what probiotics can do and have other products in the future for well pets and for use in veterinary medicine.”
Can Dogs Have Human Probiotics?
Just because a probiotic is safe and effective for humans doesn’t mean it’s also safe and effective for dogs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has specific guidelines on probiotics for humans and we follow them for 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.
Although yogurts 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. It’s important to use a product that has in some way shown you that it has an efficacious number of probiotic bacteria, that they also remain alive on the shelf and can survive to the lower gastrointestinal tract where they have the most impact.”
Try Probiotics for Dogs
“It’s an exciting time for probiotic research and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what probiotics can do,” says Dr. Cross.
There are several different options when it comes to probiotics for dogs, ranging from supplements to probiotic dog foods.
Although there’s not a probiotic diet or supplement for every issue, Purina offers a variety of options to meet your dog’s needs.
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.”
Whether your dog has anxiety, is experiencing digestive upset or you want to support his immune health, talk with your veterinarian to find the right probiotic solution for your dog. Explore all our probiotic dog food formulas.