The Bottom Line:

  • If your dog suffers from bacterial imbalances or digestion issues, probiotics for dogs are a great way to ensure a healthy gut.

  • Probiotics help your dog effectively break down food to extract, absorb and metabolize nutrients.
  • Probiotics are often used to calm nervous tummies and alleviate dog diarrhea.

Probiotics for dogs are a great way to enhance your dog’s digestion to ensure a healthy gut. These microorganisms already inhabit your canine’s gut, and there’s a lot to know about the role they play.

Studies show that probiotics “help digest food, maintain intestinal mucosal integrity, participate in metabolism, and stimulate systemic immune function.” Studies also show that probiotics promote emotional health and affect certain behavioral issues.

Keep reading to find out how the “good bacteria" in probiotics target gut health and an overall state of balance and well-being. 

What are Probiotics for Dogs?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are “living microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.”

Should Dogs take Probiotics?

how do probiotics for dogs work

The simple answer is yes - dogs should take probiotics when their digestive tract health is compromised. Probiotics can also be used proactively to “reduce the risk of situations that tend to spur gastrointestinal upset in certain situations.” In translation – dogs can be preventively supplemented before stressful situations like diet changes, new pets, travel, or boarding.

Do Dogs Need Probiotics Every Day?

The use of probiotics is described as a transient process based on actual need. Although there are no known side effects associated with the long-term use of probiotics, their daily supplementation is rather questionable. 

This is because studies have failed to prove that routine “adding probiotics to the diet improves overall wellness in otherwise healthy animals.” Namely, under normal circumstances, the healthy body can manage its bacterial population.

Probiotic supplements are indicated in situations when the body cannot achieve equilibrium between the “good” and “bad” bacteria.

Types of Probiotics in Dogs

The body’s naturally occurring bacteria are generally types of Bifidobacterium and LactobacillusBifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus are the two most common strains.

Here are some other strains of probiotics:

  • Bifidobacterium animalis

  • Bifidobacterium breve

  • Bifidobacterium lactis

  • Enterococcus faecium

  • Lactobacillus casei. 

Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs

can dogs take probiotics

Probiotics for dogs are used to improve overall health and digestion and/or assist with a particular health problem. Here are some of the most common benefits.

Healthy Digestion and Diarrhea Management 

Probiotics improve the overall digestive tract health and increase nutrient absorption. A study suggests that "maintaining the balance of the intestinal microbiome is crucial for maintaining normal health" and that balance depends on the probiotic's "production of short-chain fatty acids."   

These features benefit dogs with various health issues - from inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, and pancreatitis to parasitic infestations, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. 

Additionally, based on a study, probiotics can also decrease the diarrhea duration and may eliminate the need for antibiotic treatments in diarrhoeic patients.

Modulated Intestinal Microflora and Boosted Immune Response

The intestines account for 70% of the body's immune system. This is because potential pathogens usually invade through the GI tract, and at this site, the "intestinal defenses must be working optimally". Probiotics can strengthen the efficacy of these intestinal defenses.  

Rebalanced Gut Bacteria After Antibiotic Treatments

Antibiotics are neither bacteria nor site-specific, meaning they kill any bacteria within their efficacy range and susceptibility. 

For example, if your dog is on oral antibiotics because of an ear infection, in addition to the ear-targeting pathogens, the antibiotics will also destroy some of the healthy gut bacteria. 

Improved Digestibility Performance in Giant Breed Dogs 

Studies show that giant dog breeds have “decreased digestibility” and “poorer stool quality when compared to smaller breed dogs.” 

Considering the lower relative mass of gastrointestinal tract of large dogs (2.8% of BW) compared with that of small dogs (7% of BW), the decreased digestibility and loose stool are well-expected.

Additionally, the junctions between the intestinal cells in giant breed dogs are large enough to allow re-absorption of certain nutrients like, for example, minerals

What are the Best Probiotics for Dogs?

probiotics for dogs

With so many different probiotic supplements on the market, finding the right one can be challenging. Here are some basic considerations to help narrow the array of choices. 

Probiotic Strain

Different groups of good bacteria have distinct functions and effects, so you must choose the type your dog needs. 

For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria support the absorption of nutrients from food. Simply put, they make sure that the dog's digestive system will extract and metabolize the maximum amount of vitamins and nutrients. 

On the other hand, Bifidobacterium strains give the immune system a boost and assists with overall health. Therefore, they make a more compatible choice for aging and convalescent dogs.

Reputable Brand

It is the manufacturer's job to market its probiotic product, and it is your responsibility to look beyond labels and claims. Always check the guaranteed analysis. 

According to a study, only two of the analyzed 25 supplement products matched the label claims with actual bacteria presence - Prostora™ by the Iams Company and FortiFlora™ by Purina. 

Supplement Forms of Probiotics for Dogs

Probiotic supplements for pets are available in various forms:

  • Powders are usually conveniently packed in individual sachets and can be mixed with dog food.

  • Capsules can be given directly into the dog's mouth or hidden in foods or treats.

  • Treats or chews are the most straightforward way of supplementing but depending on the brand, some soft chew products can contain additives and preservatives.

  • Dog foods some brands add certain strains of beneficial microbes to their formulas; however, since probiotics are heat and moisture-sensitive, their actual efficacy is questionable.

  • Fecal microbial transplantations is a novel method of rectifying bacterial imbalance issues in the intestines.

The Role of Prebiotics in Dogs

To work properly, probiotics rely on prebiotics. In essence, probiotics feed on prebiotics. They are a type of soluble fiber that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables (canned pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, and apples). When combined, probiotics and prebiotics act synergistically

Before Giving Your Dog Probiotics

Before starting your dog on probiotics, there are several things you should consider. 

Consulting With Your Vet on Probiotics for Your Dog

Your best advisor when it comes to probiotic supplements is your trusted veterinarian. The vet knows your dog’s digestive system and overall health and is qualified to determine the need to use probiotics. 

Plus, the veterinarian can make educated recommendations regarding the best probiotic supplement product. It is also critical to consult with the vet if you plan on using new probiotic strains in a dog with a compromised immune system. 

Probiotic Dosage for Dogs

As with any other drug or supplement, giving the correct dosage is important. The purpose of using probiotics is to correct the good and bad bacteria imbalances in the gut. Too much beneficial bacteria by giving more probiotics than necessary can be just as bad as the opposite.

Natural Probiotics for Dogs

Certain fermented foods (vegetables, yogurt, or kefir) are natural sources of probiotics. The fermentation process breaks the food down, resulting in the growth of beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes. 

However, there are two caveats – first, no studies demonstrate the benefits of fermented food products to pets. Secondly, the probiotic strains in these products are limited in both type and amount.  

Probiotic Side Effects and Cautions in Dogs

In some extra sensitive dogs, introducing probiotics (or new strains) can trigger side effects like diarrhea, stomach bloating, constipation, nausea, or gas. Usually, these issues are self-limiting.

However, if the symptoms persist, you should stop the probiotic, contact your veterinarian, and restart with a lower dose (to avoid GI upsets).

Finally, although extremely rare, it is worth mentioning that some dogs can develop allergies to the ingredients (soy, wheat, rice, gluten) found in the probiotic.  

Can You Give Your Dog Human Probiotics?

Although the concept behind probiotics is the same for humans and dogs, the exact ingredients or live cultures are not. Even if the strains of beneficial bacteria overlap, dogs and humans need them in different amounts. 

Additionally, human probiotics can contain ingredients that are potentially harmful to dogs. Most probiotics formulated for humans contain artificial sweeteners, and the most popular member of this family – xylitol is extremely toxic to pets.

Our Final Thoughts on Probiotics for Dogs

Administering Probiotics for dogs

Probiotics are live bacteria that occur naturally in all animals' small and large intestines, people included. They keep our bodies healthy and protect us from harmful bacteria. 

In simple words, they maintain a healthy balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria. If this balance cannot be achieved naturally, supplements are recommended.