All pet parents want their dog to have a healthy digestive tract so what type of food we feed our dogs is very important. That’s one of the reasons we hem and haw when we’re reviewing the content list on the dog food package and deciding what to buy.

A well-balanced diet supports the optimal functioning of a dog’s gut, and is necessary for a pup’s overall health and well-being too. 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.

What are Probiotics for Dogs?

The term “probiotics” comes from Latin and Greek. In Latin, “pro” means “for” and “bios” is Greek for “life.” Therefore, probiotics means something that promotes life.

Probiotics are live bacteria that occur naturally in the small and large intestine of all animals, people included. They keep our bodies healthy and protect us from harmful bacteria. That’s why you may have heard them called “good bacteria.” Bodies need a proper balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria to remain healthy.

Probiotics are found not just in the digestive tract. These microorganisms occur in the mouth, nasal cavity, lungs, skin surface and urinary tract as well.

How Do Probiotics Work?

When it comes to probiotics for dogs, the target is the gut, also known as the digestive tract. That’s where these bacteria will mimic the bacteria that are there naturally. The basic benefits are that they help the digestion of food and extraction of nutrients.

Dogs already absorb these nutrients naturally. However, in some dogs, probiotics can help support this function of the gut and metabolize fatty acids and other nutrients. Plus, gut health impacts all important bodily functions for dogs. This includes cognition, the immune system, and mood.

Different Types of Probiotics

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

Here are some other strains:

  • Bifidobacterium animalis

  • Bifidobacterium breve

  • Bifidobacterium lactis

  • Enterococcus faecium

  • Lactobacillus casei

These same good bacteria are in probiotics for dogs.

Probiotic Benefits for Dogs

We’ve already explained that the main advantage of probiotics for dogs is how they help the gut and digestive process. Here are a few other ways probiotics are beneficial.

  • Improve elimination and stools

  • Calm tummy troubles

  • Rebalances gut bacteria after antibiotic treatment

  • Guard against (UTIs)

  • Support the immune system

  • Benefits , skin and breath

When are Probiotics Used?

Probiotics for dogs are used to improve a dog’s overall health and digestive functioning and/or assist with a particular health problem. Actually, this is the same as how human probiotics are used. Here are some of the most common benefits.

Infection or bacterial imbalance

Harmful bacteria can multiply in the gut due to illnesses, infections or a course of antibiotics. This can quickly get out of control and cause dogs to have digestive issues. Adding probiotics to a dog’s diet benefits by rebalancing these bacteria.

Stress (Diarrhea)

Some dogs respond to stress with diarrhea. A stressor could be any disruption in their normal routine or even a visit to the vet. Probiotics are often used to calm nervous tummies and alleviate dog diarrhea.

Diet

A change in diet can result in an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria and cause a problem with digestion. Maybe Bear or Bunny is moving to a weight management formula dog food or has developed a food sensitivity. Adding a probiotic is one way to support dietary changes.  

Medications

In addition to antibiotics, other medications such as steroids can reduce good gut bacteria. The thing is some of these medications are used long-term. Therefore, adding probiotics to a dog’s food may be needed to right any imbalance.

Parasites

Intestinal parasites are very harmful and they can rob your dog of critical nutrients. It is important to consult your vet about a proper parasite treatment as probiotics are not a cure for parasites. Probiotics can be helpful after the parasitic infection has been treated by your vet to help restore digestive functioning.

Aids Digestion

Animals and people already have these helpful bacteria living in their gut. They assist with absorbing amino acids and other nutrients, so you may have heard them referred to as ‘good’ bacteria. Probiotics can improve your dog's digestive health by keeping harmful bacteria under control in your dog's gut.

Dog Probiotics vs. Human Probiotics

Quite often people will purchase probiotics in a supplement form for themselves. While many of these are safe for dogs, it’s best to take the guesswork out of the situation by buying dog probiotics. Moreover, some human supplements contain artificial sweeteners that can harm your pet.

Dog probiotics are different from human probiotics since they’re specially formulated for animals and are offered in a safe dose. Even so, it’s good to consult with your veterinarian to make sure that any products you select will provide the most health benefits given your dog’s circumstances.

Does My Dog Need Probiotics?

While your dog doesn’t necessarily need probiotics, incorporating one or more strains into their diet is a proactive practice. That’s because probiotics can have a protective function.

When dogs are healthy, their bodies can usually maintain good and bad bacteria in balance. But when illness happens or they’re under stress, it doesn’t take much for digestive tract microbes to lose their equilibrium. The result can be dog diarrhea and other troubles. This is when probiotics can help.

If your pup regularly takes a probiotic supplement, increasing the dosage during times of illness or stress may provide the additional support they need. Certainly, be sure to consult your vet first.

Remember, your dog’s health needs will change as they age. So, you should factor in what they require in their senior years and plan your probiotic protocol with your vet accordingly.

Probiotics Side Effects

Even something that’s good for you can have side effects, although there aren’t many cons when it comes to dogs probiotics. Probiotics are still very new to the market though so their long term effects will continue to be studied. 

The main thing is giving the correct dosage. And, if your pup has a compromised immune system, or chronic health problems, ask the vet before trying new probiotic strains. 

You’re going for a rebalancing of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Too much beneficial bacteria by giving more probiotics than necessary can be just as bad as the opposite.

Some dogs experience diarrhea, bloating, , nausea, or gas with a probiotic. When introducing something new to your dog’s diet their digestive tract needs time to adjust to the new regime, so it may need a day or two to sort it out. However, if your dog is experiencing diarrhea, a good plan of attack is to stop the probiotic, contact your veterinarian and then restart a lower dose once the diarrhea has resolved to avoid GI upset. 

That said, some dogs have food . While this is quite rare with probiotics, watch for any worrying adverse reactions that might suggest food allergies.

Types of Probiotics for Dogs

Before buying probiotics for your dog, look at the dog food you’re giving Chuck or Cookie. Chances are, you’ll see some probiotic types on the ingredients content list. Many dog foods have strains like enterococcus faecium or Bifidobacterium animalis to aid digestion.

If the ingredients are not what you’re looking for, dog probiotic supplements some in powders or capsules to be added to dog food. Some are also sold as yummy .

In consultation with your vet, consider the pros and cons of different supplements and what probiotic strains will best support your pup’s health. To help you select the correct type, your vet will take into account their knowledge of what each does and your canine’s health and medical history.

Next, decide how you’re going to add a probiotic to your dog’s diet so you’re sure it will be ingested. It’s not going to do much good if your dog friend spits out pills. You might want to try a chew or mix a powder supplement into their kibble. Not to get too complicated, but the powder option can help if you need to offer a supplement to support digestion.

Top Probiotic for Dogs

When it comes to probiotics for dogs, every pup has different needs. Additionally, different groups of good bacteria have distinct functions and effects, so it’s important to understand specifically how their content can help. 

The two most common bacteria strains, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium animalis, might assist in reducing diarrhea in dogs and improve their stools. While many studies on bacteria have been done in humans, this scientific evidence is still being developed specifically for dogs. Let’s look at what the two most common strains do and how they may improve your dog’s gut health. 

In humans, Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria support nutrient absorption from food. So they make sure that your digestive system can extract and metabolize the maximum number of vitamins and nutrients. Lactobacillus acidophilus may also help with your dog’s digestive problems.

Bifidobacterium strains give people’s immune system a boost and assists with overall health. Therefore, it might be good to use for aging dogs or those recovering from illness. Bifidobacterium is known to reduce the severity of a disease and alleviate symptoms.

Natural Probiotics

Before purchasing a probiotic supplement, it’s not a bad idea to try out a few natural foods with helpful bacteria content. Of course, your dog may disagree if they don’t like the taste of any of these!

Fruits and Vegetables

Fermented vegetables and some fruits can be a great source of natural probiotics for dogs. The fermentation process breaks the food down somewhat resulting in the growth of beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes. 

Not all fruits and vegetables are good for dogs though so make sure the food you use is dog friendly! Safe vegetables include carrot, broccoli, and green beans while healthy fruits include bananas and apples (make sure to remove the seeds and core in the apple first).

Kefir

Kefir is another fermented product. It’s made from cow or goat milk and contains billions of live bacteria cultures per serving. You can also offer your pup some unsweetened yogurt, if they prefer.

Plain Yogurt

Finally, plain yogurt is another possibility. Plain yogurt is an easy way to add probiotics to your dog’s diet and its bacterial cultures may be easier on your dog’s gut. 

Since like humans, some dogs have trouble digesting lactose, start with a small amount to see how they react. It’s important to make sure the yogurt you are using is free of artificial flavors and sweeteners as these can be toxic to dogs.

Finding the Best Probiotics for Dogs

When choosing the best probiotics for dogs, there are a few things to take into account. Here’s what you need to be mindful of:

Probiotic Strain

Note what specific strain of probiotic the supplement contains and how it assists. As mentioned, each strain is helpful in a different way – some may reduce while others may boost the immune system. Generally, single-strain probiotics work best.

Guaranteed Analysis

How many live bacteria will be in the product you’re considering at the end of their shelf life? This is your guarantee of the number of bacteria that are present.

Use-before Date

Look at the use-before date and judge whether you’ll be able to use the product up by then. Don’t forget to store the probiotic properly in a cool place like the fridge so bacteria don’t begin to die off prematurely.

Did You Know That Probiotics Need Prebiotics?

Here’s a little further information about probiotics. To work properly, they rely on prebiotics. In essence, prebiotics are the food source for probiotics. They’re a type of soluble fiber that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods like many fruits and vegetables.

When people give dogs prebiotics at the same time as probiotics, they work synergistically. In this case, the synergy benefits your dog’s overall health and well-being. Choose one or more of the following foods with prebiotic content to boost the effectiveness of probiotics.

  • Canned pumpkin

  • Sweet potato 

  • Carrots

  • Apples

Administering the Probiotic Effectively and Efficiently

Your best advisor when it comes to administering probiotics is your vet. That’s because they know more about probiotic supplements than what products put on the label, and they understand your dog’s health circumstances.

Your vet knows how quickly probiotics work on a dog’s gut, also known as the digestive system. They’ll also tell you what to expect by way of any symptoms as your dog’s body adjusts, and what troublesome side effects might appear that need further investigation.

Confirm with your vet the best way to incorporate the particular content into your canine’s diet, including when they can be most beneficial. For instance, if your doggo is prone to gastrointestinal upsets when under stress and a new pet is coming home, that might be a good time to use probiotics.

Our Final Thoughts on Probiotics for Dogs

There are many benefits of probiotics for dogs. Incorporating probiotic content in your dog’s diet is an excellent way for pet parents to improve their canine’s digestion, nutrition, overall health and offer some protection against illness. By offering the proper probiotics, pet owners can support their dog’s well-being and longevity.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best probiotic to give my dog?

Pet owners should choose a probiotic containing the specific type of bacteria to support dog health requirements.

What do probiotics do for dogs?

Probiotics help your dog effectively break down food to extract, absorb and metabolize nutrients.

What is a natural probiotic for dogs?

Foods with natural probiotic content that you can give dogs include yogurt and kefir.