One of the most interesting trends today is probiotic health in both humans and dogs. Do probiotics work? Should they be taken with a prebiotic? Is yogurt just as effective? Pet parents understand that probiotics are important for their pets, yet are still not sure as to which brands are most beneficial.
That said, when purchasing a probiotic for your dog, it’s necessary to look for the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) quality seal. The NASC seal ensures that you’re purchasing a high-quality supplement and that the manufacturer maintains ongoing quality standards and compliance checks with the NASC labeling standards. Opting only for high-quality dog supplements means that you’re giving your furry best friend a safe and high-quality product.
Dogs of all breeds are prone to gastrointestinal disorders, most especially German Shepherds. Symptoms will include vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss, and it may take you a while to get to the cause and treatment without a veterinary consult.
Gastrointestinal tests are useful in that they can check for any vitamin deficiencies like vitamin B, which usually results from a GI issue. The trypsin-like immunoreactivity test checks your dog to see if the exocrine pancreas is functioning properly. This part of the pancreas is responsible for the production and excretion of digestive enzymes necessary for proper digestion and nutrient absorption. So here’s where the probiotics come in to play!
What are Probiotics?
All dogs, especially senior dogs, need probiotics together with prebiotics for optimal synergy. Both work together, and the results of feeding both together are far superior to feeding one alone. Probiotics are live microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts that help to maintain the gut’s “good” bacteria.
Prebiotics can reduce the risk of harmful bacteria like mycotoxins (E. coli & Salmonella) in your dog’s gut. Prebiotics attach to a cell wall and then get absorbed into the body.
Beneficial “gut-friendly” bacteria help to optimize digestion in dogs and people by supporting the gut microflora. Probiotic brands that offer billions of live organisms that are derived from multiple bacteria strains are quality brands. Consulting with your veterinarian as to which probiotic is best for your furry best friend, is always a good idea.
Goal of Probiotics
The aim of probiotics is to help with nutrient absorption and to promote optimal digestion. You may be feeding your dog high-quality dog food, but your dog, most especially if he’s a senior, will need help via probiotic supplements. Also, it’s best to consider if your dog breed may be prone to digestive issues.
What are The Benefits of Probiotics?
With millions of dogs consuming commercial dog food diets, many of them lacking probiotics, enzymes, and prebiotics, you’ll need to optimize all three and add them in every day, to ensure digestive tract health in your dog. This helps to minimize bloat, leaky gut syndrome, and other digestive conditions in dogs. Probiotics support healthy gut flora, helps reduce colic, and most importantly, help support the immune system in dogs.
What to Look For in a Probiotic?
- Probiotics (multi-strained blend)
- Prebiotics (to support flora)
- Digestive enzymes
- Trace minerals
- Essential fatty acids
- Sources of B vitamins
Decreases Flatulence and Aids Digestion
Probiotics together with a prebiotic allow for optimal maintenance of beneficial intestinal bacteria. Not only do probiotics together with prebiotics minimize E. coli, Salmonella & Clostridium perfringens growth, but they help the digestive tract to function at peak performance. This is important for show and agility dogs, and dogs that spend a lot of time on the road between shows. These dogs may be prone to stomach upsets, diarrhea, and vomiting. It also helps with inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.
Prebiotics, are starchy fiber compounds that are not digested in the stomach, but travel to the bowels, and ferment. Here, they are food to the “good bacteria”, or beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics can be found in numerous plant roots like inulin, which is a polysaccharide compound.
Improves Bad Breath
Probiotics help to keep bad “doggie” breath away. Your dog’s breath should not be foul-smelling and instead should have a neutral odor. Plaque buildup on teeth can also contribute to bath breath in dogs. Consult with your veterinarian for the best advice. A healthy gut also keeps bad breath away in dogs.
Enhances the Immune System
Pre/Probiotics help to maintain good intestinal bacteria, thus allowing for good health and longevity in dogs. Because probiotics curbs E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens’ growth, it is beneficial in enhancing immune system health in dogs.
Probiotics also help prevent and treat diarrhea, as well as improves inflammatory bowel disease. Good gut health means that your dog has improved mood and behavior and that there is less chance for the following conditions:
- Liver disorders
- Chronic GI abnormalities
- Less yeast-linked illnesses
- Better skin and coat condition
- Improved breath
- Good and regular bowel movements
- Maintenance of beneficial intestinal bacteria for optimal immune function
- Fewer liver disorders
The main role of the immune system is to fight off “foreign invaders” or abnormal cells that can invade or attack the body. When the body recognizes these “foreign invaders”, it can protect itself against microorganisms like viruses, chemical agents, and other foreign substances. That said, probiotics with the use of a prebiotic, when given together, will stimulate the immune system by getting it to respond against antigens like viruses and bacteria, and even cancer cells. Probiotics with antioxidants help fight inflammation.
The colony-forming unit or CFU is the number of living bacteria in a sample. A high-quality probiotic will reach a dog’s colon, and will then multiply in the hundreds. There are some probiotics for dogs that have a low CFU in the range of 200-500 million, with others having much higher CFU’s. This is also shown by the types of strains used in each probiotic formula. Pet parents need to look at what types of conditions need to be treated. Dogs that have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome will obviously need to have a higher CFU count in their probiotics. Dogs that have a tendency to occasionally have mild stomach disorders or diarrhea will do fine with a lower probiotic CFU, since higher counts may not be beneficial with diarrhea.
Additionally, dogs that take probiotics to maintain immune health will generally do well with a lower CFU count of between 1-4 billion CFU’s. That said, a dog’s weight should also be taken into consideration. Consulting your veterinarian as to the best probiotic for your furry best friend helps, when undecided as to which probiotic to choose.
Best Probiotics for Dogs
With probiotics producing short chains of fatty acids of (SCFA’s), which inhibit harmful bacteria growth, pet parents need to look at which strains of probiotics are most effective in treating diarrhea, intestinal inflammation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Effective probiotics may also be beneficial in treating urinary tract infections in dogs, as well as allergic reactions since they reduce inflammation in the body.
Choosing the best probiotics for your dog may sometimes be difficult because there are so many really good brands out there. When choosing a probiotic for your dog, it’s best to look out for the following:
- Examine all the strains and do research. Some strains work against each other for absorption.
- Examine all the research done on the strains, and see if they are beneficial to your dog’s condition.
- Take note that low-quality probiotic formulas will have low amounts of probiotic strains.
Consult with your veterinarian before purchasing a probiotic for your dog, to make sure that the formula will be therapeutic so that your dog can benefit from it. The probiotic needs to have a preventative effect as well.
Effective Probiotic Strains Include the Following:
- Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68)
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bifidobacterium animals (strain HC7) known to help reduce diarrhea in dogs.
Yogurt is delicious as a daily snack with blueberries and can be fed once a day to dogs of all ages. Including cheeses like Swiss, Gouda, Cheddar, and other soft cheeses in your dog’s daily diet helps to support gut health. Kefir is also beneficial as a probiotic. It contains complex structures of bacteria and yeast with proteins, lipids, and sugars. Kefir “friendly” bacteria are not found in all yogurts. Small dogs do well with one tbsp. of kefir daily, medium-sized breeds with 1-2 tbsp. daily, and large breeds with 2-3 tbsp. daily.
Probiotic in Dog Food
It’s important for pet parents to note that most probiotics that have been added to a commercial dog food formula, have been killed off during the manufacturing process. Although pet parents look for commercial dog food with added probiotics, it’s good to keep in mind that highly- processed dog food will not have any specialty ingredients left over after the manufacturing process.
With your dog’s diet being the foundation of good health together with regular veterinary care and exercise, it’s necessary to purchase high-quality probiotic supplements that will restore the microbiome, most especially during stressful periods in your dog’s life.
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Meet The Author
Claudia Bensimoun is a freelance journalist and author, and specializes in veterinary content, and eBooks. She’s a long-time feature writer for Animal Wellness magazine, Fido Friendly magazine, and the United States Dog Agility Association. In addition, Bensimoun has written for numerous pet websites, magazines, newspapers and online publications. Her interests include wildlife conservation, animal welfare, disaster/ humanitarian relief, veterinary research, and veganism.