Should Your Dog Be Taking A Probiotic? Here's Everything You Need To Consider

Written by Alex Martin

Photo by Taylor Kampa

It’s no secret that people adore their dogs. In fact, it’s been shown that oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone," surges through our bodies when we look into our dog’s eyes, strengthening the bond we share with our pups.

And taking steps to keep your beloved dog healthy before illness strikes will help keep the oxytocin flowing, tail wagging strong, and visits to the vet to a minimum. One crucial but often overlooked aspect of canine health is their gut microbiome, which refers to all the bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other tiny organisms that are along for the ride in your dog’s intestines.

Tiny as they are, the microbiome has an enormous impact on your dog’s health (and your health too!). Regularly giving your dog a probiotic supplement is a great way to keep those tiny microbes, and consequently your dog, happy and healthy. With hundreds of probiotics on the market, it can be difficult to decide on the one that is best for your pet. Here are some guidelines to consider:

1. You should use a human probiotic.

Surprisingly enough, you may not actually need to head to your nearest pet store or vet clinic to pick up a probiotic. In fact, it’s probably not a bad idea to turn straight to human probiotics, which are more carefully regulated and must meet more stringent quality control requirements compared to the veterinary supplement market. One recent study found that only two out of the 25 veterinary probiotics analyzed contained the bacterial strains and concentrations that were advertised on the bottle. Another study found that several contained live organisms not listed on the bottle, some of which were potentially pathogenic. In short, human-grade probiotics are the best bet, whether you have two legs or four.

2. Look for many strains.

So what should you be looking for on the ingredients list? Generally, the more strains that are in a probiotic, the better for your dog. Every kind of bacteria has a slightly different job, and when many slightly different bacteria all work in tandem together, they provide more benefit than an equal amount of just one strain. This is because bacteria that we call "beneficial" is really only beneficial if it lives among a wide array of other types of bacteria.

Consider the Lactobacillus genus, for example, which has a whole host of health benefits and is a very popular group to include in probiotic supplements. Its benefits include the ability to suppress inflammation, regulate metabolism, and even fight cancer cells. In the case of probiotics, however, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. It has been shown that administering high doses of an individual strain of Lactobacillus in an attempt to prevent diarrhea may actually increase the likelihood that diarrhea will occur. For this reason, seek out a probiotic with at least six different strains of bacteria. In addition to Lactobacillus, the Bifidobacterium and Enterococcus genera are worth adding to your dog's dose, provided you can find one probiotic that contains all three.

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3. Make sure your capsule is coated.

Perhaps one of the largest drawbacks to the bacteria in probiotics is that they are sensitive and often don’t do well when they enter acidic environments like the canine stomach. No matter how many top-quality strains in a probiotic, they won’t be providing much benefit if they’re dead! To protect these friendly microbes during their journey through your pup’s stomach, look for a bacterial probiotic that is contained within an enteric-coated capsule. An enteric-coated capsule won’t dissolve in even the strongest of acids, so the bacteria will remain encapsulated in the stomach. After spending about 45 minutes in the more neutral environment of the small intestine, the capsules begin to break open, releasing the bacteria into a friendlier living environment.

4. Consider non-bacteria probiotics.

In the world of probiotics, those of bacterial origin seem to steal the show; most people are not aware of the benefits of other kinds of microbes. But Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii for short), a yeast-based probiotic, has shown to be particularly beneficial, whether your dog has health issues or not. These friendly microbes travel through the digestive system and seek out disease-causing pathogens. When a S. boulardii cell finds a pathogen, it binds to the pathogen’s outer wall, which prevents it from attaching itself to your dog’s intestinal tract. Then, the S. boulardii, together with the pathogen, exit the digestive tract, keeping the pup safe from harm. This unique ability has helped S. boulardii protect against potentially life-threatening digestive issues caused by pathogens like Clostridium difficile, Clostridium perfringens, and Staphylococcus aureus in dogs. Amazingly, S. boulardii is also resistant to stomach acid, so there is no need to enclose it in an enteric-coated capsule.

5. Take care with dosing.

Once you’ve chosen a probiotic for your dog, you’ll want to build up to the appropriate dosage over the course of one to two weeks to allow your pup time to acclimate. Starting off with a full dose immediately can cause digestive upset. While this typically lasts only a few days, it's easily avoidable if you take things slowly.

When looking to see specific improvements in your dog, know that changes in the gut microbiome tend to happen slowly. It takes time for the colonized bacteria from the probiotic to reproduce and spread throughout the entire intestine. If your dog was not showing any signs of health issues, it can be difficult to tell whether the probiotic is bringing any benefit, but sometimes owners will notice a shinier coat, increased energy, or more regular stool.

If your dog has never been on probiotics, consider giving them a go! They’re easy to acquire, have very few side effects, and have the potential to be beneficial to your dog’s long-term health.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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