“All disease begins in the gut.”
The idea that gut health plays a fundamental role in overall health has existed for centuries and is gaining increasing recognition in modern science. A healthy gut helps with digestion, leading to better nutrient absorption and a stronger immune system—not just in humans but also in dogs. Unfortunately, poor digestive health is also a common problem for canines. Research shows that gastrointestinal issues are one of the leading reasons why dogs are taken to the vet. Probiotics can provide dogs with an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal problems the relief they need.
What are probiotics?Billions of bacteria reside in the human digestive tract. Collectively, they are referred to as the microbiome. A microbiome that’s out of balance can cause discomfort and produce excess gas and loose stool. Probiotics are the live microorganisms (“good bacteria”) that line the gut of humans, dogs, and other animals and promote balance in the intestines. They are found in many fermented foods but can also be taken as supplements. The right quantity and combination of probiotic bacteria can result in significant health benefits of probiotics for dogs. The most commonly used probiotics for animals of all kinds are strains of Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and yeast. These healthy gut microbes help maintain balance in the gastrointestinal tract to promote health and prevent diseases. They also support the body in performing functions like:
- Breaking down food
- Fighting off infections and potential pathogens
- Strengthening immunity
- Interacting with the gut-brain axis to regulate mood
What are the benefits of probiotics for dogs?
Though we’re just beginning to understand the potential benefits of probiotics for dogs, it’s quite apparent that adding probiotics to your pet’s diet can positively impact their overall health and well-being.
- improving gut health, digestion, and nutrient absorption;
- crowding out and replacing bad bacteria (such as E.coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perferingens) with good bacteria;
- preventing and treating disease by enhancing mucosal barrier integrity and thus limiting the ability of germs to enter the bloodstream and other parts of the body;
- having a direct antimicrobial effect by producing natural antibiotics such as lactic acid, fatty acids, and acetic acid; and
- exerting anti-inflammatory properties by reducing the production of proinflammatory agents and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory agents. Read more.
In addition, probiotics reduce allergic reactions by building up intestinal barriers to keep allergens trapped within the GI tract and by limiting inflammation as mentioned above. Separately, probiotics further aid in keeping allergens (and germs, for that matter) trapped within the gut by maintaining and prolonging the lives of the tight junctions that hold adjacent intestinal cells together. (The tighter these cells are held together, the less space there is for allergens and germs to pass.) They also cause the production of immunoglobulin A (the antibodies found in the gut and other mucosal areas) and β-defensin (a substance that destroys invading microbes by destabilizing the cell membrane and attracts antibodies to the microbe). Read more.
Probiotics also produce antimicrobial agents like fatty acids, lactic acid, and acetic acid and also release enzymes (proteases) that inactivate certain bacterial toxins. Probiotics also improve oral health by balancing the growth of microorganisms that reside in the mouth and thereby treat bad breath. Read more.
Of course, not all good bacteria have all of those desired effects in equal measure, so, depending on the condition being treated, a mix of probiotics is desirable. For example, Bifidobacterium animalis has been shown to reduce the duration of acute diarrhea in dogs, and strains of Lactobacillus have been shown to improve the frequency and quality of stool in dogs. Read more and more.
Probiotic supplementation is especially important for dogs facing any disease or any other type of stress like changes in food or environment. Probiotics improve canine gut health, treat diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and other stomach issues, help prevent intestine and urinary tract infections, perk up your dog’s mood and behavior, boost your dog’s immune system, and improve appetite and digestion. Read more.
Probiotics help treat chronic gastrointestinal abnormalities, gas and flatulence, obesity, and liver and behavioral problems. Read more.
They may also improve the body surface and brighten hair coat by balancing the surface microbes. Read more.
Antibiotics destroy good and bad bacteria without discrimination. Accordingly, if your dog is on a course of antibiotic treatment, his natural gut bacteria will need to be replenished with good bacteria by supplementing with probiotics. Thus, the dosage may need to be increased during and/or after antibiotic treatment. Read more.
They also help to control inflammation and improve clinical signs in several serious infections like parvovirus. Read more.
Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria have been used in people and canines safely for a long time with minimal or no serious side effects—another important benefit of probiotics for dogs. (Experience with Enterococcus bacteria probiotics is more mixed—for example, the European Union has not granted this type of bacteria a presumption of safety.) However, every dog and dog gut is different, so you should always consult your veterinarian prior to adding any supplement. He or she may suggest a different dosage than that suggested by the manufacturer, as the efficacy of any probiotic supplement depends on various factors, including dose and timing and pattern of dosing, the particular animal and its existing microbial mix, and the presence of any infectious condition or antibiotic treatment. Read more.