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Probiotics for dogs just might be the key to gut health and longevity. Here are the facts on how and why to feed probiotics to your dog.
Your dog’s body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. When we feed probiotic-rich foods or take a probiotic supplement, we are increasing the chances the “good” bugs are more prevalent than the “bad” bugs, improving the gut health of us and our dogs.
We usually think of bacteria as “germs” that cause disease. However, less than 1% of these tiny microorganisms are actually harmful.
Probiotics not only pack a powerful immune-boosting punch when administered in adequate amounts but also gut and digestive health benefits we are only beginning to fully understand.
As I stated in The Top Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Your Dog’s Gut Health on Antibiotics, as much as 70-80% of your dog’s immune system is based in his gut.
Probiotics help to create balance in the gut between good and bad bacteria generally, but especially when your dog is on antibiotics.
In this post you will learn:
- Why dogs need probiotics to maintain optimal health
- How to avoid the mistakes most dog owners make when giving probiotics to dogs
- Which strains of bacteria are most important and beneficial for dogs
- What natural food sources contain probiotics for dogs
- The top 7 probiotic supplements for dogs I recommend for large breed dog owners
Why do our dogs NEED a probiotic?
Without the right amount of good bacteria living in their gastrointestinal system, dogs (just like humans) can suffer from a wide variety of illnesses, such as:
- Diarrhea/mild dehydration/irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic skin infections (allergies, dermatitis, yeast and parasitic)
- Oral diseases (gingivitis, periodontitis, tooth loss, halitosis)
- Vaginitis in female dogs
Some people will read that and think, “Ok, great. The next time my dog is sick, I will give him a probiotic.”
The problem with this thinking is that it is short-sighted and misses a huge opportunity. It uses a defensive rather than an offensive strategy for maintaining your dog’s health.
Consider these facts as it relates to humans.
- The number of non-human cells (i.e. micro-organisms) in our body outnumbers the human cells,
- And there are over 1 trillion micro-organisms in the gut of an adult human.
The figures for dogs aren’t that different.
When your dog eats, say, yogurt, it helps with gut symbiosis (balance). But because the number of beneficial bacteria you are feeding on a given day is so dramatically outnumbered by all the other bacteria, actual gut flora balance requires a constant source of probiotics.
Think of it like this.
Expecting to be able to take a pill or eat some yogurt and have it take over the ecosystem in your dog’s gut is like dropping a single soldier into China and expecting him to wipe out all life on the continent of Asia and rebuild it from scratch.
In the best case, probiotics can transiently provide a nice little nudge in the ecosystem that might be favorable to our dogs.
And, over time, could influence their gut health.
Stomach Acid and Probiotics for Dogs
The other consideration is the acidity in your dog’s stomach.
Dogs have a very acidic gastrointestinal system (something many of our gut microbes would not like). When the dog is digesting food, their gut acids can plummet to pH 1.5. This is ten times lower than pH 2.5 and 100 times lower than pH 3.5 (where ours are, give or take). (1)
When most bacteria are faced with a highly acidic environment, they die. According to The Good Gut,
“It is thought that only highly resistant bacteria such as the lactobacillus and bifidobacteria genus can survive the stomach acid of the human GI tract. Of these B. animalis, L. casei, L. rhamnosus and L. plantarum have shown the greatest resilience in studies simulating the conditions of the human GI tract.”
When consumed in sufficient quantities, these strains of bacteria have the greatest probability of surviving the even higher acidic environment in our dog’s gut.
Know What’s In Your Dog’s Probiotic!
11 Strains of Bacteria that Enhance Canine Health
1. Bifidobacterium animalis
As a class of bacteria, Bifidobacteria are important colonizers of the GI tract and an integral part of a healthy and normal microbiota existing in the intestines, stomach and colon.
Benefits of B. animalis include preventing inflammatory activity, infection and resolving idiopathic canine diarrhea.(2) It has been shown to increase beneficial gut flora and significantly enhance overall gut health.
2. Bacillus coagulans
Bacillus coagulans is powerfully effective against many kinds of infectious diarrhea, such as rotaviral, antibiotic-caused and “traveler’s” diarrhea. It has been shown to reduce general digestive problems in dogs and helps conditions such as prevent ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome/inflammatory bowel disease. Through forming spores, B. coagulans helps to coat the digestive tract to protect it.
3. L. rhamnosus, L. fermentum, L. reuteri and L. salivarius
All four of these probiotics figure prominently in populations of normal microbiota in dogs.
Along with providing strong anti-microbial activity in the GI tract, these bacteria are also extremely vigorous and capable of significantly modifying and improving gut health. L. reuteri, in particular, has been found to be helpful in preventing or alleviating canine intestinal infections.
4. Lactobacillus acidophilus
One of the most common and well-known bacteria, L. acidophilus is often recommended for people on antibiotics in order to recolonize their GI tract with healthy bacteria.
For dogs, the benefits of L. acidophilus include antibacterial and antifungal properties, protection against common infectious bacterial diseases, and preventative effects against antibiotic-induced diarrhea. It is also known for reducing the occurrence of constipation and diarrhea, increasing nutrient uptake (especially calcium).
5. Enterococcus faecium
Enterococcus faecium promotes higher levels of anti-inflammatory bacteria in the GI tract, specifically lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. It is particularly helpful for dogs undergoing stress.
Additional benefits of E. faecium include inhibitory effects against various enteropathogens, prevention of infectious and antibiotic-induced diarrhea, boosts immune response and stimulates immune system functioning.
6. Bifidobacterium bifidum
Bifidobacterium bifidum can help strengthen your dog’s immune system. It is also capable of helping to balance the bacterium inside your dog’s stomach.
7. Lactobacillus casei
Lactobacillus casei is another strain of bacterium you should be looking for in your dog’s probiotic. It will help aid with digestion and it helps protect the digestive tract lining.
8. Lactobacillus plantarum
Lactobacillus plantarum is a strong strain of bacterium that can survive going through your dog’s digestive system. It helps to treat diarrhea and improves your dog’s liver health.
Natural Food Sources of Probiotics for Dogs
There are many natural food sources of probiotics that are safe and healthy for your dog.
Here are three that I believe are some of the easiest to make and feed on a regular basis to improve your dog’s gut health.
Future posts will address HOW to make these from scratch, but for now I just want to share what they are.
Kefir is similar to yogurt, but packs a much more potent punch of beneficial bacteria.
Kefir is a fermented milk made with kefir grains (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter). Kefir grains consist of casein (protein) and gelatinous colonies of microorganisms that have grown together.
One absolutely amazing thing about kefir grains is that the culture is a living organism with an indefinite lifespan, so you can use the grains over and over again. Packed with probiotics, this whole food has antifungal properties, helps relieve flatulence, and can even kill yeast.
Kefir grains can contain up to 10+ strains of bacteria and yeasts, making them a very rich and diverse probiotic source. Kefir is beneficial for helping to treat diarrhea and alleviate many digestive problems as well.
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains Common in Milk Kefir Grains:
Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei
Milk Kefir Grains
These are starter kefir grains that can be re-used indefinitely when you follow the instructions.
2. Fermented Vegetables
While I have not personally made them myself, the gut health benefits of fermented vegetables have well been established.
According to Dr. Mercola,
“Fermented vegetables not only provide a wider variety of beneficial bacteria than probiotic supplements, they also provide far more of them. About the highest level of colony-forming units you’ll find in human probiotic supplements is 10 billion. But fermented veggies produced by probiotic starter cultures can produce 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. That means one human serving size of fermented veggies provides the same benefit as an entire bottle of high-potency probiotics.”
One thing to keep in mind with fermented vegetables is the taste. Some dogs may turn their noses up as this powerful probiotic has been described as tasting “like a tangy form of sauerkraut.”
As such, it is helpful to start with small amounts at first, working up to 1 to 3 teaspoons a day for every 20 pounds of body weight. So for those of us with dogs 200+ pounds, this will be about ¼ cup – ½ cup a day.
3. Bone broth
While not a probiotic specifically, bone broth can positively impact your dog’s gut health so it is worth mentioning here.
According to Dog’s Naturally Magazine,
“The lining of the intestines contains millions of tiny holes that allow the passage of digested nutrients to enter the body. Stress, poor diet and bacterial overgrowth can cause more holes to open or to become bigger…this is called leaky gut. The problem with those big holes is that things can pass through that aren’t meant to, including undigested food matter, toxins and yeast. The body will notice those undigested food particles as foreign invaders and start to attack them. This is how allergies and food sensitivities develop. Bone broth is loaded with a gooey substance that can plug up those leaky holes: gelatin!”
In addition, bone broth has the amino acid glycine which aids the liver in the process of detoxification. So when your dog is on an antibiotic, for example, bone broth can provide a secondary benefit to your dog’s gut health by way of detoxification.
Top 5 Tips for Feeding Probiotics to Dogs
VIDEO: FAQs on Feeding Probiotics to Dogs Facebook Live Replay
7 Best Probiotic Supplements for Dogs
Super premium probiotic for dogs and cats. Contains 1 Billion CFUs (Colony Forming Units) per scoop (2 scoops for dogs over 50 lbs) = 2 billion CFUs
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in Nusentia Probiotic Miracle® (6 of 11)
Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus plantarum
Brings together 14 of the most powerful strains of beneficial bacteria, with 38 Billion CFUs in EVERY Scoop. For dogs 50+ pounds, give 2.5 – 3 scoops per day.
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in Complete Probiotics for Pets (7 of 11)
Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bacillus coagulans, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum
Utilizes 14 of the most productive live and stabilized probiotics available . 1.6 Billion CFU per scoop. The directions say to use 1 scoop for every cup of food (2 scoops for raw fed dogs), however, I never fed this much when I used this supplement.
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in NWC Naturals Total-Biotics® for Pets (8 of 11)
Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bacillus coagulans, L. salivarius, B. bifidum, L. casei, L. plantarum
TummyWorks contains an all-natural, unique blend of 10 Probiotics, 6 Digestive Enzymes and a Prebiotic. 2 billion CFU’s per scoop: Dogs over 50lbs: 2 scoops daily
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in TummyWorks by Finest For Pets (7 of 11)
Lactobacillus acidophilis,L. Casei, L. Rhamnosus, L. plantarum, L. reuteri, B. bifidum, E. Faecium
Probiotic Max contains a MINIMUM of 6.8 Billion CFUs (Colony Forming Units) PER GRAM or approximately 1/5 teaspoon guaranteed. Dogs over 50 pounds = 1/2 teaspoon daily per each 50 pounds
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in DogZymes Probiotics Max (4 of 11)
Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, Enterococcus faecium
Pet Dophilus is a probiotic formulation for dogs designed to help maintain a balanced intestinal microbial ecosystem in order to promote intestinal health and immune function. Each gram (approximately 1/4 teaspoon) contains a minimum of 1 billion CFUs. Dose for large dogs = ½ tsp – 1 tsp = 2-4 Billion CFUs
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in Jarrow PetDophilus (4 of 11)
Bifidobacterium animalis lactis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecium, L. Casei
Vetri Mega Probiotic capsules provide an easy way to support dogs with digestive health. Each Vetri Mega Probiotic capsule is guaranteed to contain 5 billion microorganisms. Dogs over 40 pounds get 2 capsules.
Dog-Friendly Bacteria Strains in VetriScience Probiotics (4 of 11)
Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus casei
While outside the scope of this post about bacterial-based probiotics, Daily Dog is a unique yeast-based probiotic for dogs. It contains 5 Billion CFU’s of Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii, a yeast strain of probiotic that is safe to use during antibiotic therapy and supports optimal digestion. Read more about Daily Dog here and watch my interview with co-founder Dr. Rob Franklin, DVM, DACVIM.