Every day there’s more and more learned about probiotics and the microbiome. And that means there are more things you need to know about including probiotics in the long-term healthcare of your dog.
Let’s zero in on why probiotics are so important to your dog … starting with the microbiome.
What Is The Microbiome?
Your dog’s gut is full of bacteria … good and bad. All these bacteria, along with yeasts, fungi and viruses are part of the microbiome. The good bacteria are probiotics. These are live microorganisms that live in the colon and provide lots of health benefits for your dog. And they’ve got important jobs to do.
What Do Probiotics Do For My Dog?
Think of probiotics as soldiers. They protect your dog’s body from bad bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, viruses and fungi. They restore the microbiome and repopulate the colon with healthy bacteria. And here’s what else they do:
- Help with proper digestion.
- Produce important B vitamins and vitamin K.
- Help absorption of nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron.
- Moderate mood by producing serotonin.
- Produce enzymes for various functions.
- Reduce gut pH.
- Good bacteria reduces harmful bacteria.
- Support the immune system.
Why The Immune System Needs Probiotics
Probiotics create short chain fatty acids in your dog’s colon. Here’s the work they do:
- Protect the gut lining
- Prevent leaky gut and food allergies
- Build T-cells in the immune system to fight inflammation
- Help the absorption of nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron
But sometimes your dog doesn’t get enough probiotics.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Missing Probiotics
If your dog experiences these symptoms, his diet could be missing probiotics:
- Gas and bloating
- Skin issues, including yeast
- Food intolerances because of poor digestion
If your dog still has these symptoms, maybe you aren’t feeding the probiotics. You need to give prebiotics along with the probiotics.
Why Probiotics Need Prebiotics
If the probiotics aren’t fed, they won’t be able to multiply and repopulate the intestine with healthy bacteria. Probiotics need prebiotics. And that’s fiber. Soluble fiber and resistant starch are 2 important sources of fiber for your dog.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water. Good bacteria consumes the fiber. Then it becomes fermented in the colon. Soluble fiber includes pectin from fruit, beta-glucan from mushrooms, some grains and sea vegetables.
When this type of fiber reaches your dog’s colon, these prebiotics become food for the probiotics. Fiber isn’t digested by enzymes. But good bacteria in the trillions can break it down and ferment it.
When Does Your Dog Need Probiotics?
Probiotics are always needed to support a strong immune system. But when your dog shows signs of illness, he needs probiotics even more. If your dog has any of these symptoms or issues, his microbiome is out of balance.
- Allergy symptoms (itching, rash)
- Leaky gut
- Yeast (Candida)
- Urinary tract infections
- Aggressiveness or mood disorders
- Bowel issues
You can help your dog maintain a healthy gut with both probiotics and prebiotics in his diet. Then when there’s an imbalance in bacteria levels of the microbiome his system will be ready for it.
These things can cause an imbalance:
- Prescribed medications and drugs
- High starch diet (kibble)
- High amounts of fat in the diet
How To Choose The Best Probiotic For Your Dog
Each dog will need a different probiotic depending on his health and diet. Here are some of the best ones and how to use them.
1. Lactic Acid Probiotics
Most probiotics are lactic acid bacteria made from fermented milk. They’re listed by strain and species: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are the species. You’ll see B. or L. B. longum or L. acidophilus.
Lactobacillus species turn milk sugar into lactic acid. This inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestine. Bifidobacterium species produces lactic acid. It lives in the colon and interacts with immune cells. They support the immune system by crowding out damaging bacteria. Both of these types of probiotics only last about 24 hours before they’re eliminated from the gut. If you’re feeding your dog these probiotics, they need it daily.
Here are some lactic acid probiotic strains:
You’ll find this in most probiotics. It’s well researched in dogs. It can increase Lactobacillus in the gut and reduce harmful clostridia. It supports immune cells.
You’ll find this in the mucus membrane of animals. It’s part of the gut-brain axis. That's the communication network between the gut and the brain. This probiotic can affect mood and emotions.
Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus
These probiotics help dogs with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It strengthens the lining of the colon. And they can reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Dogs with anxiety have demonstrated low levels of Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
This probiotic has been successful in helping dogs with acute diarrhea.
Studies on dogs show this probiotic works on the gut-brain axis as well. Another study found that larger amounts of Bifidobacterium longum reduce signs of stress in dogs. It can also address diarrhea and food allergies.
This probiotic is more resilient at surviving the acidity in your dog’s gut. It does this better than most of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. It’s beneficial for dogs and is a great addition to canine probiotics.
This probiotic helps skin conditions and leaky gut.
2. Probiotic Yeast
Saccharomyces boulardii is a healthy yeast that’s a probiotic. And it isn’t destroyed by antibiotics. That means it protects the beneficial gut bacteria and avoids diarrhea caused by antibiotics. It also helps with Candida and yeast. And it addresses digestive issues caused by chronic inflammation.
3. Soil-Based Probiotics
Bacilli strains of probiotics are soil based probiotics, not lactic acid based. They are also known as spore-forming probiotics. They have a hard coating that protects them from heat, stomach acids and most antibiotics. Many antibiotics are from soil-based probiotics for this reason. These probiotics are often found in soil and water.
The most common strains used include:
This is a lactic acid producing bacteria that crowds out bad bacteria. Bacillus coagulans is also anti-inflammatory and can address inflammatory digestive diseases. A 2016 study showed that it improved rheumatoid arthritis in rats.
- indicus is a unique probiotic that produces carotenoids … yes, antioxidants! It also produces B vitamins, vitamin K2 and quinols. This is good for dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). Or any dog needing digestive enzymes.
- subtilis lives in the guts of healthy dogs. Before the rise of antibiotics, this treated urinary tract infections. B. subtilis has a strong effect on the immune system and is helpful for dogs with autoimmune disease. That’s because it helps produce IgA, an important antibody these dogs may need. IgA strengthens the gut lining and produces vitamin K.
What Are Some Natural Probiotics for Dogs?
Natural probiotics are simply … food. They appear in food as bacteria, ferment, fiber and sugar. Common probiotic foods are:
This is fermented milk. It's made with the bacteria species Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. But yogurt, and in fact all dairy, isn’t great for dogs. Dairy products can cause inflammation and immune issues in dogs. And despite popular advertising campaigns, yogurt contains very few probiotics. Plus yogurt is high in sugar, even the unsweetened varieties. This can harm your dog’s gut flora.
Chaga, kefir and kimchi are common fermented foods. They can be a healthy part of your dog’s diet. They contain extremely large numbers of prebiotics … but there’s one potential problem. They can feed harmful bacteria and yeast as well as good bacteria. Fermented foods can also be a problem for dogs with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and yeast infections. Let’s look into this a bit later. So feed fermented foods with caution and don’t overdo them.
High fiber foods are the best options to support a healthy gut. Try including these prebiotics in your dog’s meals:
- Dandelion greens
- Chicory root
- Sea vegetables
- Jerusalem artichoke
How To Choose a Probiotic Supplement
If you’re giving your dog lactic acid bacteria you need to look for several strains. And it will need a large number of colony forming units (CFU). That’s the huge number you see on the bottle. These probiotics don’t last long in your dog’s gut so you’ll need at least 10 billion CFUs to increase availability. Dogs with digestive or immune problems will need more. Look for about 25-50 billion CFU for a medium to large sized dog.
Saccharomyces boulardii is more robust than dairy based probiotics. So you can give a smaller amount … a half billion to 5 billion CFU.
For soil-based probiotics, you can use an even smaller amount of CFUs. They’ll survive the acidity of the gut. Choose about 1 billion CFU.
Can Probiotics Harm My Dog?
The biggest issue with probiotics is that you might not get the results you were hoping for. Here are some of the conditions where they might not work.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Most of your dog’s bacteria should live in his colon, not in the small intestine. SIBO means large amounts of bacteria become established in the small intestine. This interferes with the work of the small intestine … namely, digestion and nutrient absorption. These are some causes of SIBO:
- High sugar, high carb diets
- Reduced gut motility (contractions also known as peristalsis)
- Antibiotics and steroids that damage the microbiome
Surprisingly high numbers of people with chronic digestive issues have SIBO … about 80%. And the number in dogs might be just as high. If your dog has SIBO you might see these symptoms:
- Chronic or intermittent diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Acid reflux disease (GERD)
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
- Food intolerances
- Skin issues
- Leaky gut
With SIBO, you’ve already got too much bacteria so probiotics can cause a bigger problem. So if your dog’s symptoms get worse with probiotics, SIBO could be the reason.
If your dog might have SIBO, soil based bacteria could be a better choice. These are the probiotics with a protective coating. Then they can pass through the small intestine and colonize in the colon.
Choose The Right Probiotics After Antibiotics
Now here’s some unexpected information. You give your dog probiotics after antibiotics to repopulate the good bacteria in his gut. But … it’s become apparent the type of probiotic is equally important. A 2018 study found that giving Lactobacillus probiotics after antibiotics caused a delay in the microbiome’s recovery. Recovery was even weaker than the group who got no probiotics. Instead, give Saccharomyces boulardii and soil based probiotics (Bacillus subtiliis and Bacillus coagulans). These are the best probiotics to restore your dog’s microbiome after antibiotics.
How Long Should I Give Probiotics To My Dog?
If you’re adding dietary sources of probiotics and prebiotics, you can add some to every meal. You can rotate through a daily dose of fermented veggies, mushrooms, kefir, sea vegetables or fruit. Your dog will also benefit from their other nutrients as well. If you want to give probiotics as a preventative, you can give them most days. Soil based probiotics are a better option for everyday use as they are less likely to cause SIBO.
Lactic acid probiotics like a high CFU Lactobacillus are best for acute issues like diarrhea. Once the issue starts to resolve you can cut back and feed less often. It should resolve in a few days. Then you can cut back. When using probiotics, recovery time reduces by half according to some studies. Continue probiotics for a few weeks and you’ll help resolve the underlying gut issues.
Now you know why probiotics are such an important part of your dog’s diet. More importantly, they’re integral in supporting his microbiome. Be sure to include them whenever you can to help your dog live a longer and healthier life.
Written By Joanne Keenan
Joanne is a writer on the Dogs Naturally Content Team. For 20 years, she’s been committed to maintaining a multi-dog household reared on raw meat, whole foods and good manners. She coined “chew factor” as her method to keep her first puppy pair occupied by chewing on frozen raw bones. With interests in human and canine nutrition and fitness, she is finally using her journalism background to explore interests close to her heart and her dogs.