Every day there’s more and more information about probiotics and the microbiome. So there's always more to know about probiotics in the long-term healthcare of your dog.
There’s also more and more choice in products … so how do you know which are the best probiotics for dogs?
First, let’s zero in on why probiotics are so important to your dog … starting with the microbiome.
What Is The Microbiome?
Your dog’s digestive tract is full of bacteria … good and bad. These bacteria and other microorganisms form a community known as the microbiome. The good bacteria are probiotics ... live microorganisms that live mainly in the colon.
What Do Probiotics Do For My Dog?
Here are some important jobs probiotics have ...
- Support general gut health
- Crowd out bad bacteria
- Produce fatty acids that limit harmful bacteria growth
- Help digest food
- Produce important vitamins (like vitamins B and K)
- Make serotonin that affects mood
- Produce enzymes
- Lower gut pH
- Support the immune system
Why The Immune System Needs Probiotics
About 90% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut, so diverse gut bacteria are essential to his health. Short chain fatty acids are an important part of gut health.
Probiotics ferment food to create short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in your dog’s colon ... and they too have some important jobs. SCFAs help = ...
- Nourish friendly bacteria
- Prevent growth of bad bacteria
- Create the gut's mucosal lining and keep cells close together
- Lower glucose and manage obesity
- Defend against food allergens
- Build T-cells in the immune system to reduce inflammation
- Absorbtion of nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron
Probiotics work best when you also give prebiotics ...
Why Probiotics Need Prebiotics
Probiotics need prebiotics to feed them. Prebiotic foods are high in fiber, so try including some of these in your dog’s meals:
- Dandelion greens
- Chicory root
- Sea vegetables
- Jerusalem artichoke
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
- Obesity or diabetes
- Aggressiveness or mood disorders
- Bowel issues
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 Probiotics For Dogs
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 limits development 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 ony last about 24 hours in the gut. If you use these probiotics, your dog needs them daily.
Here are some lactic acid probiotic strains:
You’ll find this species in most probiotics. 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 often have 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.
Most Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species come from dairy, so may not be suitable for dogs who have dairy or other allergies.
But the next two below ... yeast and soil-based probiotics ... are non-dairy, so they are usually better for dogs with allergies.
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 can manage 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 help with inflammatory digestive diseases. A 2016 study showed that it improved rheumatoid arthritis in rats.
This is a unique probiotic that produces carotenoids … which are 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.
Bacillus subtitles lives in the healthy dogs' guts. Before the rise of antibiotics, it was used to treat 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 often lack. IgA strengthens the gut lining and produces vitamin K.
What Are 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 milk fermented with the bacteria species Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. But yogurt 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 even unsweetened yogurt is high in sugar, which can harm your dog’s gut flora.
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 (more on this later). So feed fermented foods with caution and don’t overdo them.
How To Choose a Probiotic Supplement
If you’re giving your dog lactic acid bacteria you need to look for several strains and a large number of colony forming units (CFUs). 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 ... so 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 situations where some probiotics 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 expand and spread into 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
About 80% of people with chronic digestive issues have SIBO. 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, there's already too much bacteria in the small intestine, so probiotics can cause the overgrowth to get worse. If your dog’s symptoms get worse with probiotics, SIBO could be the reason.
If your dog has SIBO, soil based bacteria are a better choice. These spore-forming probiotics have a protective coating that allows them to pass intact through the small intestine. Then they can get to the colon where they’re needed.
Choose The Right Probiotics After Antibiotics
Now here’s some unexpected information. You know that antibiotics destroy all the bacteria in your dog’s gut … good as well as bad. And they can lead to antibiotic resistance in dogs. So 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.
FOUR LEAF ROVER RECOMMENDS: Protect is a veterinarian-formulated daily soil-based probiotic, with S. boulardii and prebiotics to help your dog’s gut recover from antibiotics. Buy Protect now >>
How Long Should I Give Probiotics To My Dog?
If you’re adding dietary sources of probiotics and prebiotics, you can give them at every meal. You can rotate through a daily dose of fermented veggies, mushrooms, kefir, sea vegetables or fruit. Your dog will benefit from their other nutrients as well.
If you're giving a probiotic supplement as a preventative, you can give your dog probiotics most days. Soil-based probiotics are the best 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 feed them less often. According to some studies, using probiotics reduces recovery time by half. Continue probiotics for a few weeks and you’ll help resolve your dog's 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.
Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. The Power Of Probiotics. Dogwatch Newsletter.
Grześkowiak Ł, Endo A, Beasley S, Salminen S. Microbiota and probiotics in canine and feline welfare. Anaerobe. 2015;34:14-23.
Pilla R, Suchodolski JS. The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease. Front Vet Sci. 2020 Jan 14;6:498.
Schmitz SS. Value of Probiotics in Canine and Feline Gastroenterology. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2021 Jan;51(1):171-217.