How To Choose The Best Probiotics For Dogs

Julia Henriques
Best Probiotics For Dogs

Every day there’s more and more information about probiotics and the microbiome. And with so many products on the marketplace ... how do you know which are the best probiotics for dogs?

First, let’s zero in on why probiotics are 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?

Probiotics have some important jobs in your dog's body. They provide a range of essential functions as follows:

  • Support general gut health through the digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  • Provide a source of beneficial intestinal bacteria.
  • Support production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as butyrate that can support the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  • Some strains generate essential vitamins, such as B vitamins (e.g., B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12) and vitamin K. These vitamins play key roles in metabolism, blood clotting and overall health.
  • Support the creation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that influences mood and behavior.
  • Produce enzymes that assist with digestion of nutrients.
  • Help maintain proper gut pH. 
  • Help support the immune system through a balanced microbiome.
  • Help maintain proper bowel health and function.

Why The Immune System Needs Probiotics

About 90% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut, so diverse gut bacteria help support the immune system.

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
  • Crowd out bad bacteria
  • Support the gut's mucosal lining, keeping cells close together 
  • Lower glucose and manage obesity
  • Defend against food allergens
  • Build T-cells in the immune system
  • Absorb nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron

Probiotics work best when you also give prebiotics ... 

Best Pre And Probiotics For Dogs

Probiotics need prebiotics to nourish them. Prebiotic foods are high in fiber, so try including some of these in your dog’s meals: cooked mushrooms, dandelion greens, chicory root, sea vegetables, asparagus, bananas and garlic. 

When Does Your Dog Need Probiotics?

When your dog shows signs of illness, he needs probiotics even more. If your dog has any of these symptoms or issues, his microbiome needs support..

  • Diarrhea
  • Allergy symptoms (itching, rash)
  • Leaky gut
  • Yeast (Candida)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • Obesity or diabetes
  • Aggressiveness or mood disorders
  • Bowel issues

Many things can cause an imbalance that leads to these problems, including medications like antibiotics, toxins in your dog's environment, high starch diets, and too much fat in the diet. 

4 Types Of 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. They're abbreviated to B and L so you may see them listed as. B longum or L acidophilus.

Lactobacillus species turn milk sugar into lactic acid to maintain a healthy digestive tract. 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:

Lactobacillus acidophilus
You’ll find this species in most probiotics. It can increase Lactobacillus in the gut and manage harmful clostridia. It supports immune cells.

Lactobacillus casei
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 maintain normal emotional balance.

Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus

These probiotics help dogs with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It promotes intestinal wellbeing and manages occasional gastric distress like diarrhea caused by antibiotics. Dogs with anxiety often have low levels of Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Bifidobacterium animalis
This probiotic has been successful in managing occasional gastric distress like diarrhea.

Bifidobacterium longum
This strain may help support healthy brain function as well as manage normal stress in dogs. It can also help with occasional gastric distress like diarrhea.

Enterococcus faecium
This probiotic is more resilient at surviving the acidity in your dog’s gut than most of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. 

Pediococcus acidilactic
This probiotic helps support skin health and helps maintain a healthy intestinal tract in dogs prone to leaky gut.

Most Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species come from dairy, so may not be suitable for dogs who have dairy sensitivities or other allergies.

The next two below ... yeast and soil-based probiotics ... are non-dairy, so they may be more suitable 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 can support beneficial gut bacteria and helps manage occasional gastric distress like diarrhea caused by antibiotics. It also helps with Candida and yeast … and it can support digestive health. 

3. Soil-Based Probiotics

Bacilli strains of probiotics are soil-based probiotics, not lactic acid-based. They are also known as spore-forming probiotics, due to their hard coating that protects them from heat, stomach acids and most antibiotics. These probiotics are often found in soil and water.

The most common strains used include:

Bacillus coagulans

This is a lactic acid-producing bacteria that crowds out bad bacteria. Bacillus coagulans is also anti-inflammatory and helps maintain a normal inflammatory response. A 2016 study showed that it improved rheumatoid arthritis in rats.

Bacillus indicus

This is a unique probiotic that produces carotenoids … which are antioxidants. It also produces B vitamins, vitamin K2 and quinols. This may support proper digestion and bowel health support proper digestion and bowel health in dogs with conditions like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) … or any dog needing digestive enzymes.

Bacillus subtilis

Bacillus subtitles lives in healthy dogs' guts. B subtilis helps produce IgA, an important antibody dogs with autoimmune disease often lack. IgA supports a healthy gut lining and produces vitamin K.

What Type Of Probiotic Is Best For Dogs

If your dog has a specific issue, there are probiotics that will be more helpful than others.

Best Probiotics For Dogs With Allergies

When it comes to dogs with allergies, finding the right probiotic can make a world of difference. Look for a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, which can support immune function in dogs with allergies. These probiotics can help support the gut microbiome.

Soil based probiotics survive digestion so you need lower CFUs of 1 to 5 billion.

When choosing a Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium product, you want to look for:

  • More than one strain of bacteria
  • At least 30 billion CFUs

Best Probiotic For Dogs With Yeast

Yeast overgrowth can be a persistent problem in some dogs. Seek a probiotic containing Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast strain that can help maintain gut flora. Probiotics with multiple strains, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can also be beneficial for yeast-prone dogs.

Best Probiotic For Dogs With Diarrhea

For dogs suffering from diarrhea, probiotics like Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Enterococcus faecium can be lifesavers. Saccharomyces boulardii also survives the digestive process and is helpful in cases of gastric distress with diarrhea. It can also be given alongside antibiotics. These strains help support gut balance and maintain healthy digestion.  

Look for a high CFU lactic acid probiotic, usually 30 billion CFU or more.    

If it’s chronic diarrhea or a digestive disorder, you’ll want a good multi-strain probiotic alongside gut-soothing herbs. It’s best to keep your dog on the probiotics long-term or until the diarrhea completely resolves. 

Best Probiotic For Dogs On 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 can give your dog probiotics to support the good bacteria in his gut. But …  it turns out the type of probiotic is 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 or soil based probiotics (Bacillus subtiliis and Bacillus coagulans). These are the best probiotics to support your dog’s microbiome when you have to give antibiotics. And you can even give them at the same time as antibiotics.

Best Probiotics For Dog’s Skin

Skin issues in dogs can often be linked to gut health. Probiotics containing Lactobacillus reuteri and Bifidobacterium animalis may support skin health in dogs. These probiotics can help support a healthier, shinier coat.

Best Natural Probiotics for Dogs

Natural probiotics are simply … food. They appear in food as bacteria, ferment, fiber and sugar. Common probiotic foods are:

Probiotic Yogurt

This is milk fermented with the bacteria species Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricusBut 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.

Other Fermented Foods

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 – keep reading for more on SIBO) and yeast infections. So feed fermented foods with caution and don’t overdo them.

    How To Choose Probiotics For Dogs

    To select the most suitable probiotics for your dog, it's crucial to identify the specific strain that aligns with your dog's health goals, whether it's maintaining overall well-being or addressing specific issues. 

    Here are things to keep in mind when choosing probiotics for dogs:

    • Evaluate Health Concerns: Different probiotic strains offer unique benefits. Some strains manage gastric distress that leads to diarrhea, while others are more effective for allergy symptoms or gastrointestinal problems. Your dog's specific health needs will guide you in selecting the most appropriate probiotic. And these needs may evolve as your dog's health improves or changes.
    • Consider Combined Strains: Opt for probiotic products that contain multiple strains. Combining various strains can provide a broader range of benefits for your dog.  
    • Evaluate Colony Forming Units (CFUs): CFUs serve as a measure of a probiotic's potency. They represent the quantity of live bacteria present. Generally, higher CFU counts are preferred. As a general guideline, 3-5 billion CFUs are sufficient for maintenance, but this can increase to 25-50 billion CFUs when your dog is unwell or fighting an infection. 
    • Look For Safety And Quality Assurance: Ensure the probiotic product has undergone rigorous testing for both safety and efficacy. Look for certifications like the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal, which signifies compliance with quality standards. 

    How To Give Probiotics

    Once you’ve chosen the type and strain of probiotic, here are some measurements to keep in mind.

    • If you’re giving your dog lactic acid bacteria you need to look for several strains and a large number of CFUs (colony forming units). These probiotics don’t last long in your dog’s gut so you’ll need at least 10 billion CFUs to boost 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 types of 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 is when 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 known as peristalsis)
    • Antibiotics and steroids that damage the microbiome

    If your dog has SIBO you might see these problems:

    • Chronic or intermittent diarrhea
    • Weight loss
    • Acid reflux disease (GERD)
    • Gas
    • 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.

    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, help promote normal bowel health for dogs with occasional gastric distress. Once the issue starts to resolve you can feed them less often. Continuing probiotics for a few weeks can help manage your dog's underlying gut issues. 

    Now you know why probiotics are such an important part of your dog’s diet ... and how to choose the right probiotic for his needs.


    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.

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