Just like the human gut, the canine gut is home to a diverse community of beneficial bacteria and yeasts known as probiotics. These microbes are essential to a dog’s health, but some dogs may need probiotic supplements to give their digestion a boost and keep their tails wagging. Take a look at how you can use probiotic supplements for your dog.
What are Dog Probiotics Used For?
Probiotics are mostly found in the gut where they aid your dog’s digestion, assist in the absorption of nutrients, eliminate any potentially harmful pathogens, and support a healthy immune system.1 However, beneficial bacteria can be found throughout your dog’s body, including the:
- Mouth – Here the bacteria keep your dog’s mouth and teeth healthy and act as the first line of defense against any bacteria or viruses.2
- Pharynx – Probiotics in the pharynx prevent infection and inflammation throughout the throat and esophagus. 2
- Anus – Every bowel movement results in the expulsion of bacteria, yeasts, and other microbes. Probiotics in the dog’s anus assist in the removal of these toxins. 2
- Vagina – Female dogs have a community of helpful bacteria and yeasts in their vaginas. These microbes protect against invading bacteria, preventing vaginitis and other conditions. This is also where newborn puppies get their first share of probiotics.3
Maintaining a delicate balance between good and bad bacteria in all these different areas of the body is essential to your dog’s overall health, but certain factors can cause a disruption or decrease in probiotics. Common triggers that may deplete your dog’s beneficial bacteria include:
- A general infection
- Physical and emotional stress caused by any changes or life events
- Sudden changes to the diet
- Eating food that is spoiled or rotten
- Certain medications, particularly long-term steroids and antibiotics
Negative changes to a dog’s microbiome will most commonly result in diarrhea, gas, cramping, bad breath, and general irritability, but it may have more prominent effects on a dog’s immune system. In one study, researchers provided young dogs with a probiotic supplement containing Enterococcus faecium from weaning to one year of age. Fecal and blood samples taken before, during, and at the end of the study showed distinct improvements in immune markers, suggesting that a dietary probiotic may enhance immune functions in young dogs.4
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How to Choose a Good Probiotic Supplement for Your Dog
Now that you’re ready to get your dog started on some probiotic supplements, it’s time to consider what you should actually look for. Thankfully, this isn’t something you need to overthink. The main thing to keep in mind is the three D’s: diversity, dose, and delivery method.
Diversity simply refers to the number of different strains in the probiotic. Every strain of bacteria and yeast in a dog’s microflora has its own function and processes. The more strains your dog has, the better chance your dog’s microbiome can handle whatever stressors or microbial threats that come its way.
Probiotics are measured in colony forming units (CFUs), which estimate the ability for a bacterial cell to multiply and form colonies. Essentially, CFUs show how many living organisms are present in a single dose of a probiotic supplement. Smaller doses will naturally be less effective. Humans are recommended to take probiotics containing at least 10 billion CFUs. The amount can vary for your dog considering breed and size.
The diversity of strains and amount of CFUs doesn’t matter if the probiotic supplement can’t make it past your dog’s stomach acids. While some probiotics can naturally resist stomach acids, most are vulnerable to them, resulting in the bacteria dying and breaking down before they can reach your dog’s gut. Look for probiotic strains that can survive without refrigeration and in stomach acid.7
Human Grade Probiotics vs. Feed Grade Probiotics
When you’re looking at probiotics for dogs, you will likely see labels designating “human grade” or “feed grade” products. This refers to the ingredients used and the manufacturing process involved.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) uses human grade to describe products that are edible by humans on every level, including every single ingredient used. Furthermore, in order for a product to be labeled as human grade, every ingredient in the product and the finished product itself must be stored, handled, processed, and transported consistent to the standards of current good manufacturing processes. The product must also be made in a facility licensed for human food production.5 While not all consumers are familiar with the specifics of AAFCO guidelines, you can be assured that products labeled as human grade are made with general food safety procedures and standards of quality.5 Human grade probiotics for dogs contain probiotic strains that people can also take.
By comparison, pet foods that do not meet the full definition of human grade are considered feed grade. This still means that the ingredients and materials used have been determined to be safe, functional, and suitable for use and have been stored and handled properly. However, the ingredients may not be edible to humans, though still perfectly safe for your canine, or the product may have been manufactured in a pet food plant instead of a human food plant.6
Choosing between human grade and feed grade probiotics often comes down to personal preference. Human grade products do generally reflect higher quality of ingredients. However, the label does not influence the actual safety of the product. All pet food products and supplements are required to meet feed requirements before they can be sold.5
Strains to Look for in a Dog Probiotic
There are thousands of different bacterial strains. Some specific strains you should keep an eye out for include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – Lactobacilli naturally produce an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products, and turns it into lactic acid. Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the most common probiotic strains for both humans and dogs. Studies suggest it may help to reduce diarrhea, support the immune system, and promote general gut health.8
- Lactobacillus casei – L. casei is known to help with diarrhea, constipation, and other gastrointestinal problems. It may also promote good oral health by combatting plaque, gingivitis, and canker sores.9
- Lactobacillus plantarum – Lactobacillus plantarum can promote good digestive health and boost your dog’s immunities. This strain is also believed to be particularly good at supporting a healthy inflammatory response and protect against problems characterized by inflammation.10
- Lactobacillus fermentum – Lactobacillus is believed to act as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It may also improve your dog’s immunities and promote a better mood.11
- Lactobacillus reuteri – Lactobacillus reuteri has been shown to improve gut health and possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It may also improve your dog’s stress response.12
- Lactobacillus salivarius – salivarius is known to possess antibacterial properties and promote GI health. This strain of Lactobacillus may also promote good oral and dental health.13
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus – Considered one of the most studied probiotic strains, rhamnosus is believed to promote gastrointestinal and urinary health and support healthy skin in humans.14
- Enterococcus faecium – Studies on faecium suggest that it is specifically beneficial for dogs’ bowel movements. These studies have found that dogs given E. faecium showed improved fecal quality, higher levels of beneficial antibodies, and increased populations of other probiotics, including lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.15
- Bacillus coagluans – Studies suggest that coagulans may support gut health and digestion. Unlike the previous strains mentioned, B. coagulans has also been studied for its potential to boost joint health in humans with rheumatoid arthritis, and smaller studies suggest it may support immune function.16
- Bifidobacterium animalis – Found in the gut of most mammals, animalis has been studied for its potential to boost immunities. It also promotes digestive health and may possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties.17
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Beware of Commercial Dog Food
Many commercial dog food companies claim to include prebiotics and probiotics in their products. However, these probiotics are often added prior to the actual manufacturing process, which essentially kills off the bacteria. You always want live bacteria that can actually reach your dog’s gut to grow and thrive.
If you think your canine pal could use probiotics, consider DrFormulas™ Nexabiotic Probiotic for Dogs. Each capsule contains 23 different probiotic strains to support regular bowel movements and promote canine digestive health.