Pet Care Blog

Probiotics for Dogs: Best Probiotics to Improve Digestion

Ricky Walther, DVM
Dr. Ricky Walther
person giving a dog probiotics

If your dog has an upset stomach rather frequently, or is often prone to diarrhea, this guide may be able to help. Probiotic supplements for dogs are a great way to improve their digestive system and relieve sensitivities.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about probiotics for dogs, the importance of gut bacteria in your pet’s health, the different types of strains you can try, and more.

Table of Contents

Pro Tip: Gastrointestinal issues are among the most common pet insurance claims for dogs and cats. These issues can be expensive, with the cost for diagnosis and treatment at times ranging from $200 to $8,000. If your dog has health insurance, you could be reimbursed for up to 100% of that cost, depending on your pet insurance plan.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal system. These living microorganisms balance the internal environment in the gut to promote optimal health and functioning.

Probiotics play an important role in keeping your pup's digestive system in good shape. Good gut bacteria help your dog process food, absorb nutrients, expel toxins, and stave off infections.

When there’s an overgrowth of bad bacteria, giving probiotics can help restore balance by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut.

Benefits of probiotics for dogs

Probiotics offer a number of benefits for dogs, including:

  • Aiding digestion
  • Making nutrients and vitamins
  • Reducing the gut pH
  • Improving immunity
  • Fighting off pathogens
  • Inhibiting harmful bacteria growth
  • Treating diarrhea, IBS, and intestinal inflammation
  • Preventing UTIs
  • Controlling inflammation
  • Protecting against food allergens

Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains of probiotics can help reduce stress, prevent anxiety, and have a positive influence on mood. Bacillus species can also support the immune response.

When to give your dog probiotics

Not all dogs need probiotics, but most can benefit from them as the good bacteria support their immune system. If your canine companion suffers from stomach problems, such as constipation or diarrhea, your veterinarian might recommend a higher dosage of probiotics.

However, there’s a number of health problems probiotics can help with:

  • Yeast overgrowth
  • Leaky gut
  • Bowel diseases
  • Pancreatitis
  • Colitis
  • Obesity
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Mood disorders
  • Allergy symptoms

All of these health issues are caused by shifts in the bacterial population structure in the microbiome, i.e. the community of bacteria and other microorganisms living in your pup’s gut. Bacteria shifts occur all the time and can be caused by aging, high-fat diets, high-starch diets, medications like antibiotics, toxins, etc. However, if your pet has enough good bacteria in the gut, such shifts are less likely to occur.

Pro Tip: Having pet insurance allows you to choose the best treatment option available without having to worry about your family finances. Pet insurance provides an easy way to budget pet care costs and can reimburse up to 90% of your vet bills.

Best probiotics for dogs

The type of probiotic you decide to give your four-legged friend will depend on their individual needs and overall health. Some of the best probiotic strains for dogs include:

Dairy-based probiotics

Lactobacillus species turn the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, which inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Bifidobacterium also produces lactic acid, but isn’t considered a lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria live in the stomach and intestines and help the body perform essential functions like digestion and warding off harmful pathogens.

Probiotic yeast

Probiotic yeast (known as Saccharomyces boulardii) is often used to help with diarrhea in humans, but it can also treat yeast infections in dogs as well as digestive issues resulting from chronic inflammation. Dogs can take this supplement simultaneously with antibiotics to help protect the friendly gut bacteria and prevent diarrhea caused by the medicine’s side effects.

Spore-forming probiotics

These probiotics are microorganisms found in water or soil. Because they are able to form spores, these bacteria can protect themselves from heat, antibiotics, and stomach acids by forming a hard coating.

Most of the soil-based probiotics don’t need to be kept refrigerated and they’re not made from dairy, which also makes them ideal for pups that are lactose intolerant.

How to give dogs probiotics

It’s always best to talk to your vet who will recommend proper dosage as well as tips to administer the supplement. One common method is by mixing a probiotic powder into your dog’s food.

Bear in mind that it might take a few days for your dog to have the proper amount of healthy bacteria. You may notice a positive change in their digestive health after a few weeks. Try to be patient and avoid giving your pup too many supplements because they can upset their digestive tract.

Natural probiotics for dogs

Probiotics aren’t only available as supplements; they can also be found in many foods we consume. So, if you don’t want to give your pet supplements, feeding them some of the following foods is a great way to enhance healthy gut bacteria.

  • Fermented foods. In foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir, the fermentation process helps enhance the growth of healthy gut bacteria. These foods contain live cultures that might benefit some dogs.
  • Yogurt is actually fermented milk made with bacteria. It contains a considerable amount of lactobacillus that acts as a probiotic to improve your dog’s digestive system and gastrointestinal health.
  • Raw goat milk is safe for most dogs as it is lower in lactose than cow’s milk and contains a healthy amount of probiotics.
  • Prebiotic foods, i.e. foods that are rich in dietary fiber, feed good gut bacteria, further supporting gut health. Dog-safe prebiotic additions include bananas and asparagus.

If you decide to give your dog probiotic human foods, make sure to read the labels first and choose varieties that don’t contain sugar or artificial sweeteners like xylitol. In addition, be careful about the amount you feed. In general, a single teaspoon of probiotic food a day should be enough for small breed dogs, whereas large dogs can have up to three teaspoons per day.

Side effects of probiotics in dogs

Probiotic supplements are safe for dogs as they contain only natural ingredients, i.e. friendly bacteria that already exist in their digestive tract. If side effects do occur, they’re usually associated with digestive issues, diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, or constipation. In addition, the digestion issue might worsen a bit before completely clearing up as the digestive tract adjusts to the sudden influx of healthy bacteria.

FAQs on Prebiotics for Dogs

Can dogs take human probiotics?

Yes, but while human probiotics aren’t harmful to dogs, they don’t provide the same benefits as dog-specific supplements. In addition, the dosage might not be suited for your dog; as we mentioned before, smaller or more sensitive dogs might require a lower dosage.

Finally, most human probiotics come in the form of pills, which are quite challenging to administer to dogs. Chances are, if you try to shove the pill down your pet’s throat, they’ll most likely spit it out and run away.

For this reason, it’s best to go to a pet store and purchase probiotics formulated for dogs. For instance, some probiotic chewables are flavored with meat and dogs have no problem ingesting them. What’s more, these supplements have instructions on how much to give to your pet based on their weight.

Can puppies take probiotics?

Puppies can take dog-specific probiotics to help their developing balance of gut bacteria, support their immune system, and reduce the incidence of constipation, diarrhea, and infections of the GI tract.

What are prebiotics?

You might have also heard of prebiotics. So how are they different from probiotics? Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the good bacteria already living in the gut (probiotics) and are typically found in fiber-rich foods.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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