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Does Your Dog Need a Probiotic?
The short answer is "Probiotics are almost always a good idea". Let me explain why! But first, what exactly ARE probiotics? Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms naturally found in the digestive tract. You may have also heard the word prebiotics alongside probiotics - Prebiotics are types of fiber that promote the growth of good bacteria already living in the colon. So they work in tandem with probiotics, by nourishing them. Prebiotics are commonly found in high-fiber foods, and do not always need to be supplemented.
You might be thinking…”My dog appears to have great digestion. His/her bowel movements are normal, and I haven’t observed any GI issues.” That’s GREAT news! There may STILL be other reasons to include a probiotic, that you hadn’t thought about! Probiotics have an important role in digestion, maintaining health, preventing infections, reducing inflammation, eliminating urinary crystals and even aiding in the prevention of cancer. Probiotics provide intestinal benefits by producing short-chain fatty acids, which inhibit harmful bacteria, like E.Coli and salmonells.
One very common reason I suggest adding a probiotic is during or after treatment with antibiotics. Just like humans, taking antibiotics not only rids the body of the harmful bacteria, but also upsets the balance of all the HEALTHY BACTERIA, which is VITAL to overall health. If giving a probiotic DURING antibiotic treatment, be sure to give it at least 2 hours apart from the antibiotic. Alternatively, you can wait until the course of antibiotics is finished, and begin a minimum 1-month course of high-quality probiotics.
In addition, some probiotics are known to help with allergies by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation. They can also help to restore a balanced mood. Overall health starts in the gut, so a healthy gut is the foundation for a healthy dog.
Probiotics can also assist with neutralizing kidney toxins and eliminating unwanted substances from the body, helping to prevent urinary crystals and urinary tract infections.
There are many strains, which combined can work together to improve overall health, but they all have their own special functions.
The probiotic strain Streptococcus thermophilus has shown it can reduce the incidence of dietary allergies and intolerance. The PRIMARY origin of allergies traces back to a dysfunctional, overburdened and weakened immune system, so it is important to focus on balancing the immune system including probiotics.
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help to:
- Manage yeast and support the immune system
- Prevent anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Affect mood and emotions
- Improve diarrhea
- Improve food allergies
If your dog has Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), probiotics will likely be one of the first supplements your veterinarian or nutritionist recommends. IBD is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in dogs and probiotics such as L. Acidophilus, are known to reduce the symptoms of IBD.
Canine species-specific strains include Enterococcus faecium and Bacillus coagulans. As well, Bifidobacterium animalis has been shown to reduce the time for acute diarrhea to resolve in dogs.
Lastly, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, which is effective in preventing and treating diarrhea in humans, may benefit dogs as well.
All in all, probiotics are almost always a good idea – in puppyhood, they can help to form a strong immune system and in adult to senior life stages, help to provide extra protection against infections, aid digestion and nutrient absorption and help detoxify vital organs.
What about foods that naturally provide probiotics, like yogurt and kefir? These foods have live cultures that can have some benefits for dogs. Before feeding these, you want to make sure your dog is not sensitive to dairy. If you do use these foods, the recommended daily amounts are: 1 teaspoon per day for smaller dogs, up to 2 teaspoons per day for medium-size dogs and up to 3 teaspoons per day for large-giant breeds. The concentration of probiotics in these products is usually much lower than in the form of a supplement.
TIPS*** When choosing probiotics for your dog, there are a few key things to look for. NOT all probiotics are created equal! There is still research being done to determine which strains of probiotics can be used by dogs and how to make them bioavailable, to withstand a dog's acidic stomach. Here are some ways to choose a high-quality product:
- Make sure they contain several different strains of bacteria - as mentioned above, the various strains have their own special functions, so try to find one with as many of the various strains mentioned as possible
- Make sure they are have canine-species specific strains (healthy intestinal flora varies in every species)
- For many dogs, a dairy-free probiotic is best
- Untreated probiotics are best, meaning no pesticides, chemicals or chemical preservatives used
- Probiotic products should always provide an expiration date.
2 of my favourite canine-specific probiotic products can be found here:
Thorne Research’s Bacillus CoagulansVet