Features March 2012 Issue

The Benefits of Probiotics for Your Dog

Friendly bacteria can play a “best supporting” role in your dog’s digestive health.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract. There are a variety of different species belonging to genera that include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus (often abbreviated by first initial only in names). Some species, such as Lactobacillus, live primarily in the small intestine, while others, such as Bifidobactera, reside in the large intestine (colon).

Check the expiration date on any probiotic you buy for your dog; if the product doesn’t have one, don’t buy it!

Benefits: All dogs can benefit from probiotics, which aid digestion and modulate the immune system. Probiotics produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, as well as providing other benefits to the intestines. Human studies have documented the effectiveness of certain strains in treating diarrhea, irritable bowel, and intestinal inflammation (fewer studies have been conducted on dogs). Probiotics may help prevent urinary tract infections, and can even reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation.

Species with specific strains known to benefit dogs include Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68) and Bacillus coagulans. Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7) has been shown to reduce the time for acute diarrhea to resolve in dogs. Certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus improve frequency and quality of stools in sensitive dogs. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (LGG) is effective in preventing and treating diarrhea in humans, and may benefit dogs as well. Probiotic products may contain one or several strains.

Cautions: Some probiotic species require refrigeration in order to remain viable; follow label recommendations for storage. It’s questionable how many survive passage through stomach acid into the digestive tract, and whether they then colonize or must be continually replenished.

Many products, particularly those that are not refrigerated, contain fewer live organisms than their labels claim. Freeze-dried probiotics may last longer than refrigerated or other powdered products, especially if the powder is exposed to moisture (such as when the container is opened and closed). Probiotics in commercial foods may not survive processing or storage. Probiotic products should always provide an expiration date.

Dosage: Probiotics are measured by colony forming units (CFUs). Few studies have been done to determine effective dosages, but these numbers are usually in the hundreds of millions or higher. If probiotics are being used to help with digestion, they should be taken with meals, but otherwise they may survive better if given between meals, particularly if taken with liquid that helps to dilute stomach acid and move them more quickly into the digestive tract (maybe give them after your dog takes a big drink). Probiotics may be given short-term or long-term.

When using products intended for dogs, follow label suggestions for dosage. When using human products, give the full dosage to dogs weighing 40 pounds or more. Reduce the dosage for smaller dogs or if you see loose stools.

Recommended Sources:

Examples of canine probiotic formulas that include strains known to benefit dogs:

-Thorne Research’s Bacillus CoagulansVet (thorne.com)

-Jarrow’s Pet Dophilus (jarrow.com)

-Vetri-Science’s Vetri-Probiotic  (vetriscience.com)

-Nusentia’s Probiotic Miracle (nusentia.com)

-Purina’s Fortiflora (fortiflora.com)

Several people whose dogs have serious digestive disorders, including small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), have told us of success using Primal Defense with homeostatic soil organisms, made by Garden of Life (gardenoflife.com). Products made for humans can also be given to dogs. Yogurt and kefir with live cultures often contain lactobacillus acidophilus, and sometimes other species as well, but dosages are usually lower than those in supplements.

Mary Straus is the owner of DogAware.com. Straus and her Norwich Terrier, Ella, live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Comments (3)

I think stopping my probiotics led to my dog's death.

He was a 9.5 year old basset hound mix and had experienced GI problems off and on for a number of years. This last year he was on and off probiotics as well as prednisone (we were continually trying to taper down his dosing but I never could get it below 5mg every-other-day without a diarrhea flare up), acid controller, and generic zrytec. Both veterinarians that had seen him either suspected IBD or IBS but I never really knew what that entailed besides the diet, dietary, and medicinal regimen he had been put on. He also had started low-fat I/D dog food in July as well. In September, he seemed to be doing better so I decided to remove the probiotics from his diet. By September 30th, his diarrhea had returned. I immediately restarted him on the probiotics, upped his prednisone to 10mg every day, gave him immodium, and put him on a chicken and rice diet. He seemed to be improving slowly, but he was having mucous in his stool. About 10 days after his initial return of diarrhea he came to be at 2am whining and in pain. We went to the emergency vet and realized he was dehydrated but his xrays were clear and nothing could be found on an external examination. I asked if he could come home with me because he hated to be kenneled. We returned for a follow-up mid-day Saturday and they started seeing fluid on his lungs and suspected cancer and suggested an abdominal ultrasound. 3am Sunday morning, he was still in pain and the veterinarian gave him another shot of hydromorphone. 7am Sunday he was in respiratory distress and we returned to the veterinarian. At that point they diagnosed him with pyothorax and began draining fluid from his pleural cavity and again suspected cancer. When he was stabilized they did an ultrasound and saw nothing. Monday at 2am I received a phone call he had gone into cardiac arrest when he was returned to the kennel. They saved him but he couldn't see all day. They kept him on oxygen for most of the day. I got it out of one of the veterinary technicians that he had gone septic. Tuesday at 3am I received a call he had, once again, gone into cardiac arrest when he was taken out to go to the bathroom and passed away before we made it there.

What happened to him? Did removing the probiotics lead to such terrible gastric upset that it killed him? What could have led to such a quick death? What happened to him that he couldn't be saved?

Posted by: bozobarr | November 18, 2013 3:41 PM    Report this comment

Yes, pregnant dogs can take probiotics and especially, they are great for puppies. The GI track is sterile at birth and supporting the gut ensures great health through adulthood. I agree the Nusentia brand, noted above, is a top notch probiotic supplement and we've used Probiotic Miracle for years.

One should note that salmonella does not operate the same in dogs as it does in humans. The problem with this subject is that people don't realize that probiotic strains are HOST-SPECIFIC. Most of the brands use human research and apply it for dogs in their formulas, that's a problem.

The bottom line is that probiotics are great for dogs and should be provided as wellness supplements, but especially when their health is compromised for fast recovery. There is dog-specific research about it, but most importantly, there are real stories from real dog owners. There is no PLACEBO effect in a dog, the probiotic will work or they won't. Our experience is that probiotics work and they are VITAL for good health in dogs.

Posted by: firstlady | May 11, 2013 1:12 PM    Report this comment

Wondering if pregnant dogs can take probiotics-I'm assuming yes.?? Thanks

Posted by: Helen J | December 8, 2012 7:01 PM    Report this comment

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