If your dog has ever suffered from diarrhea, probiotics have probably been suggested to you by a friend, coworker or your veterinarian. Widely recognized as useful for treatment of gastrointestinal issues, ongoing research shows probiotics have the potential to improve overall health and well being.
What are probiotics?
By definition, probiotics are live microorganisms that result in health benefits to the host, when ingested in sufficient amounts.
How do probiotics for dogs work?
The live bacteria in the probiotic adhere to the GI-tract lining, limiting the ability of pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria to adhere and cause disease. The probiotic’s bacteria compete with the pathogenic bacteria for nutrients, again limiting the bad bacteria’s ability to thrive and multiply. Probiotics are thought to improve the integrity of the intestinal barrier, which is what keeps potentially harmful ingested substances from being absorbed.
The GI tract is home to 70% of cells involved in the immune system. These cells are called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Probiotics secrete substances that enhance GALT’s ability to modulate immunity. Probiotics ferment nutrients found in fiber and non-absorbable carbohydrates into substances called short-chain fatty acids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory benefits and are a rich source of nutrition for the intestinal epithelium (lining).
Potential uses for probiotics:
- Diarrhea – Probiotics are usually added to other specific prescribed treatments depending on cause.
- Antibiotics – While on antibiotics for infection, probiotics may prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
- Allergic dermatitis (atopy) – The immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory effects from probiotics can help control atopy.
- Dental disease – Probiotics potentially minimize pathogenic gingival bacteria that produce plaque.
- Chronic kidney disease – Azodyl, a probiotic/prebiotic combo, made by Vetoquinol, purportedly lessens the buildup of uremic toxins that makes dogs with chronic kidney disease feel sick.
- Recurrent urinary tract infections –The numbers of pathogenic bacteria in the vagina and perivulvar area that predispose female dogs to recurrent UTIs may be reduced by the use of probiotics.
- Anxiety — Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplement Calming Care contains one strain of probiotic bacteria, called BL999, that has been shown to have an anxiolytic effect on anxious dogs.
- Arthritis – Probiotics have known anti-inflammatory benefits.
Which probiotic to choose?
Because probiotics are considered “nutraceuticals,” not pharmaceuticals, products on shelves are not subject to heavy regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. This means, unfortunately, a marketed product may or may not contain what it says it contains. Choosing a probiotic from a reputable company helps eliminate this concern. Talk with your veterinarian or choose a product that is a member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC.org), which verifies its member companies’ products.
Whatever you choose, the package should state “guaranteed analysis” above the ingredient list. The ingredient list should include multiple strains of bacteria with names like Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Enterococcus. The numbers of organisms should be stated. They are counted in colony forming units or CFUs. While the ideal dose for probiotics is not yet known, veterinary recommendations are that each capsule/daily dose should contain at least 5 billion CFUs. Because they are providing living organisms, there should be an expiration date on the package. If there is no expiration date, the viability of the organisms in the product is suspect.
Probiotics are supplements with the potential to improve your dog’s health and well-being in numerous ways. They do not replace the need to see your veterinarian for appropriate diagnosis and treatment of illness. A big key to success with probiotics is choosing a good-quality product, with adequate numbers and multiple strains of bacteria, from a reputable company. As always, the best recommendations for you and your dog come from your veterinarian.