Can I Give My Dog Probiotics?
Most of the time, us humans are ruthless when it comes to bacteria—we want them dead, and we will do just about anything to make sure that they don’t show up again. If a cleaning product boasts that it kills 99.9% of all bacteria, we snatch it up and slather it all over our belongings. We sanitize obsessively. We carry around wet wipes to clean fast food restaurant tables and the keyboards of library computers. In recent years, however, many of us have searched for ways to actively boost the number of bacteria living inside our bodies. Probiotics have skyrocketed in popularity. It seems like they are recommended for just about everyone.
So we need to look after our gut health, but what about our dogs’ gut health? Can my dog take probiotics?
The answer is yes, you can give your dog probiotics. These supplements are usually not at all toxic to dogs, and, administered wisely, can work wonders on their digestion and overall health. In many cases, your dog can take the same probiotic supplement that you do—in fact, “human grade” probiotics are among the safest due to the strict safety standards that any substances intended for human consumption must meet. The best probiotics you can give your dog are human/food grade probiotics that have been formulated specifically for dogs; this will ensure that the product is designed with your dog’s body in mind using ingredients that meet the food quality standards for humans.
Most dogs can reap some health benefits from probiotics. Probiotics, whether they come from supplements or from fermented foods, can improve digestion, support the immune system, and lower your dog’s risk of developing a whole host of diseases. Probiotics contain health-boosting gut bacteria, which form their own colonies inside your dog’s gut. These colonies of healthy bacteria feed on waste passing through the body. Among their own waste products are short-chain fatty acids, which are thought to suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. This means that, by giving your dog probiotics, you can boost the population of good bacteria—which will then crowd out the bad bacteria. After all, the real estate in your dog’s body is limited!
There have been limited studies on the effects of probiotics on canine health, but we may be able to extrapolate from studies performed on humans and other animals. Studies done on humans have shown that probiotics may help to treat digestive problems including chronic diarrhea and intestinal inflammation. They are also thought to alleviate constipation, which can be a problem for dogs who eat a lot of dry kibble and do not drink enough water.
This digestive support does more than address potty time woes. Healthy bacteria may improve your dog’s ability to absorb many important nutrients, including the elusive Vitamin B12. This can head off vitamin deficiencies, improve immunity, and keep your dog healthy and energized.
Probiotics can be especially important for dogs who have been sick, or for dogs who are currently taking antibiotics. Many illnesses, especially those that cause vomiting and diarrhea, devastate the flora in the gut. Probiotics can help combat this loss, as well as help to protect against the negative effects of antibiotics. If your dog is ill, however, make sure to ask your vet before you add anything to their diet—including probiotics.
For the most part, the effects of probiotics are going to show up in the gut. This is not something to overlook—your dog’s gut is a huge part of their immune system, and optimal gut health is crucial to maintaining a strong immune system and a healthy body. Many of the pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, that pose a threat to your dog’s health get in through the gut. If their defenses are strong, these pathogens have a much harder time making it into the bloodstream and causing illness.
That said, some probiotics are better than others. The best strains of bacteria for dogs appear to be bacillus coagulans and enterococcus faecium. The former was found to reduce diarrhea and inflammation in dogs. The former appears to boost production of antibodies required to fend off pathogens, which may lower your dog’s chances of infection.
Things to Consider
Probiotics contain live bacteria, so it’s important to follow the instructions on the package carefully—these products can expire, and they may also be rendered useless by extreme temperatures or mishandling. Keep the bottle sealed to keep out oxygen, humidity, and other contaminants. Some probiotics require refrigeration to work properly.
In conclusion, probiotics can be just as helpful to your dog as they are to you. A healthy gut is a key part of digestion, immunity, and overall health, and probiotics can ensure that your dog has a healthy population of gut flora. For the best results, make sure your chosen probiotic has the strongest strains of bacteria, and that it markets itself as “food grade,” or suitable for human consumption.