If your dog has ever had diarrhea, a friend, colleague, or veterinarian suggested probiotics to you. Ongoing research shows that probiotics have the potential to improve overall health and wellbeing.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are, by definition, living microorganisms that bring health benefits to the host when ingested in sufficient quantities.
How do probiotics work for dogs?
The live bacteria in the probiotic adhere to the lining of the GI tract, which limits the ability of pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria to adhere and cause disease. The bacteria in the probiotic compete with the pathogenic bacteria for nutrients, which in turn limits the ability of the bad bacteria to thrive and multiply. Probiotics are believed to improve the integrity of the intestinal barrier, thereby preventing potentially harmful ingested substances from being absorbed.
The GI tract houses 70% of the cells involved in the immune system. These cells are known as gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Probiotics secrete substances that improve GALT’s ability to modulate immunity. Probiotics ferment nutrients in fiber and non-absorbable carbohydrates into substances called short-chain fatty acids. They have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and are a rich source of nutrition for the intestinal epithelium (lining).
Possible uses for probiotics:
- Diarrhea – Probiotics are usually added to other prescribed treatments depending on the cause.
- Antibiotics – While taking antibiotics for infection, probiotics can prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
- Allergic Dermatitis (Atopy) – The immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory effects of probiotics can help control atopy.
- Dental Disease – Probiotics may minimize pathogenic gum bacteria that produce plaque.
- Chronic Kidney Disease – Azodyl, a combination of the probiotic and prebiotic of vetoquinol, is believed to reduce the build-up of uremic toxins that make dogs with chronic kidney disease feel sick.
- Recurring Urinary Tract Infections – The number of pathogenic bacteria in the vagina and perivulvar area that predispose female dogs to recurring urinary tract infections can be reduced by using probiotics.
- Anxiety – Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplement Calming Care contains a strain of probiotic bacteria called BL999 that has been shown to have anxiolytic effects in anxious dogs.
- Arthritis – Probiotics have known anti-inflammatory benefits.
Which probiotic to choose?
Since probiotics are viewed as “nutraceuticals” rather than drugs, products on store shelves are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Unfortunately, this means that a marketed product may contain what it is supposed to contain. Choosing a probiotic from a reputable company helps allay these concerns. Talk to your veterinarian or choose a product that is a member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC.org), which reviews the products of its member companies.
Regardless of your choice, the “guaranteed analysis” should be stated on the pack above the list of ingredients. The ingredient list should include several strains of bacteria with names like Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Enterococcus. The number of organisms should be reported. They are counted in colony-forming units or CFU. While the ideal dose for probiotics is not yet known, veterinary recommendations recommend that each capsule / daily dose should contain at least 5 billion CFU. As they provide living organisms, the packaging should have an expiration date on it. If there is no expiration date, the viability of the organisms in the product is suspect.
Probiotics are nutritional supplements with the potential to improve your dog’s health and wellbeing in a variety of ways. They do not replace the need to see your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment of the disease. 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.