Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
What Exactly Are Probiotics for Dogs?
You may have heard about using probiotics for dogs with diarrhea, but what exactly are they and how do they work? The term probiotics seems full of many good promises; indeed, the term derives from the Greek "for life."
Discovered in the early 1900s by Russian biologist Elie Metchnikoff, probiotics are living organisms under the form of bacteria or yeast that are known to improve health. They are found in certain foods and supplements. Elie Metchnikoff's interest led to the discovery when he noticed that certain people living in rural areas routinely drank fermented milk and lived longer lives. He attributed their good health to the presence of the Lactobacillus organism found in milk. Nowadays, perhaps the most common food containing probiotics are fermented foods such as yogurt with active live cultures.
It's not an unknown fact that the digestive systems of dogs and humans are home to a vast array of bacteria, and their main job is to help keep the gut healthy and thriving. These live organisms help assist in digesting food. Also, they are known to aid the immune system.
What Triggers Digestive Issues?
When the population of these organisms is not disturbed, the gut is healthy, but when their balance is out of check, issues can arise. The main cause of this is often the ingestion of antibiotics known for killing healthy bacteria along with the bad ones, or the presence of an infection.
Other potential triggers can be stress, unhealthy lifestyles, long term ingestion of steroids, poor nutrition, or sudden dietary changes, explains veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker. This unbalance can lead to diarrhea, yeast infections and urinary tract infections. While probiotics have been used since ancient times, nowadays more and more vets are discovering their benefits and are recommending them to owners of dogs taking antibiotics or with cases of acute and chronic diarrhea.
A Shocking Discovery
Did you know? While our bodies contain about 100 trillion cells, only 10 percent of our bodies are ultimately made of human cells. All the rest of our body is composed by bacteria,viruses and other microorganisms. Eeeeek! As freaky as this sounds though, the majority of these organisms are with us to help support our body by aiding in the digestion of food and providing many kinds of protective mechanisms, explains Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health.
The Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs
So why give probiotics to dogs and when should they be given? Susan G. Wynn, DVM, a veterinary nutritionist in Atlanta explains that the gut is the largest immune system of the body. Indeed, it is estimated that 60 to 80 percent of the body’s immune system is found in the digestive tract. The intestinal flora and mucosa diligently work around the clock to block disease-causing microorganisms. However, at times these defenses break down leading to a cascading series of effects such as diarrhea, vomiting or constipation. This is when the aid of probiotics can turn helpful.
Ann Wortinger, BIS, LVT, program chair of veterinary technology at Sanford-Brown College in Dearborn, Michigan explains that probiotics help lower the pH of the intestinal tract, boosting the number of good bacteria while lowering the chances for disease-causing pathogens to set up shop. They also help boost the immune system, support digestion and aid in managing antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
A recent study reveals good results in using probiotics for stress colitis. The researchers of North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that probiotics were just as equally effective as the popular antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl) commonly used to treat acute diarrhea in shelter dogs. In their own words, the researchers claimed: "the probiotic is an equally effective treatment to the traditional antibiotic regime for the treatment of acute diarrhea in shelter dogs."
According to Dr. Karen Becker, probiotics have been shown beneficial for stressed dogs who are boarding and traveling helping them deal better with digestive upset. Also, their use was helpful in replenishing healthy bacteria in pets given rounds of antibiotics, alleviating digestive issues in the case of abrupt dietary changes, enhancing the immune system in young pups and ill dogs and improving digestion and overall stool quality of large breed dogs.
How to Choose a Safe Product
Shopping around for probiotics may seem like an easy task, but you may not be getting much help if you don't know what to look for. The issue seems to be a matter of "viability," the ability to remain stable through the manufacturing process and storage. Out of 13 probiotic products tested only two really contained the number of organisms advertised, explains Dr. Datz. The problem is that it's hard for bacteria to survive several weeks or months spent on the shelves of stores. On top of that, they'll further need to pass intact through the stomach acids and bile salts so they get to the digestive tract alive.
This explains why commercial dog foods enriched with probiotics aren't worth the money, explains Karen Becker. Not only does the manufacturing process kill a large percentage of the live bacteria, but little or none of them are left once the food hits the store shelves because probiotics are heat and moisture sensitive. Ideally, they should be kept in a cool and dry environment far from air exposure.
To help solve this issue, certain companies have started producing microencapsulated bacteria to help protect them. Ideally, a good probiotic should be able to pass through the dog's digestive juices and stay in the digestive tract long enough. It's a good idea to look for the number of probiotics in a product on the product's label and to look for a guarantee proving that the company stands behind the quantity and viability of its product, explains veterinarian Grace Long, who works for Nestlé Purina PetCare. Common products often recommended by veterinarians include Purina's Fortiflora, Iams ProstoraMax and Nutramax Proviable-DC. If you think your dog would benefit from probitics, consult with your vet for the best recommendation.
Important Note: If your dog has any form of digestive upset or if you're planning on using probiotics, always consult with your veterinarian first for the best recommendations.
Dr. Karen Becker Discusses Your Pet's Digestion
For Further Reading
- What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs When Boarding?
Picking up your dog after being boarded is a happy event, but dealing with diarrhea is not. What causes diarrhea when dogs are boarded? Learn some possibilities.
- Causes of Mucous in Dog's Stool
Finding mucous in your dog's stool is not something you would expect, yet, this is not uncommon. Learn what causes mucous in your dog's stool and what you can do about it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 14, 2013:
JayeWisdom, sounds like your doggies are on a wonderful diet!
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on December 14, 2013:
I feed my dog homemade food (high-quality, organic ingredients) and add powdered probiotics and enzymes just before serving to aid her digestion. I also add powdered natural seaweed calcium supplement that is equal to bone meal. After she eats, I give her a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement especially developed for senior dogs. Nutrition is very important to all dogs, as it is to humans.