Probiotics for Dogs, Essential for Optimal Health - What, Why, When and How

The Definition of Probiotics 

The original meaning of the word probiotic is ‘benficial to life’. Probiotics are live microorganisms which when ingested in appropriate amounts (not to little, not too much) are beneficial to the host and help prevent disease…and in the case of this discussion ‘host’ is defined as dog! 

These micororganisims are live, friendly bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). Dogs have over 500 types of bacteria living in their GI tract, humans have just over 400. The most common good bacteria are L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterua bifidum.

The Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics can play a huge role in protecting your dog’s immune system. The good bacteria found in probiotics fight the un-friendly, 1pathogenic bacteria that are also found in the GI tract.


The skin and the mucous membrane linings of the gastrointestinal, genitourinary and respiratory tracts are the first line of defense against invasion of microbes and parasites - the GI tract is the largest of these barriers.

When a dog does not have enough good bacteria residing in his/her GI tract, the bad bacteria flourish unchecked and take over - this condition can cause:
  • Cadidiasis (overgrowth of Candida albicans, a bad bacteria that causes yeast infections);
  • Digestive upset due to E. coli, which causes diarrhea;
  • Lethargy.
On a daily basis physiological (real or perceived physical threat) and psychological (emotional threats i.e. anxiety) stress can cause fluctuations in the balance between good and bad bacteria in the GI tract.

Probiotics give the naturally occurring good bacteria found in the GI tract a population boost which in turn

  • Alleviates and helps prevent constipation, diarrhea and IBS;
  • Enhances immune system response (thus helping to fight cancer and other diseases, illness, viruses);
  • Encourages anti-tumour and anti-cancer activity in the body;
  • Increases the ability to absorb and utilize nutrients such as B complex vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorous, zinc;
  • Increases the GI tract’s ability to digest food;
  • Helps fight bad breath; 
  • Helps reduce gas and reduces the odour of stools;
  • Helps prevent shedding and scratching caused by stress when GI tract good flora is compromised;
  • Helps in the fight against anxiety and depression;
  • Replenishes the good bacteria that are killed-off when taking antibiotics;
  • Reduces incidence of yeast infections (Candida), yeast related rashes and skin problems.
  • Replenishes good flora killed-off by antibiotics.
It is important to note that antibiotics are the premier over-subscribed drug for both humans and dogs alike. Enabling your dog’s immune system to work at optimum capacity helps to ensure that your dog will not require antibiotics. 

The two biggest issues with antibiotics are:

One - Antibiotics kill the kill the beneficial bacteria (in your dog's GI tract) not just the  pathogenic bacteria. When this occurs the delicate but healthy balance of the tract is disrupted which can lead to the overgrowth of yeast enabling the formation of yeast colonies. Yeast bacteria (hyphae) can bore holes through the lining of the intestinal wall - resulting in a condition called 'leaky gut'. This leaves your dog susceptible to a wide spectrum of health problems such as:
  • Allergies;
  • Arthritis;
  • Asthma;
  • Autoimmune Disorders (when the body mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue);
  • Digestive problems;
  • Kidney Problems, and;
  • Skin Problems.
Two - The more antibiotics your dog takes the more your dog’s risk of immunity to antibiotics rises. This can put your dog in grave and mortal danger. In addition, the over use of antibiotics has resulted in the appearance and increase of 1MRSA in dogs. 

To lesson the chance of your dog having to take antibiotics: 

When Should your Dog Take Probiotics?

Probiotics are essential to the maintenance of optimal health therefore...
  1. Probiotics should be included as part of a healthy puppy, teenage and adult dog’s daily diet;

  2. If your dog is on antibiotics you should be supplementing your dog’s diet with Probiotics as antibiotics kill bacteria in the GI tract - bad flora and good flora alike, which puts your dog’s immune system at risk;

  3. Your dog will be better protected against the side affects of other common stressors (such as vaccinations) when he/she has a back-up system to replace good GI tract flora.
 When Should Your Dog Not Take Probiotics?

If your dog is undergoing treatment for disease (i.e. cancer and is receiving chemotherapy) taking probiotics may be too much for the dog’s weakened system. If your dog is suffering from any disease you must speak to your veterinarian before adding any supplement such as probiotics to your dog’s diet.

Don’t Be Fooled By Advertising

Many dog food manufactures promote their kibble, canned food and treat products as containing probiotics.

To be effective, probiotics must be live. The beneficial micro-organisms and probiotics required by the GI tract are susceptible to heat damage. Most commercially made dry pet food is sterilized or pasteurized - canned food is prepared using dry heat. The only way in which the manufacturers can add probiotics to these foods is by coating the products with a liquid or powder after processing is complete. This presents two fundamental problems:
  • The coating is inconsistent, and;
  • Preservation of the probiotic is difficult.
Advertising that the food contains probiotics is just a means to market the product, however the actual benefit derived from the 'probiotics' added to these foods is minimal if any.

In order to ingest enough probiotics on a daily basis your dog requires a high quality concentrated source of probiotics.

Options for Providing Probiotics to Your Dog
  1. You can purchase probiotic supplements, or;
  2. You can feed your dog food that is rich in naturally occurring probiotics.
Probiotic Supplements:
Probiotic Supplements for dogs are not regulated in many countries. Like everything else in the pet food industry, not all probiotic supplements are created equal, therefore you really need to know how to choose a good supplement.  

There are some very good probiotic supplements among the many average and poor ones - to identify the good supplements you really need to know what to look for. Do you know how to tell which of the supplements shown below is a really good product, which are average and which provide little benefit?

Beware! Just because a manufacturer says the product is probiotic does not mean that it is a probiotic.  
Some products labelled ‘probiotic’ do not include any clinically validated strains. Tests carried out on multiple products have revealed that many manufactures and retailers are selling probiotic supplements that do not include ingredients as noted on the product label and/or include dangerous contaminants. Another thing to keep in mind - a probiotic supplement is not cheap to purchase, especially if you have multiple dogs.

If you would like to understand how to choose a good probiotic supplement you can read this article

Foods That Are Rich in Naturally Occurring Probiotics
You can make sure that your dog receives very high quality probiotics by adding these dog-safe amazing foods to your dog’s diet…

1. Kefir

2. Sauerkraut

If you would like to learn about the amazing benefits of these two foods and how to incorporate them into your dog's diet, etc. you can read this article.
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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld.

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