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.


  1. Hello, I have a 2.5 yr old female Boxer who I've discovered is severely allergic to grains and sugars of any kind. Eating these foodstuffs causes a terrific yeast infection and, of course, she scratches until she scratches big hunks of skin away and bleeds a lot. About a year ago when I figured out the problem I put her, and her little sister also somewhat mildly affected by same yeast infection issue, on a raw foods diet. Ground beef, fish, chicken, ground broccoli. I'm an American living in Ecuador and find broccoli cheap and plentiful year round. I do serve other vegetables once in awhile but they're happy with broc. I mix it in the food processor sometimes with plain, no sugar/unflavored yogurt or hard boiled eggs or a splash of lemon juice. But - my older Boxer still is not entirely over the yeast imbalance. I've bought $150/bottle 11-strain acidophyllus - not the answer. What else can I do?? I'm in a country with limited resources.

  2. Hi Karen, I'm wondering if I need to feed Kefir once or twice daily, currently I'm doing twice, mixed into their food. Should I leave it on top rather and if their food is slightly warmed, does it affect the Kefir?
    Many thanks for your very informative site, Ann

    1. Hi Ann,

      You can choose to add Kefir either once a day or twice a day.

      Heat does destroy the micororganisims so you might want to try giving them the Kefir in another dish beside their warmed-up food.

      You can mix a little raw unpasturized honey or fruit into the kefir if they will not be interested in eating the kefir plain.

      Raw unpasturized honey has many health benefits and dogs love the taste. Raw unpasturized honey can be given once or twice a day - daily dosage is 1/4 tsp for every 20 pounds of body weight. Cheers, Karen

    2. Thanks Karen, they love their Kefir, can't keep them away from it :)

  3. I think I killed my dog by stopping his probiotics after 2 months. He was doing really well on then but I guess I thought after 2 months it would be okay to stop. For 2 weeks he was fine, then for two weeks he had loose stool so I double dosed his probiotics for a couple of days. A month after I stopped probiotics and 2 weeks after I started them again my dog passed away. I never thought that stress and stopping the probiotics would kill the most precious living being in my life. I'm sickened by the fact I let myself stop hos probiotics and made him die. How can I forgive myself such inconsolable actions?

    1. Hi Jessica, you have to forgive yourself. By forgiving yourself you allow yourself to help others. No animal - including a human is perfect. We all make mistakes - sometimes we suffer becasue of an accidental mistake we make and sometimes our mistake also has an impact on someone we love. We learn and evolve by our mistakes, we can learn to help others through the mistakes that we make or we can choose to simply punish ourselves and never recover. My dogs have taught me much of what I know. My first dog - who is the inspiration for what I do today - she was my best friend and soul mate - she would not have died of cancer if I knew back then what I know now. You should read here bio it will help you understand how you feel now and how to evolve what you feel into something that further enables the love you have your boy - go to this link to read her story

      When Shanny passed away I turned my grief to work with dogs that deserved a second chance at life. My own dog pack consists of 10 dogs - 8 rescues, many from death row.

      To honor her I learned from what I went through with her and have gone on to share my knowledge with people around the world. I also am a behavourist and make me living working with dogs who other trainers, behavourists either give-up on or make worse.

      Here is one way you can forgive yourself - go to a high-kill shelter and adopt a rescue dog - there are so many wonderful dogs of all breeds that get dumped at these high-kill shelters for no fault of their own. Then take your old and new knowledge and give a rescue dog a new home, a new lease on life. This will owner your boy and allow you to give back. His passing will be honored and your great and deep love of dogs can grow to help another dog. Grieve but do not punish yourself, and then reach out to another dog - for you, for your boy and for the other dog. Paw hugs, Karen

  4. Hi Karen,

    Do you have any tips and suggestions for my dog Louie who doesn't want to eat his food after I've added powered Digestive Enzymes (I just purchased Mercola)? A little weary as I've also purchased Mercola's Probiotics and I'm worried that I've spent so much money on something that my dog won't take :-(


    1. Yes I do...

      1 - yogurt and natural honey to his meal(s)

      2 - You can also do this for a treat

  5. Hi Karen ~

    I'm at my wits end and just want to do something to help my baby feel better - I would appreciate any suggestions you could offer.

    My Klowee is a 9.5 year old white, Boxer. She's had horrendous allergies for 9 of those years and sadly, I didn't realize it until about 4 years ago. She's suffers from Thyroid disease, chronic ear infections and has had over 70 (that was not a typo) mast cell tumors removed. 2 years ago so tore both CCL's chasing a cat that taunted her relentlessly. I had ZERO idea that the ear infections and mast cell tumors were the body’s response to allergies. My VET didn't even tell me.... I have literally spent close to 15K on vet bills for her over the years, so needless to say, her system is overrun with antibiotics and NSIDs.

    In January of this year, my Vet suggested we try Adequan injections for her leg issues. Worked great for the first 2 months and then the tumors started to reappear and she was totally lethargic. I took her off that med immediately. We went thru Dasuquin and Cosequin - before I said enough is enough. The meds were making her more sick.

    In July, she came down with a bout of Pancreatitis. Of course the Vet suggested an antibiotic. I gave it to her for 2 days and promptly took her off as she was lethargic and depressed. I went to my dog health food store and got a Pancreatic Enzyme - and a special diet as I wanted to try the holistic route.

    I fed her a hardboiled egg, cottage cheese a small amount of very low fat beef and either cooked potato or pasta. She did good on this diet for a couple of months and then she stopped eating certain things. I noticed that the dairy and low fat yogurt I had been giving her gave her terrible gas but she was doing better and had energy.

    Trip to the vet and blood work confirmed that the pancreatitis was in "remission". I took the dairy out of her diet and continued to feed her the low fat ground beef and potato.

    About a month and a half later back to the Vet with a horrible case of diarrhea. It was like turning on a faucet with brown water - but that there was some blood and the stool that was solid, was greasy. Colitis.

    Vet advised that the best treatment was of course the antibiotics that were prescribed for the pancreatitis that I did not use. So I gave her 1/2 of the dose that was prescribed (as she is very sensitive to medication and as I mentioned has severe allergies). After a week - recheck at the vet. He advised that I needed to give her the full dosage. I listened to what he said. About the 3rd day in to the full dosage - she awoke with severely swollen eyes. She truly looked like a Shar Pei, not a Boxer.

    Back to the Vet who put her on IV fluids for the day and a stronger form of Benadryl. Things calmed down and she was much better, although she still had diarrhea.

    So I gave half the dose of antibiotics on the 2nd day after the IV stay at the Vet. In a matter of 2 hours - her skin turned bright red, she broke out in hives and threw up her low fat, ground beef dinner

  6. (part 2) I immediately know the reason for the severe allergic reaction and discontinued the antibiotics.

    I'm now faced with a completely different problem. Everything I feed her either causes diarrhea or makes her eyes turn bright red so she's afraid to eat. It's not that she's not hungry, it's that she's afraid to eat.

    I started doing my own research on her symptoms and really could kick myself for not doing it sooner. Leaky gut, Colitis, Pancreatitis all linked to NSID and antibiotic use. The poor thing is just overrun with medication!!

    For her chronic ear infection, I purchased some Calendula gel (no RX for ear drops). In about a week - her ears had almost completely cleared up.

    For her GI, I went back to the health food store and purchased some probiotic paste. I've only been giving her about half the recommended dosage though as she is so sensitive to things.

    We had some fairly good results stool wise, by adding organic pumpkin to the tuna I was feeding her. After 3 days of that, the diarrhea came back and she won't touch tuna.

    This is where my frustration lies now! She won't eat anything (tuna fish, cod, sole, ground beef, pork, duck, salmon) - everything is giving her the runs so she won't eat it. She takes one sniff and walks away if she knows she has eaten it before.

    I don't know what to do for her - I even resorted to trying some of the minimal ingredient kibble from the health food store. She ate it once, diarrhea, so she won't touch it.

    She won't eat rice, I tried mixing Quinoa with some pork wet food and pumpkin - ate that once, same response so she won't eat Quinoa or pumpkin now.

    I don't know what to do for her - but I know I don't want her on any more meds!!!! There aren't any holistic Vets close to where I live and I just need to try something to help her.

    Do you think I should increase the dosage of the probiotic paste? I have been giving her some electrolyte paste from the health food store as well and her energy and interest in playing has absolutely increased.

    I'm not willing to put her down!!!! If I though there was not a hope in the world and she was suffering I would of course go that route (I had to put my other Boxer down last year for bone Cancer). I just can't lose her too and I'm not willing to give up on her.

    Please help me - is there anything you could suggest to help me help her!?!?!?

    Most sincerely,

    Klowee in California

    1. Klowee,

      The honest truth is that most 'holistic' vets are little to no better than a conventional vet - you would only be wasting more money and time. While their are a few very good holistic vets - the majority use the term 'holistic' without actually being truly holistic. If you want to help your Boxer girl there is only one course of action I can recommend and that is to engage me to address her health properly. You can email me if you are SERIOUSLY interested in doing so.. I can and would be happy to do a holistic diet nutrition wellness plan to address her short-term and long-term health...cheers, Karen

  7. Hi Karen,
    What probiotic do you recommend? I have a 12 week Bernese Mt puppy that was full of worms and bacteria, after treating her for those issues she now has wacky BM every other day. I think the meds were too harsh for her little system and wonder if a probiotic would help..

    1. For this you would require a consultation...

  8. Can you really cause the death of your dog by giving them probiotics and then stopping? One of the stories I read here was quite upsetting and makes me afraid to give my dog anything for fear it may be more harmful than good. She has fatty tumours :( thank you.

    1. Giving probiotics to the dog did not cause the dogs death.


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Important Note

1.0 Use of Foods, Herbs, Alternative Medicines

Safe use of items and protocols in the article above, is your sole responsibility.

Foods, herbs and alternative medicines have health issue, condition and conventional drug interactions. Safe use of all substances and protocol are your responsibility.

Before you use any substance or protocol do your research. Check for cautions, contradictions, interactions and side effects. Do not use substances or protocols not suitable to your animal's individual circumstances.

If your animal has an underlying condition substances and protocols may conflict.

2.0 Definition of Holistic

Food, herbs, alternative medicines are NOT ‘holistic’ they are a substance and MAY, or may NOT be ‘NATURAL’.

If you use a ‘natural’ substance such as a pure herb, you are using a natural substance, not a holistic substance.

Holistic is not defined by use of one or several substances. Holistic is an approach.

Definition of “holistic” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press


"relating to the whole of something or to the total system instead of just to its parts"

"Holistic medicine attempts to treat the whole person, including mind and body, not just the injury or disease."

Holistic is a way of approaching life, and within that health, and well-being.

3.0 Expectations
In a health or behavioral situation.

Don't expect a few items or one isolated action to remedy the situation.

In most situations, remedying a situation will require a comprehensive approach.

4.0 Leave a Comment

I review all comments and publish those deemed appropriate for this site.

I answer questions deemed appropriate when I have time to do so.

Karen Rosenfeld | Holistic Diet Nutrition Wellness Practitioner | Holistic Behaviorist | Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer

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