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What are probiotics for dogs?

What are probiotics for dogs?

What are probiotics for dogs?

Dr Emma Rogers-Smith BSc(Hons) BA VetMB CertAVP MRCVS

There’s been loads of noise about dog gut health recently. And there’s also been a huge increase in the number of products that claim to have gut health benefits for dogs. Finding all this confusing? You’re not alone. That’s why we’re covering what you need to know about probiotic products, and how they could help your dog’s health.

What are probiotics?

Good question. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as ‘live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a beneficial health effect on the host.’ So, they’re saying probiotics bring health benefits to those who take them—if taken in the right amount.

How do probiotics for dogs work?

Your dog’s digestive tract is full of trillions of ‘healthy microbes’—this includes bacteria, viruses, and fungi that work in harmony with your dog’s body to help maintain their overall health and well-being.

These healthy microbes are called the gut ‘microbiota’, and they have many vital roles, including:

  • aiding food digestion[1]
  • providing some essential vitamins[1]
  • regulating your dog’s metabolism[2]
  • supporting your dog’s immune function[1,2]
  • protecting your dog from harmful bacteria[2].

Probiotics supplement the healthy microbes in the gut and can be considered a nutritional tool for promoting your dog’s gut health. Probiotics have many of what we officially call ‘indications’—in other words, ‘reasons to use them’—but they still shouldn’t be considered a catch-all option.

What do probiotics do for dogs?

When the natural ‘friendly’ microbes in your dog’s gut are disrupted, it can significantly impact your dog’s health. This disruption is called ‘dysbiosis.’ Dysbiosis can happen for many reasons, but, most commonly, it’s the result of gut disease or taking antibiotics.

Probiotics can help support the friendly gut bacteria by reintroducing good bacteria into the intestinal tract[1]. Often, your veterinarian will give probiotics alongside dietary advice or other medications.

The benefits of dog probiotics

Probiotics have been shown to help restore the ‘good’ bacteria within the gut[1]. There are many ways in which this may prove beneficial, including:

  • Supporting gut function and the immune system[3,4,5]
  • Restoring their natural balance after antibiotic therapy[1,6]
  • Supporting skin health[8]
  • Maintaining balance during periods of stress, such as traveling, staying in kennels, or changing diet [1,7].

Are probiotics good for dogs?

Probiotics are considered safe supplements[9], even though they impact the gut microbes and may influence the rest of your dog’s body. If your dog has a food allergy, some of the flavorings or stabilizers used in the probiotic product may risk destabilizing your dog’s allergy management.

If you’re considering adding a probiotic to your dog’s daily routine and they have known medical issues, then it’s best to run your chosen product by your veterinarian first. And it’s also best to avoid giving them human probiotic products, as the human microbiota differs significantly from your dog’s[1,2].

What to look for in a probiotic

As so many probiotic products are available for dogs, it can be hard to know which one to choose. Any trustworthy product should include this important information, so look out for it when buying:

  • the organisms (types of bacteria) present, right down to the individual strain Not every strain will have probiotic activity—the different strains can even have different activity within your dog’s gut
  • guarantees for the number of colonies (or live bacteria) present for the end of the product’s shelf life. This information is given in CFU/kg measurement
  • the date of expiry.

The manufacturer should also be able to provide evidence to support the product’s effectiveness. To avoid wasting money on an ineffective product, it’s essential to understand that not all probiotic products are equal. Many are poor-quality or lack evidence to support their efficacy.

Probiotics vs prebiotics

Some digestive health products are labeled as prebiotics. Prebiotics are nutrients that good bacteria in the gut can feed on. They are non-live compounds—they’re not living.

Prebiotics help to support, nourish, and promote the growth of friendly bacteria, and improve gut health—whereas probiotics are live bacteria that help improve the gut flora composition.

Some products combine prebiotics and probiotics, and these are called synbiotics.

How are probiotics given to dogs?

There are many different formulations of probiotics available, from pastes to tablets and powders. All of them are given by mouth. Most products are given once a day, but some need to be given several times a day, so double-check the manufacturer’s advice before use. If a probiotic is given during antibiotic treatment, it’s best to give it several hours after your dog has the antibiotic.

A final thought

The gut microbiome is a fascinating system that plays many roles in your dog’s overall health and well-being. While our understanding of the importance of the microbiome is still in its infancy, we do know using probiotic products can support the healthy microbes in your dog’s gut[1,3,4,5,6,7]—and there’s much more research taking place on how this could support other areas of their overall health and well-being.

Many products are available to buy, but not all are created equal. Look out for those that can back up their efficacy claims, and you know you’ll be buying a product that offers real benefits.


Should I give my dog probiotics every day?

Probiotics can safely be given to dogs daily to promote gastrointestinal health. There are some conditions where your veterinarian may recommend daily probiotics as part of your dog’s health plan.

Can my dog have probiotics?

Probiotics are very safe, so there’s minimal risk in giving them to your dog[9]. If your dog has a pre-existing medical condition, then it’s always advisable to double-check with your veterinarian first.

What probiotics can I give my dog in the USA?

When choosing a probiotic for your dog, using a product designed for animals is best. Human products may be ineffective in animals, and some may contain additives that are dangerous to dogs. Due to their formulation, some products are more effective than others. Look for brands that can prove they do what they say.