You know that feeding your pup the right dog food is important for his well-being. But including nutritional supplements, especially probiotics for dogs that help protect the digestive tract, is another smart way to keep your pooch healthy.
We asked Dr. Kelly Swanson, professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to fill us in on the best probiotics for dogs—including what ingredients to look for and the health conditions these dog supplements address.
What Are Probiotics?
“Probiotics are defined as ‘live microbes that confer a health benefit to the host,” Dr. Swanson explains.
Probiotics generally are recommended for people to help with certain intestinal issues. Probiotics for dogs can have the same benefits.
“Probiotics can come in many forms, but most are commonly sold in the form of supplements (capsules) or fermented food products,” Dr. Swanson says. “Probiotics may support the immune system, limit the number and/or activity of harmful microbes, contribute to the production of vitamins and aid in the digestion of certain nutrients.”
Ingredients to Look for in Probiotics
Before you shop for a probiotic for your furry friend, ask your veterinarian if dog supplements are recommended. Once you get the OK, check the labels for the following strains of probiotics: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Bacillus or Enterococcus.
“I would recommend products that have been studied and shown to not only survive in the gastrointestinal tract, but to provide health benefits to the animal,” Dr. Swanson says.
Dr. Lyon’s Probiotic Daily Digestive Health Support Dog Supplement, for example, is a high-quality probiotic for dogs that is made with four live, active cultures—Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacilus ccidophilus, Lactobacilus plantarum and Lactobacilus casei. These strains work to maintain the good bacteria in your dog’s intestines and combat any digestive issues she may be experiencing.
Probiotics and Prebiotics: Understanding the Difference
Whereas probiotics are live bacteria in the food, prebiotics serve as a food source for the beneficial bacteria already found in the gastrointestinal tract, Dr. Swanson says.
“Prebiotics are defined as ‘substrates that are selectively utilized by host microbes conferring a health benefit,’” Dr. Swanson notes. “These substances likely support health in ways that are similar to probiotics, for example aiding the immune system, limiting harmful microbes and increasing mineral absorption.
Some products use a combination of a probiotic and a prebiotic, which is called a synbiotic.
“To be most effective, the prebiotic is matched with the probiotic strain or strains in question, providing a preferred food source so that its survivability and activity in the gastrointestinal tract can be maximized,” Dr. Swanson says.
Digestive Issues Probiotics Can Combat
Certain health concerns that can plague your pup might be mitigated by dog supplements that contain probiotics.
“The conditions most likely to benefit from probiotic use are diarrhea or digestive discomfort caused by stress, antibiotics or pathogen exposure,” Dr. Swanson says.
“Probiotic use is commonly suggested when antibiotics are administered, when animals are under high stress due to travel or boarding, and also if animals are exposed to new pets in their environments,” she adds.
Puppies and senior dogs may also benefit from probiotics.
“Canines who are young, weaning and at older life stages are those most susceptible to digestive discomforts, so probiotic and/or prebiotic supplementation is most likely to help,” Dr. Swanson says.
As with all medications and supplements, sticking to the recommended dose is important. More is not always better, so pet owners should read labels carefully.
As to whether giving probiotics for dogs to your pup help can help improve her mood, there is some evidence linking gastrointestinal microbes and/or metabolites to behavior.
“This is a highly complicated area with the majority of data showing an association rather than cause and effect,” Dr. Swanson says. “So for now, applying probiotics to mood or behavior of pets is premature.”
Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City writer/editor and the mom of two teenage girls. She’s also the devoted owner of a rescue pup named Django, a temperamental Shepherd mix. Geddes has worked for Food & Wine, Parenting, Seventeen and Airbnb magazines and creates content for dozens of sites, including Care, Fisher-Price, the National Sleep Foundation and Realtor.