When your dog has had diarrhea for a week or has been supplementing his diet with grass from the front lawn, it's safe to assume that something is up with his stomach. Other than praying to the Number Two Gods for relief, you might want to look for a more practical solution. Once you’ve ruled out something more serious than an upset stomach, one thing you might want to consider is adding probiotics to your dog’s diet. They can help your pup overcome all sorts of gut issues and promote a healthy body, tongue to tail. Before you go filling your dog's bowl with yogurt, a common source of probiotics —we cover some common questions and misconceptions.
What are probiotics exactly?
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in the digestive tract. They aid in overall health and immune function but are particularly beneficial for digestive health, since these good bacteria fight off harmful bacteria like E. Coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium. That's right, probiotics are basically the ultimate gut guard dogs.
Where do probiotics come from?
Historically speaking, probiotics come from two main sources: dirt and food. Two things your dog is probably more than familiar with judging from that hole in the backyard where he buried his half-eaten jerky treat. Your dog has probiotics in his system already, but the amount, variety and quality are what varies depending on things like your dog's diet, environment, and stress level. A poor diet that doesn't supply adequate prebiotics (the indigestible dietary fiber that acts as a fertilizer for probiotics), unhealthy living conditions and high or long-term stress takes a toll on probiotics and leaves the digestive system vulnerable to harmful bacteria.
Are probiotics good for my dog?
Your dog will likely benefit from probiotic foods or supplements if he or she:
- Is transitioning to a new diet
- Is on an antibiotic or steroid
- Has ingested anything dangerous like unclean water, chemical fertilizers or pesticides
- Is being vaccinated
- Has frequent diarrhea or digestive problems
- Travels frequently
- Eats weird things like sticks, grass, feces or rocks
- Has had recent surgery
- Is experiencing emotional or physical stress
What are the best sources of probiotics for my dog?
Garlic and honey contain natural probiotics and are safe for dogs in moderate amounts. A half clove of garlic per ten pounds of body weight daily is a safe dosage. A teaspoon of honey per day is optimal for small dogs, two for medium-sized dogs, and a tablespoon for bigger dogs. Other foods like yogurt and kefir are options, but harder to recommend since many dogs have negative reactions to dairy. If your pup tolerates dairy ask your vet for the okay to offer some plain yogurt. The sugar in flavored yogurt won’t do your pup any favors. The artificial sweeteners in low-fat yogurts could make your pup very sick, so don’t offer those to your pup.
In addition to foods loaded with probiotics, there are also over-the-counter probiotic supplements in the form of powders, pills, and chews. Not all of these products are created equal, so do your label reading and look for things like:
- An expiration or "best by" date, since probiotics lose potency and effectiveness over time
- Guaranteed numbers of colony-forming units (CFU) in the millions or billions per gram, because technically a capsule full of dirt could be labeled and sold as a probiotic, so guaranteed quantities point to a quality product
- Specific bacterial species and strains including Lactobacillus acidophilus, an all-around friendly and effective bacteria
How do I choose the right probiotic for my dog?
Bold claims aside, how do you know which probiotic is the best choice for your pup? You can start by asking your vet for a recommendation or doing a little research based on your pet’s needs. For most dogs, a probiotic with multiple strains will be best. You also may want to consider a product that requires refrigeration. Many experts will tell you that the shelf-stable products are less powerful than their refrigerated counterparts.
If you are using probiotics to address digestive issues in your pup, you will want to work with your vet to rule out other underlying issues before adding the probiotic to your pup’s diet. If your pup has an issue like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), for example, it may take more modification to their diet to get everything under control. While probiotics might be part of the treatment plan, they alone will not solve the issue.
You can start slowly with probiotics so that you don’t overwhelm your pups digestive system working up to the optimal dose over several days or weeks if your pup is sensitive. Keep an eye on their coat and bowel movements as you go. You want to see a shiny coat and healthy, regular stool.
If you have questions about choosing a probiotic or adding one to your dog’s diet, remember that you can always discuss options with your vet. He or she is an expert and also knows your dog and their health history so they can provide much more specific counsel.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.