When the 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, the solution might just be probiotics. They can help your pup overcome all sorts of gut issues and promote a healthy body, tongue to tail. But before you go filling the dog's bowl with yogurt—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 is what varies depending on things like your dog's diet, environment, and stress level. A poor diet that doesn't supply adequate prebiotics (undigestible 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.
Should I give my dog probiotics?
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.
There are also over-the-counter probiotic supplements in the form of powders, pills and chews, but not all 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
Of course, always consult your vet if your have questions about probiotics for your particular dog.