Tummy Troubles? Try Probiotics for Your Pup!

If your dog has chronic digestive issues or bouts of diarrhea, certain strains of probiotics can help.

Dog taking pills by Shutterstock.

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in an important meeting, composing yourself during a somber event, or perhaps listening intently as a loved one shares from the heart. Seconds before you hear it, you feel it: a dim grumbling in the core of your stomach that ratchets up to a gurgly growl everyone pretends not to notice — while you turn a steadily deeper shade of crimson. Digestion is part of life; and often, tummy troubles can be part of digestion. The same holds true for our furry friends.

And as it turns out, the antidote that frequently helps us humans can also work wonders for canines. I’m talking, specifically, about a probiotic. Though technically, the singular term “probiotic” can actually be somewhat misleading; because in truth, there are numerous bacterial strains — all of which offer a range of interconnected health benefits.

Hold on, did I just say “bacterial?” Isn’t that the stuff we try so hard to wash away, sanitize, and generally eradicate? Well, yes and no. The unglamorous truth is, multiple strains of favorable bacteria are normally present in any healthy, well-balanced digestive tract. These strains are responsible for a host of functions that are crucial to general health and wellness. First and foremost, they help to maintain a strong and vigorous immune system. They also assist with efficient digestion, the elimination of toxins, and effective nutrient absorption.

If our bodies were a factory (which, essentially, they are), the gut would serve as Immunity Central. According to veterinarians, ongoing back-and-forth interaction takes place between the brain and the gut via endocrine, immune, and neural pathways. A truly balanced gut helps produce short-chain fatty acids, vitamin K, various B-vitamins and more. When these interrelated levels and systems are working efficiently, the harmonious result helps foster feelings of general wellness. This, in turn, helps support emotional and mental well-being. Probiotics help keep the beneficial bacterial colonies well-populated, so that yeast and other harmful microorganisms are held at bay.

Unfortunately, a number of factors can throw bacterial balance out of whack. These factors include chronic stress, poor diet, illness, toxins, even certain medications. Sometimes, for example, our pets experience ailments that require one or more rounds of antibiotic. But that very term speaks to the imbalance these medications can create in the gut. Don’t get me wrong: Prudent use of antibiotics can be important because they wipe out pathogenic, illness-causing bacteria. Simultaneously, however, they also destroy some of the favorable bacteria that commonly populate a balanced digestive tract.

As our vet often says, "When the gut is healthy, the whole dog feels better." Our still-spry Grant and his still-regular digestive system seem to agree. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)
As our vet often says, “When the gut is healthy, the whole dog feels better.” Our still-spry Grant and his still-regular digestive system seem to agree. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

Modern crop management can also aggravate the issue. Authors including Marie-Monique Robin and Andre Leu contend that modern pesticide use may impede the body’s ability to balance itself. Wheat kernels, for instance, are often sprayed with agents that help them evenly ripen in time for harvest. Many of these agents contain a compound called glyphosate, which has been shown to immobilize normal intestinal bacteria that can help neutralize toxins, convert vitamin A, activate vitamin D3, and encourage bile acid production.

These and other assorted factors can contribute to ongoing, systemic imbalance in both humans and our pets. In fact, the resulting symptoms are probably why commercials for products like Activia and others have become so prevalent on national television. The proper blend of supplemental probiotics has been shown to help re-establish appropriate balance. This, in turn, can benefit allergies, cold susceptibility, digestive distress, sluggish food processing, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and even colitis and IBD to a certain extent.

In our pets, this same re-balancing can even help to minimize things like bad breath, loose stools, and fur balls. But the key is selecting the appropriate blend. Simply plopping your own personal probiotic pill into your pup’s food bowl may not prove worthwhile. In fact, if your supplement of choice contains human-proportionate levels of the wrong bacterial strain(s), it could actually intensify an existing imbalance.

So which probiotics benefit canines the most? For my own dogs, two separate holistic vets have recommended a combination that includes the following:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (LGG) — My vet says this may help to prevent and relieve diarrhea.
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus — Certain strains have been shown to improve stool frequency and quality in pooches with stomach sensitivities or chronic digestive issues.
  • Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68) and Bacillus coagulans — These help encourage proper enzyme synthesis.
  • Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7) — This has been shown to help speed the resolution of ongoing or severe canine diarrhea, an occasional result of antibiotics or stress.
An antibiotic and a probiotic by Shutterstock.
It’s hard to believe those tiny little pills advertised on TV contain millions, even billions of beneficial gut bacteria. (An antibiotic and a probiotic by Shutterstock)

I’ve come across several commercial formulas that contain the proper canine-specific strains. They include Jarrow’s Pet Dophilus, Nusentia’s Probiotic Miracle, Thorne Research’s Bacillus CoagulansVet, and Vetri-Science’s Vetri-Probiotic BD. If you opt to use a formula made for dogs, follow label dosing guidelines. If you’re using a human blend of canine-friendly strains, you can generally give the full dosage to dogs weighing at least 50 pounds. For smaller pups, start with one-third that dosage and increase until you notice stool softening. Don’t forget, too, that certain formulas need refrigeration for optimal effectiveness — so check the packaging. As always, consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any products such as these.

Have you tried probiotics for your Lucky Puppy? Share your advice and insights below!

Top photo: Dog taking pills by Shutterstock.

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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