How Kefir May Be Able to Help Your Itchy Dog

Kefir grains can reduce yeast overgrowth, ease allergies, and act as a mild antibiotic/anti-fungal agent.

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My former roommate was a huge dog lover. So she intercepted that half-pint of whole milk, and poured it straight into the sink.

Her older sister had brought over the half-pint as a treat for my pup, Sparky. But before it got anywhere near the dog dish, my roommate intervened — and down the drain it went. Irked (and out a buck-fifty), the older sister almost started a sibling scuffle in the middle of the living room. So my roommate hastily explained that dairy has been known to do a number on dog digestion.

Food-wasting aside, I’ve always held the same opinion. Turns out, however, that there may be a partial exception. Because options like goat’s milk and kefir have hit the healthy-hound nutrition circuit, and they appear to pack a pretty hefty wellness wallop.

According to research published by the British Food JournalOsteoporosis International, the International Journal of Oncology, and others, the advantages of kefir in particular can far outweigh the negatives. But until somewhat recently, I knew almost nothing about kefir. Oh sure, I’d notice it in the grocery aisle, but I never even knew the right way to pronounce it.

I guess I’m not alone because all the local store clerks in my neighborhood say it differently. I’ve heard “KEE-fer,” “KEFF-er,” “KAY-fer,” “ke-FUR,” and the like. I finally asked a nutritionist, and apparently the word is properly pronounced “ka-FEAR.” Not that there’s anything fearsome about its canine-friendly health benefits.

Have you ever heard people talk about kefir “grains?” I initially thought this referred to whole grains, but that’s not the case. Kefir grains are actually a combination of yeast and beneficial bacteria, bound together with lipids and proteins. To remain alive, this good bacteria needs to snack on something. So the grains are placed in a liquid that contains the necessary sugars to keep them nourished and active.

That liquid could be actual dairy milk — or it could be a non-dairy milk made from coconut, hemp, or almonds. Take your pick because when everything is mixed together in the proper proportions, you get the uniquely nutritious blend known as kefir. High-quality kefir is normally sold in bottles; usually in the refrigerated dairy aisle near the milk. It has the general richness and tang of yogurt, but it’s thinner and much more pourable. It also contains multiple strains of beneficial bacteria you won’t normally find in yogurt, or even certain supplements. In fact, many varieties contain up to 30 distinct strains. As a comparison, my own go-to probiotic supplement only has 15.

Itchy dog by Shutterstock.
Itchy dog by Shutterstock.

Of course, more isn’t automatically better … and that’s where the Corn Chip Test comes in. Next time you’re anywhere near your canine, put your nose near his fur and take a quick whiff (go ahead, seriously — it’s not like anyone’s watching). Do you detect a faint “Eau de Frito-Lay” fragrance? Often, that’s due to excess yeast. Other signs of yeast overgrowth can include frequent ear infections or general itchiness.

Here’s the thing about kefir: It contains beneficial yeast strains like torula and saccharomyces. Tongue-twisting to pronounce, yes, but also deadly for pesky yeast populations that have run amok. So just to reiterate the irony, yes — feeding your canine yeast-containing kefir can potentially reduce the yeast responsible for certain chronic health conditions.

Kefir has also been known to relieve digestive upset, ease allergies, and act as a mild antibiotic/anti-fungal agent. The list of actual benefits is pretty lengthy and diverse. And guess what? In addition to caring for your pup (or kitty), kefir can be good for you, too. But that’s an entirely different article.

So when it comes to your canine, how do you feed kefir? Some people view it as a food, and some consider it a supplement. I spoke with my own vet, plus an animal nutritionist. Both agree that it’s always best to begin small and see how your dog’s digestive system reacts to these new bacterial strains. Try starting with plain, unflavored kefir; and feed roughly 1-2 teaspoons daily for every 16 pounds of dog or cat. If the result is favorable and your pet seems to like it, consider using that amount as a daily food-topper. You can also experiment with a few dog-safe flavors, such as blueberry or strawberry. Lifeway Kefir offers a well-respected organic line.

Related: What is Colostrum for dogs and why is it so popular for pups with allergies

You can also feed kefir during specific intervals, to help minimize allergies or support recovery from various ailments. I mix about a tablespoon into Maizy’s daily meal during that uber-itchy summer-to-fall transition, when she struggles with environmental allergies the most. I can also confirm that kefir is especially awesome for disguising pet pills. With practice, you can probably get the hang of my highly scientific method: I plop said pill into the food dish, cover it with a quick splash of kefir … and right down the hound hatch it goes.

And here’s an easy and super-healthy treat my pups especially love: Mix 1 cup kefir with 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed. Throw in a handful of blueberries or strawberries, plus about ¼ cup applesauce. Give everything a swift spin in the blender, then spoon into ice cube trays and freeze. Voila … pup-sicles you and your canine can both enjoy (because again, seriously, it’s not like anyone’s watching).

Have you tried kefir with your lucky pup? Share your insights!

Top photo: Kefir by Shutterstock.

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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