Learn the Pros & Pros of Probiotics for Dogs

Your dog (or cat) wins when good bacteria meets bad.

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Those tiny microorganisms we call “probiotics” might be just what the vet ordered for improving your dog’s health — and not just in his belly. Designed to be given as a supplement or in food, probiotics are “good” bacteria that can reduce the numbers of “bad” bacteria in the intestines. As you might expect, this can help resolve longstanding digestive upsets.

Somewhat surprisingly, those same probiotics might do even more, helping puppies and kittens respond better to vaccines, reducing the signs of allergies, and controlling tear stains in white-coated dogs. Some evidence even suggests the balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract influences conditions like heart disease,
obesity, depression, and cancer.

How is that possible?

As many as 80 percent of the cells of a dog’s immune system are in the digestive tract, where a constant struggle between immune assault and response takes place. Dogs ingest toxins, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and allergens, and the immune cells of the intestines work to protect the body from harm. Beneficial bacteria are a key part of that system, but their balance can be threatened by an inappropriate diet, stress, sleep disruption, and lack of exercise.

Dog taking pills by Shutterstock.
Dog taking pills by Shutterstock.

When the digestive system is not in peak health, it can’t perform its protective function at peak levels, either. And because the immune system is a finely tuned system of intercommunication between many parts of the body, it’s easy to understand how an imbalance in this crucial part of that system might affect those other parts.

With all that in mind, you might be inspired to give your pet probiotics. The American Academy of Microbiology cautioned that “at present, the quality of probiotics available to consumers in food products around the world is unreliable.” Dead bacteria can’t grow in your dog’s gut, so probiotics must be alive in the pill, gel, or liquid they’re sold in. Purchase a product that guarantees live microorganisms. Probiotics for pets are formulated with higher concentrations of bacillus and flavor enhancers to make them yummy.

Is there a con to probiotics? Probably not, although there’s no benefit to giving too much. Ask your vet what probiotic products she’s seen good results from, as well as for input on how to calculate a beneficial dose for your dog’s condition.

What about kitty?

Thinking about starting your cat on probiotics? Look for products specifically designed for cats. They contain the same active ingredients, but the flavor enhancers are different.

Top photo: Probiotics by Shutterstock.

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Dr. Marty Becker

Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. The author of 24 books, Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on Good Morning America for 17 years. He is currently a member of the board of directors of The American Humane Association as well as its chief veterinary correspondent, a founding member of Core Team Oz for The Dr. Oz Show, and a member of the Dr. Oz Advisory Board. When his schedule allows, he practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital. Connect with him on Facebook and on Twitter.

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