Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
Did you know that probiotics have the same positive effects for our dogs’ pet health as they do for us? As a small animal veterinarian, I prescribe probiotics for dogs all the time—not only for sick patients suffering from an upset belly, but for overall wellness and pet health too. To understand why probiotics for dogs are so beneficial when it comes to dog nutrition and to learn the positive effects they can have, let’s discuss how probiotics work in your pet’s body.
What are probiotics?
Your pet’s digestive system is home to billions of bacteria that actually keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy. The term “probiotics” refers to these gastrointestinal-dwelling microbes (bacteria and yeasts) that are beneficial to pet health. These friendly microbes aid in the digestion of food, fight off potential disease, make nutrients and vitamins and bolster the immune system. Probiotics for dogs are prescribed as supplements, in the form of a powder (Purina Pro Plan Fortiflora), capsule (VetriScience Vetri-Mega Probiotic Digestive Health Dog & Cat Capsules), chew (Vet’s Best Probiotic Soft Chews Dog Supplement), liquid or spray. These supplements contain living microorganisms that are very similar to the friendly bacteria that reside in your pet’s digestive tract.
How do probiotics work?
A healthy gastrointestinal tract involves a balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. An imbalance (more “bad” than “good”) can result in illness such as diarrhea, vomiting, suppressed immunity and an upset stomach. That’s why probiotics for dogs are an important part of pet nutrition. By supplementing your pet’s diet with probiotics, you are boosting the amount of good bacteria that competes with the harmful bacteria for nutrients and intestinal binding sites. This helps the immune system fight off disease. Once the “good” and “bad” bacteria balance has been restored, your pet’s clinical signs resolve, and she will start to feel much better.
Why does my veterinarian prescribe probiotics for dogs?
One of the most common ailments I see in dogs is an upset stomach. Dogs will often come into the animal hospital for abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. Many times, this can be caused by stressful situations such as boarding or traveling. It can also be caused by an abrupt diet change, food indiscretion, antibiotics or parasites. When this happens, harmful bacteria can override the good bacteria, leading to illness and a decline in pet health. I often prescribe probiotics for dogs to help restore or maintain a desirable intestinal microbial balance, which helps improve a pet’s upset stomach. I prefer Purina Pro Plan Fortiflora for my patients. It’s a powder-based supplement that you can sprinkle onto your dog’s food.
Chronic Gastrointestinal Diseases
Probiotics for dogs are not only useful in cases of acute upset stomach. Patients that have chronic illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, neoplasia or food allergies are great candidates for everyday use of probiotics for dogs. Some dog foods have guaranteed levels of probiotics, such as Canidae Life Stages All Life Stages Formula Dry Dog Food. These Probiotic ForLife Cultures are applied after cooking to help maintain healthy digestion on a daily basis.
Preemptive Use of Probiotics
I also utilize probiotics proactively for my patients who may be stressed, to avoid upset stomach when boarding or traveling. They’re also good for dogs who have a sensitive GI tract and are beginning a new course of antibiotics or medication. Many times when my clients are changing their pet’s food, I will recommend probiotics for dogs to help with a smoother transition. The Honest Kitchen Pro Bloom Instant Goat’s Milk for Dogs & Cats is a great choice as a natural supplement that has both probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Nowadays our standards for pet care and dog nutrition are second to none. Just as we want the best nutrition, health and care for ourselves and loved ones, we want the same for our beloved fur babies. We routinely supplement our own diets with probiotics to help boost our immune system, and to feel healthy and strong. So it’s only natural to give them to our pups as part of complete pet nutrition. I hope this article helps you understand all the great benefits of probiotics and encourages you to speak with your veterinarian regarding possible supplementation for your pet. As always, your veterinarian is the best resource for the health and well-being of your pet, so be sure to contact her for any health questions or concerns.