Just like in us humans, the core of a dog’s health and wellbeing begins in the gut. The gut’s sensitive microbiome has even been described by scientists as ‘the forgotten organ’ for its multifaceted role in digestion, immunity and stress-management.
In this piece, we’re going to discuss the role of probiotics in the canine digestive system, and how their vital function in balancing the natural flora of the gut can soothe all kinds of conditions in your dog, as well as improve their mood and overall health.
Probiotics are live organisms known as ‘friendly’ bacteria, essential for ensuring a healthy, smooth-running environment in your dog’s gut and digestive tract. Though your dog has millions of these microbes in their body already, there are many scenarios that can alter the gut’s delicate ecosystem, and may warrant a boost from probiotic supplements or food.
The probiotic party trick, though, is that there’s a ton of different strains that can work together to benefit your dog in different ways. Here’s a list of the main families of probiotics for dogs, including their common strains:
Mostly appearing in fermented milk, lactic acid probiotics form the largest portion of probiotics for dogs, and are the most researched in canine-based studies.
The main species are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, often shortened to their initial on labels, as shown here in the brackets:
L. Acidophilus is found in most probiotic supplements for dogs, as it’s been widely shown to support healthy bacteria, defend against troublesome microbes and generally contribute to a dog’s happy tummy. The other strains have more targeted strengths (more on that later).
One healthy yeast makes the probiotics category and that’s Saccharomyces boulardii - a hardy, widely-used probiotic for treating acute diarrhoea in dogs.
Spore-forming probiotics, called Bacilli, are also more hardy than other probiotics as they form a hard coating that protects them from heat, stomach acids and most antibiotics. They’re also called soil-based probiotics, and the most common strains include Bacillus coagulans and Bacillus subtilis.
Natural sources of probiotics for dogs include live yoghurt or kefir yoghurt, fermented foods, and whole foods such as asparagus, raw garlic, mushrooms and bananas.
Take note that many lactic acid probiotics are made from dairy - so if your dog has a dairy allergy, soil-based probiotics and yeast probiotic S. boulardii are the better option.
We’ve discussed how probiotics perform a delicate balancing act to your dog’s gut flora and fight off harmful microbes that could make your dog unwell. However, there’s even more to probiotics’ power. Numerous ailments in your pooch’s body can be improved by introducing the right mix of probiotics to the gut - from itchy skin to yeast infections and stress-related disorders (1).
Read the list of health issues below to feel more confident in choosing the right probiotics for your dog.
Poop issues are a sure sign of unrest in your pooch’s stomach, and probiotics have been shown to reduce recovery time for diarrhoea in dogs by as much as half (2).
The best probiotics for diarrhoea in dogs are lactic acid probiotics L. Acidophilus and B. Animalis; soil-based probiotic B. Coagulans, and yeast probiotic S. boulardii. As S. boulardii can’t be destroyed as easily as other bacteria, it’s a great remedy for diarrhoea brought on by antibiotics.
If your dog has any digestive issues ruining their day, most probiotics will help - but L. Plantarum and L. Rhamnosus are powerful at treating nasty tummy conditions such as IBS in dogs. In addition, B. Coagulans is known for soothing inflammatory digestive diseases; while B. Indicus helps produce digestive enzymes in your dog’s gut as well as essential B vitamins.
As dogs age, their immunity sadly decreases. Probiotics are great for boosting immune function in dogs as they optimise the gut’s ability to fight off ‘bad’ bacteria, but B. Coagulans and B. Subtilis stand out when it comes to internal defence. B. Subtilis also helps produce IgA; an antibody that bolsters the gut lining and is often low in dogs suffering from autoimmune disease.
They say everything begins in the gut, and it’s true - even stress-related issues in dogs can be traced back to an imbalance in the sensitive microbiome. If your dog has anxiety, has been shaken by life events such as a house move, or tends to get particularly worked up over small things, probiotics L. Casei and B. Longum are both linked to the gut-brain axis and can reduce signs of stress in your dog.
Dogs’ skin can often react with itchiness, flakiness or a rash when it’s defending against dodgy bacteria. Lactic acid probiotic P. Acidilactici has been shown to improve skin conditions in dogs by blocking that angry reaction, so that the harmful bacteria are defended against without the adverse effects.
Yeast infections are common in many dog breeds, making irksome ear and skin infections the bane of many a dog parent’s life. Caused by an imbalance in fungal bacteria, the disruption caused by antibiotics can also result in a yeast infection, especially affecting dogs’ inner-ears, skin and paws.
Fight off yeast with most of the lactic acid probiotics, as well as the soil-based probiotics B. coagulans and B. subtilus. Though it sounds counterproductive to fight yeast with a yeast probiotic, S. boulardii works well, too.
Probiotics perform better in a dog’s body when working in synergy with prebiotics; a process called synbiotics. Prebiotics essentially act as food for the good bacteria in your dog’s gut, and can be fed to your pooch in the form of supplements, high-quality wet or dry dog food, or as whole foods such as dandelion greens or chicory root (3). Read all about probiotics and prebiotics for dogs.
To find out more about the benefits of probiotics for dogs, feel free to get in touch with us at Pooch & Mutt - or check out our probiotic dog supplement, Bionic Biotic, which combines a high-quality mix of prebiotic and probiotic ingredients to boost your dog’s overall digestive health.
‘Efficacy of a Probiotic-Prebiotic Supplement on Incidence of Diarrhea in a Dog Shelter: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial’, 2017 - National Library of Medicine.