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Probiotics for dogs

The essentials

  • Probiotic supplements may be used for daily or short-term use— Some pet parents give their dogs daily supplements while others only do so when their pup is sick, stressed, or taking antibiotics.
  • Probiotics are live, good bacteria — Your dog’s gut already contains these beneficial bacteria, which fight the bad bacteria that invades their body through food and environmental sources.
  • Dogs’ digestive and immune systems benefit from probiotics— Probiotics have been proven to help with mild chronic gastric upset and lower systemic inflammation.

Billions of beneficial microbes exist in your dog’s bowels. These live microorganisms help their body fight bad bacteria and pathogens that could make them sick. Probiotic supplements for dogs contain live bacterial strains that are meant to boost the naturally-occurring microbes in your dog’s gut. A daily probiotic supplement can give your dog’s digestive tract and immune system an edge against pathogens and may have many secondary bonuses, such as reducing their allergies and itchiness.

The science behind dog probiotic supplements

Probiotic supplements have been proven to help the body by restoring the balance of healthy gut bacteria. Dysbiosis occurs when the microbiome becomes disrupted or imbalanced, resulting in an influx of harmful bacteria and pathogens. Some signs of dysbiosis include food intolerances, gastrointestinal (GI) upset, inflammation, and chronic fatigue or lethargy.

Dysbiosis can cause all kinds of problems in humans and canines that affect their overall health. Thankfully—though for reasons we don’t yet fully understand—studies  show that probiotic supplements seem to help.  

Some different types of probiotic supplements include: 

  • Powders. Look for a veterinarian-formulated and approved powder, such as Purina FortiFlora. Some may come in prepackaged packets while others may arrive in a large container with a scoop. Powders are usually poured over your dog’s meal. 
  • Soft chews. If you have a picky pup, you might want to treat them with a delicious probiotic chew like these from PetLab Co. Some probiotic chews might function as a multivitamin supplement, giving your dog extra minerals and essential nutrients beyond beneficial microorganisms. 
  • Tablets. Chewable tablets like these from Proviable are also a good idea, especially if your dog doesn’t mind taking their regular medication.
  • Dog food. Some dog food recipes feature probiotics in the ingredients list, such as Purina Pro Plan.

While yogurt may contain probiotics, not all of them carry the strains that are most advantageous for dogs. In moderation (and with your vet’s approval), plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is generally a safe food to serve as a treat, so long as your dog isn’t lactose intolerant.

Yogurt usually doesn't contain the billions of beneficial microbes needed, and that is where the probiotics supplements help.

Dr. Armstrong

Why probiotics for dogs work

Your dog’s digestive system affects lots more than just processing their food. When dysbiosis occurs, dogs may struggle with a variety of conditions, from an itchy coat to an impaired immune function. 

While probiotics aren’t a miracle cure, studies have shown they may help with things like inflammation, food intolerances, and food or environmental allergies. For example, a 2016 study  found a link between gut flora and the prevalence of atopic dermatitis. Probiotic use decreased the risk of developing this health condition and was recommended as a way to ease symptoms in existing cases.

Furthermore, the health benefits of probiotics have been proven for dogs following antibiotics use or serious GI issues, as well as pancreatitis. If your dog has recently taken antibiotics, it’s a good idea to give them a probiotic supplement to replace the healthy bacteria that the medicine destroyed along with the bad.

Choosing the best probiotics for dogs

The pet product market is fully stocked with different types of probiotics, and some supplements are better choices than others. Probiotics—for dogs and humans—are considered supplements that are exempt from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation or approval. Unfortunately, this means that some products may not have what your dog needs, or even contain all of the colony-forming units (CFUs) that the label says. Some products may not meet proper quality control or safety standards due to poor processing or storage methods.

We recommend dog owners look for a product that’s vet-formulated and approved by your own vet and the veterinary field at large. The supplement should clearly list the bacterial strains, as well as how many CFUs it contains. Most vets advise giving your dog between 1 and 10 billion CFUs of probiotics per day, but the exact dosage will depend on size and medical history. 

Look for the right bacterial strain

Microbes live in all animals, but the bacterial strain and quantity depends on the species, which is why it’s important to buy a canine-specific probiotic.  

While most human probiotic supplements won’t hurt your pup, probiotics formulated for dogs will be far more advantageous. Canines have very specific bacterial strains that organically make up their gut microbiome. Some of most beneficial strains include: 

  • Lactobacillus plantarum. This strain is considered one of the crowning glories of the Lactobacillus genus. Lactobacillus plantarum can help your dogs fight against certain pathogens, including strains of Salmonella.  
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus.  One of the most common probiotics, this strain is found in many fermented foods such as yogurt. The effects of Lactobacillus acidophilus on dogs are well-documented. It is best known for supporting immune and gut health.    
  • Bifidobacterium longum. While probiotics are usually renowned for their digestive and immune system benefits, Bifidobacterium longum seems to have a calming effect on the canine nervous system. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine , dogs who were given this bacterial strain were less likely to display anxious behaviors in situations that typically make them nervous.  
  • Lactobacillus casei. Certain fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods naturally feature this probiotic. A common bacterial strain for humans and animals, Lactobacillus casei may ease mild constipation and diarrhea.  

Are probiotics supplements proven to be effective? 

Most probiotic studies have been limited to their effects on humans. There are several positive findings about their impact on our furry friends, but at this point, the majority are anecdotal findings as opposed to conclusive scientific studies. Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on a probiotic supplement, or any other food or medications. 

Why the expiration date matters  

Probiotics are living organisms. Expired probiotics aren’t likely dangerous to your pet, but their potency will be compromised, and your pet may not reap the maximum benefits. When shopping for a dog probiotic, aim to buy a bottle with a long shelf life that you feel confident that your pup will finish before the best-by date.

Only purchase monthly or 60 day supplies to avoid waste and excessive expense.

Dr. Armstrong

How to give your dog probiotics

Depending on your dog’s preferences, you might choose to administer probiotics by sprinkling powder over their food, giving them a probiotic chew or tablet, or buying dog food that includes dried fermentation products. 

Your vet will be your best guide for dosage and will likely have some product recommendations tailored to your pup’s individual health conditions.   

Side effects to watch out for

During the first week after their first dose, it’s possible that your dog might experience some runny stools or diarrhea. Ironically, this can be a sign that the probiotics are working, by expelling harmful bacteria from your pup’s system. However, diarrhea can also lead to dehydration, especially in small puppies. You should always call your vet if diarrhea lasts for longer than two days or if your dog appears to be in distress.  

Dr. Armstrong suggests starting probiotics slowly to reduce the risk of possible side effects. “For the first few days, I have suggested starting at ⅓ or ½ doses,” he says. “Increase to full dosing if there are no GI problems.”

Storing probiotics for dogs

Since probiotics are live organisms, extreme heat will kill them. Store probiotics in sealed containers at room temperature, and don’t expose them to temperatures above 70°F, even on the ride home from the store. 

Consider seeking a minimally processed probiotic, particularly if it’s included in dog food. Even if a product claims to contain a certain number of CFUs, the live cultures may no longer be present if they’ve been subjected to processing at high temperatures.  

If your dog suffers from chronic GI upset or inflammation, they may benefit from a daily probiotic supplement. At the least, giving them a supplement when they must take an antibiotic or when they’re sick can restore the healthy gut flora and boost your dog’s immune system. As always, consult your vet for the correct dosage and product recommendations.

Frequently asked questions

Should I give my dog a probiotic supplement?

Healthy dogs can benefit from probiotics, but supplements can be especially helpful when your dog is sick or stressed. Probiotics strengthen the numbers of good bacteria in your dog’s gut, which boost their immune response as their body fights infection, sickness, and inflammation. Different dogs require different dosages, though, so always talk to your vet before administering a supplement to know how much to give your pup.  

Can I give my dog human probiotics?

While it may not hurt them, some probiotic strains aren’t effective on dogs, especially if they aren’t naturally-occurring in their gut. It’s best to stick with a vet-approved supplement that was intended for canine consumption in order for them to reap the maximum benefits. 

Is Greek yogurt a good probiotic for dogs?

This tangy dairy product features Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, two bacterial strains that live in your pup’s gut, but not in large quantities.  As long as it’s unflavored and free from any sweeteners, Greek yogurt is safe to offer to your dog. However, many dogs are lactose intolerant, so Greek yogurt might not suit them. Probiotic supplements meant for dogs are better since they contain the most beneficial strains. 

What type of probiotic is best for dogs?

Probiotics come in various dosages and forms—including powders, chews, capsules, and foods. Since probiotics are a supplement, they aren’t legally required to meet FDA regulation or approval. This is why it’s important to choose one from a reputable company that your vet approves to avoid getting scammed.

What’s the appropriate dosage?

Most vets generally recommend probiotics that contain between 1 and 10 billion CFUs. Every dog is different, though, so consult your vet for the most accurate dosage for your pup.