For many people, a beloved dog isn’t just a pet—they’re a member of the family. Thus, you probably have a keen interest in keeping your pet healthy, safe, and happy. A big part of that is ensuring that their digestive systems are working correctly.
The bacteria in a dog’s gut are among the most potent natural tools that your pet’s body uses to protect and nourish itself. However, as with any biological system, sometimes they malfunction or need help. So what steps can you take to ensure that your precious pups are digesting their food entirely and with a minimum of gastric distress?
Recent discoveries have shown that there are exciting new possibilities on the horizon in the field of canine probiotics. These supplements may have the potential to improve your pet’s health by harmonizing and supporting their gut bacteria populations. What kinds of possibilities do scientists see in probiotics for dogs, and how can they help your dog?
What do probiotics do?
All animals’ digestive systems, whether human, dog, cat, or otherwise, use various biological tools to break down food and harvest nutrients from it. Gut bacteria are among the most important. They form large and complex ecosystems within the canine gut and help your dog break down its food into the nutrients it needs, as well as cleaning and maintaining the lining of the gut itself.
These systems, of course, aren’t immune to breakdown. Sometimes, through genetics, poor diet, or just bad luck, they can get caught in a cycle of poor performance and digestive inflammation. That’s where supplements can come in handy by giving a boost to their internal microbial systems. Before we get to the power of probiotics, however, let’s look at common digestive problems, your dog may have that might indicate a need for probiotic support.
What are common digestive troubles in dogs?
Dogs have complex and sometimes sensitive digestive systems. Common ailments that many owners report in their pets include:
- Soft stools.
- Excessive gas.
- Digestive tract inflammation.
- Gastric distension and bloating.
- Irregular digestive upsets.
These problems can persist if they’re not tackled holistically. Probiotic supplements can help promote digestive health in a holistic wellness system designed to address the root causes of dysbiosis in the canine gut. Let’s find out how.
What probiotics can do for canine digestive health
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: What does the scientific research on canine probiotics tell us about their potential to help dog owners improve their pets’ digestion and general health? The results have been generally strong, and more evidence is coming out every day. We’ll take a look at some of the significant studies:
- A study in Frontiers in Immunology of dogs across multiple age groups found that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics had wide-ranging benefits, including improved appetite, weight gain, and immune system function. One especially interesting effect the study found: Older dogs had among the best reactions to the probiotics, with their gut microbiomes shifting rapidly to resemble the microbe populations present in younger dogs.
- A rigorous double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine studied dogs in UK animal shelters to decide whether a synbiotic supplement might have applications in preventing diarrhea. The study’s authors found statistically significant evidence that it helped reduce levels of diarrhea in the shelter dogs. This study also points toward the greater potential for synbiotics—the combination of probiotics with prebiotic supplements that help condition the gut for their arrival.
- A German study published in PLoS ONE found that probiotics might be an effective part of treatment for dogs with acute hemorrhagic diarrhea syndrome (AHDS). The probiotic treatment was associated with faster recovery and lower levels of the toxigenic bacteria Clostridium perfringens compared to the placebo group.
- A clinical trial published in Gut Microbes evaluated the effect of probiotic supplements on dogs with irritable bowel disease. In dogs treated with the probiotic, researchers discovered increased levels of tight junction proteins (TJPs), a desirable protein that helps maintain the integrity of the gut barrier.
There are still a great many things we don’t know about probiotics in both humans and canines. What we do know is that they have great potential to push things forward and create better health outcomes for your dog.
What should I know about canine probiotics?
Any supplement comes with potential risks and points of caution. You should know about some key considerations before starting any pet on a probiotic supplement, including:
- Pair canine probiotics with a healthy diet that meets your pet’s nutritional needs and an appropriate amount of exercise. Ask your veterinarian about what kind of diet your pet should be eating.
- Probiotics usually aren’t intended to provide acute medical treatment, so if you think there’s something seriously wrong with your pet’s digestion, don’t hesitate to take them to the vet right away. The vet can tell you when beginning a probiotic course will be appropriate.
- Monitor your pet’s behavior and health carefully after introducing probiotics to ensure that their reaction to them is healthy and safe. Take note if they suffer symptoms such as gas or diarrhea. These can occur when new supplements are introduced, but you should be sure to discuss them with your vet.
- More research is needed to understand the effect that probiotic supplements have on dogs fully. Current research is encouraging, but the gut microbiota of any animal is an incredibly complex system with many unknown factors. Thus, as always, talk to your veterinarian before starting your pet on any supplements.
When caring for our furry family members, there are few things more important than nutrition and digestion. Paying close attention to your dog’s digestive health is vital, and now we’re beginning to understand that more proactive steps involving probiotic supplementation for dogs may be possible. Research continues to advance on these supplements, so talk to your veterinarian about what kinds of supplements might be right for your pet.
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