When (and How) to Use Dog Probiotics & Prebiotics
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Probiotics can be beneficial for people looking to improve their digestive health–but the benefits of probiotics aren’t just for humans! There are plenty of natural probiotics for dogs (and cats, for that matter), and your furry friend might be a good candidate if they need a little digestive support.
Dogs dealing with poor digestion, upset stomach, and even a change in bowel movements can all benefit from using a supplement or dog food with probiotics.
How do dog probiotics work?
Probiotic – A substance–often live microorganisms–that stimulates the growth of beneficial flora in the intestinal tract. Probiotics can help maintain existing gut flora, or replenish healthy flora that has been reduced or terminated.
Signs your pet might need probiotics
1. Recovering from an illness
Dogs experience a wide range of symptoms from a variety of illnesses–and it’s always possible gut health can be negatively affected. Changes in diet, viral, bacteria, fungi, parasitic infections, and even certain allergens can disrupt your pet’s gut health, creating a need to rebuild their gut microbiome.
2. Taking antibiotics
Antibiotics can be helpful in treating certain infections and illness, but can also cause bacterial imbalance in the gut.
3. Experiencing diarrhea
Dogs dealing with stool abnormalities (soft to liquid stools, color changes, they presence of blood and/or mucus, etc.) from stress, illness, or food sensitivities are at a higher risk of anal gland impaction and related complications.
Can your pet’s flatulence clear a room? Excessive or especially stinky gas can be a sign that your pet’s digestion is out of whack, whether it’s from food intolerance or a pre-existing bacterial imbalance. Or, underlying infection with pathogenic (harmful) bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses.
Dogs struggling with bowel movements may strain when going to the bathroom, or produce pebbly, hard stools. Changes to the gut’s microbiota may make constipation worse.
Do all dogs need probiotics?
In a perfect world, our pets would have perfectly balanced diets, never get sick, and never need antibiotics. But of course, the lives of pet parents can never be that simple! We try our best to care for our pets, but even the healthiest dogs can be affected by illness and gut disruption.
While a healthy diet rich in naturally-occurring prebiotics and probiotics can certainly keep your dog’s digestive system running more smoothly, certain illnesses can severely weaken or decimate your dog’s gut microbiome.
In order to replenish the necessary population of good bacteria in their gut, your dog might need your help finding a suitable dog probiotic supplement. A great example of necessary probiotic use is for dogs with a history of being treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics can weaken both gut and immune health, and your dog can’t rebuild a colony of beneficial microorganisms on their own.
If you’re considering giving probiotics or prebiotics to your dog, you can always consult your vet to see if it’s a good idea.
7 vet tips for giving probiotics to your dog
We’ve covered the what and the why of probiotics. So how should you start giving them to your dog? Probiotics, just like any dog supplement, require following a few rules to encourage the best results.
1. Start slow
When starting a new dog probiotic, your pet might experience adverse gastrointestinal symptoms. As new microbiota make themselves at home in your pet’s gut microbiome, these symptoms can be normal for most pets. However, to help prevent your pet’s symptoms from getting too extreme, try starting at a half-dose of the probiotics for a week before upping to the full recommended dose.
2. Don't mix probiotics
A sure-fire way to worsen gut disruption is to mix multiple strains, brands, and CFUs at once. This can make it difficult to pinpoint which probiotics are helping or hurting your pet’s GI function, and make a bacterial overgrowth more likely.
3. Trial and error
Don’t be scared off if your pet develops diarrhea, bloating, or other symptoms while adjusting to a probiotic. This doesn’t necessarily mean probiotics aren’t right for your pet, but can indicate sensitivities or allergies to certain strains of microorganisms or other ingredients used in the probiotic supplement.
Digestive tract abnormalities that align with starting a new probiotic supplement will help you find the right CFU dose, strain, and overall best dog probiotics for your pet.
4. Note the strain
Your pet may react more favorably to one probiotic strain than another. If you find a probiotic that agrees with your pet–or alternatively, disagrees with them–make a note of the strain and CFU count for future reference.
5. Wait for them to work
In most cases, probiotics and prebiotics won’t be an overnight cure for your pet’s digestive issues. Especially with pets needing to rebuild their gut flora, the benefits of a balanced gut microbiome will take time. Estimate a few days to weeks of daily use before gauging if the strain is helping your pet.
6. Use daily or as directed
7. Stagger with antibiotics
One thing you’ll want to avoid is giving probiotics to your pet too close to when they’re taking a dose of prescribed antibiotics. If you hadn’t already guessed, the ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-’ don’t mix well, meaning probiotics taken too closely to a dose of antibiotics may reduce the effectiveness of probiotic therapy.
Probiotics can be taken daily, as advised by your veterinarian and, for some dogs, long-term when recommended. It’s always best to discuss your pet’s symptoms and overall health before determining how long to continue giving your dog probiotics.
Studies suggest that supplementing probiotics for dogs can be beneficial for your furry friend’s long-term gut, skin, coat, and immune health–so they might be worth a try!
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