When (and How) to Use Dog Probiotics & Prebiotics


alt="Dachshund dog laying on his back while owner rubs his tummy"

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 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?

In addition to helping your pet digest their food more efficiently, dog probiotics can also support immunity by creating a more abundant inventory of good bacteria (more on that below). Their counterparts, prebiotics, act as a support system to feed and encourage probiotic growth. 

Here are a few key terms to know when using prebiotics and probiotics: 

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.

Prebiotic – A substance–typically a high-fiber food–that promotes the growth of ‘good’ gut bacteria. Prebiotics ‘feed’ this good bacteria in order to better support a healthy, balanced gut microbiome. Examples of prebiotic ingredients in food are fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin. 

Microbiota – The microorganisms (flora) that live inside the body, including bacteria, yeast, fungi, and viruses.

Microbiome – The environment in which microorganisms live (e.g., the ‘gut microbiome’).

Antibiotic – Class of drugs designed to kill off all bacteria–both good and bad–in an effort to prevent illness caused by certain bacteria.

Bacteria – A large group of single-cell microorganisms. The digestive system encounters both ‘bad’ and ‘good’ bacteria, with the latter being necessary for digestive health. Good bacteria can fight off bad bacteria in the gut, reduce inflammation, and maintain immune health.

Strain – A genetic variant of microorganism (e.g., Lactobacillus acidophilus) that can be identified by its potency and health benefits.

CFU – Acronym for “colony-forming unit,” which tells you how many viable microorganisms are in a serving of probiotics. For reference, the minimum recommended number of CFUs for dogs is 1 billion, while some dogs can tolerate up to 10 billion CFUs. If your dog is new to probiotics, starting small may help them to better tolerate the dose. 

Let’s take our Profivex® probiotic chews for dogs, for example: Each chew contains 5 strains of beneficial bacteria, each with 1 billion CFUs–meaning your dog will get 5 billion CFUs of probiotics per treat. As a bonus, our probiotic formula is complete with natural prebiotics, fiber, and digestive enzymes to better support the effects of your pet’s probiotics.

Dog probiotics work the same way as people probiotics, but the way your pet presents their symptoms of GI distress might be harder to spot. 
Corgi dog with illustration of a stomach over his tummy surrounded by text describing symptoms of digestive upset

Signs your pet might need probiotics

Now that we’ve covered the basics of probiotic terminology, let’s discuss which pets might need probiotics. Your dog might need probiotic treatment if they are:  

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. 

4. Gassy

Can your pet’s flatulence clear a room? Excessive or especially stinky gas can be a sign that your pet’s gut 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.

5. Constipated

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. 

Veterinarian offering dog probiotic chew to a dog in a vet clinic

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

Part of the ‘wait to work’ period includes giving the probiotics to your dog daily. Adding a dog probiotic powder to their food or giving a probiotic chews for dogs at the same time every day will give your pet the best chance for optimal results.

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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Dr. Patrick Mahaney works as a concierge-style veterinarian and has a number of celebrity clients through his house-call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness. He loves building personal, long-term relationships with his clients to best suit their pets’ needs within the comfortable confines of their homes.

To spread his message of holistic veterinary medicine on a large-scale basis, Dr. Mahaney attained a Certified Veterinary Journalist certificate and enjoys contributing to pet-related media projects. He is also a certified veterinary acupuncturist.

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