Just like us, dogs are dependent on a fully functioning immune system to make sure that disease-causing organisms and substances are effectively managed at the cellular levels. Now, it is a well-established fact that almost 70 percent of the major disease-fighting cells of the immune system are located in the lymph vessels that line the gastrointestinal tract or the gut. It is for this very reason that they need to maintain the optimal functioning of their digestive system. A fully functioning gut maintains the integrity of the immune system cells, helping pooches to lead healthier, more active, and definitely fuller lives. Thankfully, you don’t have to visit your veterinarian every now and then to make sure that your mutt’s gut is up to the task. You only need to give it with probiotic supplements that are designed specifically to provide the gut with a healthy population of good bacteria to keep it healthy. As such, we’re sharing in this post the 10 best probiotics for dogs so you can also guarantee a much-improved immune system functioning for a healthier canine.
Probiotics for Dogs Buying Guide
With so many products to choose from it is not difficult to understand why some dog owners end up choosing the wrong product for the right reasons. With terms like CFUs, strains, and live cultures baffling the mind it is easy to get overwhelmed, leading you to make incorrect choices. Don’t worry as we’ve got you covered. We’ve prepared something to help you gain a better understanding of what these products are and what they bring to the table. We’ll also show you how to choose the most appropriate probiotic for your dog and why you cannot give the product that you may already be using.
Does My Dog Really Need a Probiotic?
Just as probiotics have been providing us with exceptional health benefits by improving the overall functioning of the different structures of the digestive tract, live cultures of good bacteria given to pets can also spell the same amazing benefits. But do they really need it? This question is often asked by those who are relatively new to pet parenting. Before we explore the different reasons why you should give your pooch a probiotic, let us first understand some basics.
Probiotics are essentially live microorganisms, bacteria to be more specific, that are cultured in the lab and then packaged into what we now call as probiotic supplements for dogs. You may wonder why we need to introduce bacteria into the canine gut. It has something to do with balance. It’s about the Yin and the Yang, the Black and the White, the Good and the Bad. The point is that there are countless of bacteria in the body, especially the gastrointestinal tract. What many don’t realize is that majority of these bacteria are actually residents of the gut. These are the microorganisms that secrete certain substances that aid in the more efficient digestion of food as well as help modulate the responses of the immune system.
Now, we did say that majority of the microbial flora in the gut are ‘useful’. This also means that there are some that are quite pathogenic. Many of these ‘bad bacteria’ are not inherently evil. Unfortunately, in the process of their growth, they tend to secrete substances or metabolic byproducts that significantly lower the pH levels of the gut, making it more ‘ideal’ for other pathogenic microorganisms to settle in. These can come from contaminated food or even from other sources introduced into the gut when dogs swallow something.
The good thing is that the good bacteria are known to synthesize and release short chain fatty acids or SCFAs. It is these fatty acids that help inhibit the activity as well as the growth of harmful or ‘bad’ bacteria. The important thing to understand is that these bad bacteria are essentially rendered harmless and effectively flushed out by the colony of good bacteria. So, it is this case of good triumphing over evil that optimum digestive health is achieved.
Sadly, there are instances when the number of bad microorganisms is sufficiently greater than the population of good bacteria. This leads to a crowding out of the SCFA-secreting microorganisms, leading to a reduction in the inhibition of growth and activity of harmful bacteria. This is often characterized by the following clinical manifestations.
- Bad breath
So, the main point is that the population of good bacteria is overwhelmed by the population of bad bacteria that can include Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella species, among others.
Probiotic supplements for dogs essentially ‘adds’ to the population of good bacteria in the gut to reestablish balance and enable these microorganisms to release more SCFAs to fight and inactivate the bad bacteria. Manufacturers of these supplements have to be very careful in the formulation of their products, though, as introducing more than sufficient number of strains could potentially result to the different good bacteria fighting against each other. That is why the American Kennel Club strongly recommends putting only a few strains of beneficial bacteria in any given product to help prevent such phenomenon.
Some of the more common good bacteria that are often included in such products include the following.
- Enterococcus faecium
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bifidobacterium animalis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Lactobacillus plantarum
There are other beneficial bacteria that can be ‘re-introduced’ into the gut of our canine friends to help reestablish balance. What you need to remember is that your dog simply cannot have all of these microorganisms at the same time as the risk of “infighting” among these species can undermine their effectiveness.
Now, it is through this activity of probiotics that their benefits can be obtained. These benefits can include the following.
- Treatment of intestinal inflammation and irritable bowel syndrome
Since one of the essential causes of intestinal inflammation as well as irritable bowel syndrome is the presence of toxins that somehow irritate the intestinal and colon lining, introducing live cultures of beneficial bacteria can help suppress if not totally eliminate the activity of offending microorganisms. Again, this is done by increasing the number of colony forming units that produce SCFAs.
- Boost the immune system
There is another reason why probiotics are well-regarded when it comes to ensuring optimum canine well-being. Along the entire length of the digestive tract are massive tracts of lymph vessels which are primarily known for carrying a variety of disease-fighting cells. These cells act on pathogens present in the gut which can include bacteria and even viruses. However, they can only do this if the integrity of the intestinal lining is maintained. Beneficial bacteria help improve the integrity of this lining to help boost the functioning of the lymphatic cells. This is what helps improve the immune system functioning of pooches.
- Help in the prevention of urinary tract infections
We mentioned above that beneficial bacterial preparations can help boost the immune system by strengthening the interface between the gut and the lymphatic vessels. This helps prevent the entry of viruses and bacteria from the gut and into the lymph where these can be drained into the general circulation. And since blood circulates through the kidneys, these harmful microorganisms can attach to the urinary tract where these can initiate an infection. Preventing these from occurring is made possible by the addition of probiotic supplements to your pet’s diet.
- Aid in the reduction of allergic reactions
The inhibition of the activity of offending microorganisms can also lead to a reduction in allergic reactions which is further strengthened by a fully functioning immune system. Technically, this is ensured by the reduction in intestinal permeability as the probiotics strengthen the lining of the intestines, lessening the contact between allergens in the gut and hyper-reactive immune system cells in the lymph vessels.
Aside from these, probiotics are also known to reduce the occurrence of bad breath by reducing the number of pathogenic microorganisms in the gut. It also helps improve the appearance and health of your dog’s coat and skin while also reducing the formation of gas. Some studies also point to the potential benefit of probiotics in the reduction of incidences related to yeast or fungal activity.
So, does your dog need a probiotic? Based on what we have discussed so far, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
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What You Should Look for in a Good Probiotic for Dogs
Now that you know the importance of giving probiotic supplements for dogs as well as their benefits, it’s time to get right down to the business of selecting the correct product for your mutt. Unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes the ‘ideal’ probiotic in dogs. However, you can always look at the following things if you’re on the prowl for the most appropriate beneficial bacteria preparation for your pet.
- Number of colony forming units
All probiotic products come with different numbers of colony forming units or CFUs. Some come in the hundreds of millions while others boast of billions for each serving. This can be quite misleading since getting a product that says it contains 400 billion CFUs can be easily interpreted as very exceptional. However, you need to read between the lines as this value often encompasses the entire product and not a single serving. For example, you may have a 400-gram jar saying it contains 400 billion CFUs. What this means is that the entire 400 grams is equivalent to 400 billion CFUs or simply 1 billion CFU per gram.
The main issue is not really in the number of CFUs these products contain, but rather the lack of knowledge of just how much our pooch needs. There really is no way for us to determine if 1 billion CFUs is sufficient to produce the much-desired benefits from our pets or if 100 million is already enough. Given that we have no idea about just how much our dogs’ colony of naturally beneficial bacteria is present in its gut, it is often wise to start with a smaller number of CFUs, say 100 million. If there are no effects within a given time frame, then you can try to increase the dose to 200 million and so on and so forth. The idea is to establish a minimum number of CFUs that desirable health benefits can be readily observed.
- Diversity of bacterial strains
We already said that putting in too many bacterial strains in any given product may have the opposite effect of what you desire. That is why the AKC recommends starting off with fewer strains then gradually work your way up. However, it is often a must that the product should contain a good mix of both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli species as these two have been extensively studied for their effects.
- Guarantee of potency and shelf stability
In our example above, does the 400 billion CFUs effective from the time of first use or from the time it was produced and packed? The reason for this is that these products come from living microorganisms that tend to decay and lose its potency over time. This is a very important consideration.
- Clean and clear labeling
Related to the guarantee of potency and shelf stability is the transparency of the labeling. Products should disclose all of their ingredients. And, if they can provide a guaranteed analysis of these ingredients, then this would be even better. Just make sure that they have also a listing of the different irritants or harmful ingredients or substances that they did not include in their formulation.
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Can I Give My Dog Probiotics for Humans Instead?
You might be inclined to think that the Lactobacillus casei present in our favorite probiotic drink can also be beneficial when given to our pooches. While it is true that these human products have not been proven to be harmful to dogs, it should be noted that the digestive system of humans is inherently different from that of dogs. There are differences in digestive enzymes, stomach fluid acidity, and even the unique features of the gut. Human probiotic products have never been formulated and tested to work specifically on dogs. As such, it is a lot safer to just stick with probiotic supplements for dogs.
Probiotics are exceptionally useful microorganisms that provide a host of benefits for our dogs including a boost in their immune system, the reduction of many gastrointestinal complaints, the improvement in their coat and skin, and so much more. It is thus, imperative that you look into the products’ number of CFUs, various strains, potency guarantee, and clarity of labeling to help you choose one that is specifically intended and right for your furry friend.