Science supporting the use of probiotics in humans has been established over the past 100 years and is now well accepted. Peer-reviewed science supporting the use of probiotics for pets has been available for more than 30 years, but this knowledge has been slow to disseminate to the pet-owner population. Kallangur Veterinary Surgery has been recommending probiotic use in dogs and cats for years and there are many clinical instances where we have witnessed dramatic, life-changing health benefits.
In humans, it is clear that the makeup of bacteria within the gut (the microbiome) influences the likelihood of having conditions like irritable bowel or colitis; psychological states like depression or anxiety; skin disorders like eczema or psoriasis; neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease; inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic sclerosis and ankylosing spondylitis; even susceptibility to being overweight can be mediated by the microbiome’s impact on thyroid autoimmunity and insulin resistance. We will elaborate on the specifics of some of these conditions in future posts.
If you haven’t been aware of the effects of the microbiome previously, please re-read the paragraph above and take time to reflect on the profound influence that the gut microbiome has on health and wellbeing. If you wish to find more information on how the microbiome influences human health, look here.
We passionately recommend keeping your pet’s digestive system running optimally to ensure a healthy, active, and fulfilling life. One way to potentially improve your dog’s digestive health is to regularly provide a probiotic supplement.
What are probiotics for pets?
Probiotics are live microorganisms mainly comprising bacteria, that can be added to the food for the purpose of regulating the intestinal microbial population of the host. Probiotics help treat and/or prevent a variety of illnesses and diseases, especially those related to the gastrointestinal and immune systems. They inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as some strains of E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, as well as provide other advantages to the intestines. It is becoming clear that these microorganisms also produce chemicals which can get into the circulation and positively influence other systems in the body such as liver function, skin health and brain function.
The benefits of giving probiotics to pets
There is growing evidence supporting the use of probiotics for dogs and cats. Giving your pet healthy bacteria may positively influence chronic gastro-intestinal abnormalities, obesity, liver disease, mental attitude, dental disease and behaviour disorders. A daily probiotic supplement may also provide some ancillary benefits for dogs such as better skin and coat appearance, a reduction in intestinal gas, improved breath, a reduction of allergies, a reduction in yeast-associated disorders, assist in maintaining healthy bacteria within the reproductive tract and help in regulating bowel function.
Types of pet probiotics
Probiotics for pets come in a variety of forms. There are pills, powders, pastes, or solutions. The important thing is to use a product that is specifically formulated for animals. Giving probiotics designed for humans to an animal probably will not cause any harm but will most likely result in reduced benefit.
Each probiotic supplement contains one or more types of bacteria and/or yeasts that can carry out a variety of different functions. For instance, certain strains, such as Bifidobacterium, are known to be helpful in reducing the duration of diarrhea in dogs and for their overall immune boosting properties. Other types, like Lactobacillus, have shown benefits in helping dogs to increase the absorption of nutrients and to optimise their digestive systems.
Choosing a suitable pet probiotic
There are different types of probiotic available for pets. Therefore, it is best to try several before concluding whether-or-not it is beneficial for your pet. In cases of intestinal disorder, benefits should be noticeable within two weeks of commencing administration. However, in cases such as itchy skin, or anxiety, it may be necessary to wait up to eight weeks before deciding on the effectiveness. In most instances, probiotic use will form part of an integrated treatment regimen.
The following probiotic strains have scientific evidence to support their efficacy and safety in dogs:
- Enterococcus faecium
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium animalis
A probiotic does not have to contain all these bacteria to be effective but should at least contain several of them.
Can pets receive probiotics meant for humans?
There are no known studies showing that human probiotic supplements can harm a dog or cat. However, there are significant differences in the physiology of dogs and humans, including differences in the acidity of stomach fluids, digestive enzymes, and other features of the gastrointestinal tract. These differences may result in human formulations becoming ineffective when administered to animals.
The recommendation from Kallangur Veterinary Surgery is for pet owners to use a probiotic specially made for dogs and cats.
How to give your pet a probiotic
Canine probiotic supplements are administered orally and can be included in a dog’s food or wrapped in a treat. When administering a probiotic to a dog, it’s important that you follow the instructions on the product label. Improperly administered probiotics can be destroyed in the stomach and not reach the intestines where they are intended to perform their function. For example, check to see if it is best to administer the product before, with, or after a meal.
Risks and considerations when using probiotics for pets
There are not many known side effects to administering probiotics to your dog, but rare things may occur. The risks to the average dog are exceptionally low and probably are only potentially relevant in very young puppies and maybe animals with highly compromised immune systems.
Perhaps the most important consideration is to take care that a probiotic contains what it’s claimed to contain – both the species of bacteria that are present and the numbers of viable organisms. For this reason, it is important to do your research and talk to your veterinarian to make sure that you are giving your dog a probiotic supplement from a reputable brand.
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If your dog is currently healthy, consider including probiotics in the diet intermittently. For example, administer for one week every month.
If your dog has a condition noted above that may benefit from probiotic use, consider administering probiotics daily for at least 8 weeks to determine whether they may be beneficial.
In multi-pet households, it is beneficial to treat all pets simultaneously as this helps to normalise bacteria within the environment, as well as each pet’s intestines.
If your pet has recently had a course of antibiotics, we strongly recommend administering probiotics for at least a week following completion of the antibiotics.