Probiotics for Dogs: A Review

Last Updated 01 AUGUST 2021

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc (Hons)

Ever since the early 1900s when Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff first discovered that fermented dairy products were responsible for enhancing the lifespan of Bulgarian rural people, probiotics have been a popular topic. With more and more research supporting the link between the microbes in our gut and positive health effects, more and more people are eager to reap the benefits.

As the human probiotic market expanded, it wasn't long before probiotic products specifically designed for pets emerged. There are now dozens of different probiotic supplements available in Australia, and a handful of probiotic pet foods, too. With so many products available, many pet owners are left wondering: should I give my dog a probiotic? And if so, which dog probiotic is best?

To help you navigate the world of probiotics for dogs, I've constructed this complete guide. From questions about the benefits of probiotics and whether you can give human probiotics to dogs, as well as a comparison of the best 6 dog probiotics on the Australian market, this guide should cover everything you need to know about dog probiotics.

Skip to a section:

1) What are probiotics?

2) The species of bacteria in your dog's gut

3) Are probiotics beneficial for dogs?

- Can I give human probiotics to my dog?

4) TOP PICKS: the 6 Best Probiotic Supplements for Dogs

5) Other options: Prebiotics and foods

Shop All Probiotics for Dogs

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are the "friendly" bacteria and yeasts that live in the gastrointestinal system. This population of microbes in the gut is also known as the 'gastrointestinal microbiome' or 'gut microflora'.

All animals (including dogs) have billions of "good bacteria" in their gut microbiome. These bugs help fight infections, strengthen the immune system, digest food, and produce nutrients for absorption. A healthy microbiome should have a varied and diverse population made up of a mix of different microbe species - this healthy mix is also known as 'biodiversity'.

Probiotic supplements (and some probiotic foods) provide live species known to be beneficial directly into the gut. Probiotics may help restore the natural balance of the microbiome, and are particularly beneficial after illness or a course of antimicrobial medication.

Definitions: What's the difference between a Probiotic and a Prebiotic?

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What bacteria species are in your dog's gut?

Dogs have a number of species of friendly bacteria in their gut. Each section of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon) house different populations of dominant bacteria, with the large intestine harbouring the most dense and diverse.3 The species present also varies greatly from animal to animal. But in general, most identified species fall into five phyla: Firmicutes, Fusobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, and Actinobacteria.4

The most common beneficial bacterial species in the dog gut are:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Enterococcus faecium

But rather than worrying about which microbe species are present in the gut, it's important to focus on establishing a stable, biodiverse population with a good balance of beneficial species. When the microflora is unbalanced and the diversity of the population is out of whack - this misbalance is also known as 'dysbiosis' - problems can ensue.

What causes the gut microflora to become unbalanced in dogs? Dysbiosis may occur after a course of antibiotics, a change in diet, a parasite infection, food poisoning, when weaning off puppy milk, or during times of stress. Disrupted microflora can lead to signs including diarrhoea, vomiting, gas, bloating, and a reduced immune system.

With this in mind, it makes sense that establishing and maintaining populations of desirable bacteria in the gut is an important part of treating gastrointestinal diseases in our pets.

Read section below for our top recommendations.

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The Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs

Probiotics offer a number of benefits for pets. By helping the "good" microbes thrive, they promote the health benefits that are naturally offered by these bugs.

Specifically, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can help to:

  • Reduce diarrhoea and gas
  • Reduce the symptoms of food allergies
  • Manage yeast or harmful bacteria overgrowth
  • Restore the balance of microbes after a course of antibiotics
  • Prevent anxiety and reduce stress
  • Bacillus species can also support the immune response

The microbiome can simultaneously function as pro- and anti-inflammatory, maintaining a balance to stop excess inflammation while still responding to infections.1

The microbiome can even impact brain function. Around 90% of the body's Serotonin - the 'happy hormone' - originates from the intestines, and the production of this hormone is directly influenced by the gastrointestinal microbiome.2

How do probiotics work?

The health benefits listed above are all thanks to 3 main functions of good bacteria:

1. They compete with harmful germs and knock them out of the way! Probiotic microbes can compete with potential pathogens (like Salmonella) by taking their place on receptor sites and preventing them from adhering to the intestinal lining and being absorbed.5

2. They can act as a natural antibiotic. Some species of probiotic microbes produce antimicrobial substances; such as fatty acids, lactic acid and acetic acid.6 Some Lactobacillus species can also decrease the amount of toxins production by harmful bugs including Salmonella, E.coli or Clostridium perfringens.

3. They kick-start the immune system of the host animal. This is particularly strong in the cells of the intestinal lining. When bacteria consume fibre, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including acetate, proprionate, and butyrate. These short-chain fatty acids produced by probiotic microbes support immunity by in a number of different ways:

Short-chain fatty acids produced by probiotic microbes help support immunity by:

  • Feeding friendly bacteria and discouraging the growth of harmful bacteria
  • Helping to form the protective mucus layer in the gut
  • Strengthening tight junctions between cells (ie, preventing leaky gut)
  • Decreasing glucose levels, which protects against metabolic disease and obesity
  • Building important T-cells in the immune system, which helps reduce chronic inflammation
  • Helping the body absorb important nutrients including calcium, magnesium, and iron

When should I give my dog a probiotic?

Any dog who has recently been treated with a course of antibiotics may benefit from a probiotic supplement. Additionally, you may wish to give a probiotic for ongoing maintenance for any chronic gastrointestinal, skin, or allergic condition.

Anecdotally, probiotics are often reported to assist dogs with chronic gastro condiitons such as a sensitive stomach, recurrent diarrhoea, vomiting, food sensitivities, bloating and gas, as well as those with chronic allergies. It's possible that these dogs are also treated with courses of antibiotics more frequently than other dogs, which may be the reason for the noticeable improvement. But regardless of the reason for the success, many believe that probiotics are worth a try - and they certainly can't do any harm.

Can I give human probiotics to my dog?

A probiotic that is safe for humans isn't necessarily also safe and effective for dogs. The World Health Organization (WHO) has specific guidelines on probiotics which state that safety in any product must first be established, and then the bacteria must also demonstrate a beneficial effect. If a product has been evaluated as safe and effective for humans, but not for dogs, then it is not guaranteed to work in their species.

Read section below for more information about safe probiotic foods for dogs.

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What are the best probiotics for dogs?

Now that we know that science has established the link between the microbiome in the gut and immune and digestive health, the next step is figuring out how to manipulate the microbiome for good. There are actually many ways to alter the gut microbiome - including probiotics, prebiotics, faecal transplants, and dietary changes.

The Best Probiotics for Dogs Compared

Product Probiotic, Prebiotic, or both? Formula Type/s Active Microbes or Prebiotic Ingredients Comments

Protexin

Probiotic Available in Powder, Soluble powder, and Liquid formulations. Probiotic: 60 Million CFU per 1g as Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. delbrueckii, L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Enterococcus faecium, Streptococcus salivarius
  • Can be used in cats, dogs, horses, or birds
  • Vet-recommended
  • View Prices Here
  • PAW Digesticare

    Probiotic & Prebiotic

    Available in a Powder for sprinkling on the food

    Probiotic: 30 Million CFU per 1g as Lactobacillus acidophilus, L.delbrueckii, L.plantarum, L. rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Enterococcus faecium, Streptococcus salivarius
    Prebiotic: Grains, seeds, alfalfa grass, quinoa, spirulina, legumes and cereals
  • Can be used in cats and dogs
  • Vet-recommended and quality tested
  • View Price Here
  • Vetafarm Lovebites Synbiotic Meal Topper

    Probiotic & Prebiotic

    Available in a meal topper Powder in an easy-to-use pump bottle

    Probiotic: 180 million CFU per 1g as Lactobacillus acidophilus, L.casei, L. salivarius, L.plantarum, L.rhamnosus, L.brevis, Bifidobacterium bifidum, B.lactis, S. thermophilus
    Prebiotic: Inulin (Chicory Root Extract)
  • Can be used in cats and dogs
  • Kangaroo meat adds flavour for palatability
  • View Price Here
  • PetzPark Probiotic

    Prebiotic (& one strain of Probiotic)

    Available in a Powder for sprinkling on the food

    Prebiotic: a mix of wholegrains, wheat grass, beans, kelp, and hemp seed.
    Probiotic: Lactobacilli sp. (amount and species unspecified)
  • For dogs only
  • Hemp seed also provides beneficial omega fatty acids
  • View Price Here
  • Big Dog Probiotic

    Probiotic (& one Prebiotic ingredient, as well as Digestive Enzymes)

    Available in a Powder for sprinkling on the food

    Probiotic: 4 billion CFU per 1g, as Bacillus subtilis, Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium thermophilum, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
    Prebiotic: Green banana powder
    Digestive enzymes: Alpha-amylase, Protease, Cellulase, Lipase, Pectinase.
  • Can be used in cats and dogs
  • Digestive enzymes added to aid in nutrient digestion
  • View Price Here
  • Field Day
    Digestion & Gut Support

    Prebiotic

    Available in a Powder for sprinkling on the food

    Prebiotic: Inulin, Hemp Fibre, Pumpkin, Nutritional Yeast, Psyllium Husk
  • For dogs only
  • Digestive enzymes added to aid in nutrient digestion
  • Hemp seed also provides beneficial omega fatty acids
  • Shop All Probiotics for Dogs

    Other options: Diets, Foods, and Natural Prebiotics

    Aside from dog-specific probiotic supplements, there are plenty of ways to promote the health of your dog's microflora. Certain fermented foods that us humans take to promote a healthy gut are also safe and beneficial for dogs, and there are even special dog foods designed with prebiotic blends to promote the health of gut microbes.

    Probiotic Foods that are Safe for Dogs

    1. Yoghurt and Kefir

    Verdict: Safe in moderation

    Fermented dairy products like yoghurt and kefir have long been known to provide probiotic benefits. Thanks to the lactic acid-producing bacterial cultures used in their fermentation (namely, Lactobacillus and Streptococcus species), fermented dairy can promote a healthy gut microflora and provide powerful anti-pathogen and antiinflammatory properties.7

    Some will advise against giving dairy products to pets, because cats and dogs do not digest lactose well. However, fermented dairy products contain very little lactose due to the bacterial cultures and their ability to feed on the sugars (including lactose) and produce lactase. This is why people with lactose intollerance can usually tolerate yoghurt and kefir well.8 However, if your dog is allergic to dairy protein (remember, being allergic to dairy is different to being lactose intollerant), yoghurt and kefir are not suitable.

    2. Green Tripe

    Verdict: Safe

    Tripe is the muscle tissue from the stomach of animals like pigs, cows, and sheep. Green tripe - the raw, unbleached, uncooked variety - is becoming very popular in natural dog foods, particularly the ranges from Ziwi Peak and K9 Natural. Green tripe is available in different forms including raw, freeze-dried, wet food, and treats.

    Raw green tripe contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a type of bacteria that originates in an animal's gut. This is a lactic-acid producing bacteria - which as we discussed before, may improve gut health by controlling populations of harmful bacteria and promoting better gut immunity.

    Many people like the idea of giving tripe as a probiotic, because it stays true to their dog's ancestral 'whole prey' diet. The idea goes that wild dogs would naturally consume the intestinal contents of prey animals, which contain fermenting fibrous vegetable matter and copious levels of bacteria-rich tripe.

    3. Fermented Vegetables

    Verdict: Some are safe, some are not

    Sauerkraut and kimchi are made from fermented cabbage, and may incorporate other vegetables such as carrots and fennel. Sauerkrat can produce up to 10 trillion colony-forming units (CFU) - to compare, many probiotic supplements only provide around 10 billion CFUs.

    However, it's always important to check the ingredients and ask your vet about an individual product before giving it to your dog. Many sauerkrat products are safe as they are made with cabbage or cabbage-carrot mixes, however some products may contain onions or garlic, which are toxic to dogs. Kimchi often contains garlic and can also contain chilli which dogs are sensitive to.

    4. Prebiotic-rich Fruits and Vegetables

    Verdict: Safe

    Certain vegetables have natural prebiotic properties thanks to their fibre type and content. Examples include artichokes, leeks, pumpkin, asparagus, bananas, flaxseed, and chicory root. You may wish to incorporate these into your dog's diet, but always make sure that vegetables are well cooked (as this helps with their digestion in the dog's shorter gastrointestinal tract) and that sugary fruits are given in moderation.

    5. Psyllium Husk

    Verdict: Safe

    Usually taken for it's bulk-forming, anti-constipation effects, psyllium husk is also a powerful prebiotic. Psyllium has been demonstrated to increase microbial diversity and numbers, as well as their associated digestive enzymes.9 (Plus, it can help if your dog has anal gland issues!)

    When giving your dog psyllium husk, always make sure to select a natural, unflavoured variety free from flavourings. Give one teaspoon per 10kg bodyweight, sprinkled on the food daily, and adjust the dose as needed.

    6. Hill's Prescription Diet Gastrointestinal Biome

    Hill's Prescription Diet Gastrointestinal Biome is a dog food designed specifically to support the gut microflora without the use of additional supplements. It is currently the only diet on the market which has been created for this purpose. It contains unique ActiveBiome+TM technology - a special blend of prebiotic fibres that works with and feeds the bacteria present in your dog's microbiome to support better digestive health.

    Read more about Improving Your Pet's Microbiome Using Hill's Prescription Diet Gastrointestinal Biome.

    All in all, probiotics are a safe and simple way to promote the everyday health of your dog - and may be particularly beneficial for any dog with allergies, gastrointestinal problems, or chronic diseases. Whether you choose to purchase an daily supplement or introduce prebiotics into their diet, every dog can benefit from a bit of extra care for their microbiome.

    Further Reading

    Does grain free dog food cause heart disease?

    What makes a 'quality' pet food?

    Raw Diets for Pets: The Risks and Benefits

    Causes of Diarrhoea in Dogs

    Managing Constipatin in Cats

    References

    1. Tizard IR, Jones SW. The microbiota regulates immunity and immunologic diseases in dogs and cats. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. (2018) Vol 48: 307-22.

    2. De Vadder F, Grasset E, Manneras Holm L, Karsenty G, Macpherson AJ, Olofsson LE, et al. Gut microbiota regulates maturation of the adult enteric nervous system via enteric serotonin networks. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. (2018) Vol 115: 6458-63.

    3. Garcia-Mazcorroa J.F, Minamotob Y. Gastrointestinal microorganisms in cats and dogs: a brief review. Arch Med Vet. (2013) Vol 45, 111-124

    4. Pila A, Suchodolski JS. The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. (2020). Vol 6: 10.3389

    5. Collado M.C., Grzeskowiak Ł. & Salminen S. Probiotic strains and their combination inhibit in vitro adhesion of pathogens to pig intestinal mucosa. Current Microbiology (2007a). Vol 55, 260-265.

    6. Saarela M., Mogensen G., Fonden R., Meatto J. & Mattila-Sandholm T. Probiotic bacteria: safety, functional and technological properties. Journal of Biotechnology. (2000) Vol 84, 197-215.

    7. Adolfsson O., Meydani S.N., Russell R.M. Yogurt and gut function. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2004). Volume 80, Issue 2, 245-256

    8. Savaiano DA. Lactose digestion from yogurt: mechanism and relevance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2014) May; 99:1251S-5S

    9. Jalanka, J., Major, G., Murray, K., Singh, G., Nowak, A., Kurtz, C., Silos-Santiago, I., Johnston, J. M., de Vos, W. M., & Spiller, R. The Effect of Psyllium Husk on Intestinal Microbiota in Constipated Patients and Healthy Controls. International journal of molecular sciences. (2019). 20(2), 433.

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