Not all microorganisms are created equally. Some can harm your dog and cause infection. Others will benefit your dog's health. These are known as 'probiotics'.
Dogs are a part of the family and of course everyone wants the best for theirs. One way of ensuring that your dog is healthy and happy is by taking care of their digestive health.
That's where probiotics can help.
We took a look at the top-selling probiotics on the market to determine the best probiotics for dogs. You'll find the results of our research below.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits on the host when enough are consumed.
The word ‘probiotic’ is a greek word that literally means “for life” — and for good reason. Probiotics are themselves alive and you could say that they give life in a way by making their host healthier.
Studies have found that probiotics increase gut permeability, modulate the immune system, prevent diarrhea and promote healthy bowel movements. These are just some of many benefits that probiotics have to offer. (1) (2) (3) (4)
Scientific knowledge of probiotics isn't new; we’ve known about them for over a hundred years, dating back to when a Russian microbiologist and zoologist named Elie Metchnikoff theorized that health could be improved with host-friendly bacteria. Elie Metchnikoff’s theory gained some traction at the time but then the idea fell into obscurity until it was once again considered worthy of scientific study in the 1990s. (5)
Since then, probiotics have been studied extensively and science has discovered their role in digestive health and their many other health benefits. As a result, they have exploded in popularity.
What do Probiotics Do?
Probiotics keep a healthy balance in the body of humans and animals. They make up part of what is known as the “microbiome”, the collection of microorganisms throughout the digestive systems of humans and animals. (6) When the microbiome has too many harmful microorganisms, health suffers and infections can happen. When there are more good bacteria and other beneficial microbes in the body, it makes you feel better, helps to fight off harmful microbes, strengthens the immune system, and helps control inflammation.
Probiotics also help the body to digest food, improve gut health, and produce vitamins. (7)
How do Probiotics Work in Dogs?
Probiotics aren’t just effective in people. More and more dog owners are realizing that probiotics are good for their dog’s health as well.
One of the main ways that probiotics benefit dogs is that once they reach the gastrointestinal tract they produce SCFAs (short chain fatty acids), which inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella, clostridium perfringens, and E. coli.
Short chain fatty acids play an important role in the homeostasis (a stable equilibrium or good balance) of the gut and gastrointestinal disorders are associated with low amounts of them. (8) Across various studies in animals and humans, researchers have found that short chain fatty acids have a wide range of health benefits including “improvements in body composition, glucose homeostasis, blood lipid profiles and reduced body weight and colon cancer risk”. (9) It’s not fully understood exactly why short chain fatty acids are so beneficial or exactly how they work but it’s likely done through appetite regulation and energy homeostasis.
Probiotics also aid in digestion, fight against pathogens, and regulate the body’s immune response.
Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs
There are many benefits that probiotics have to offer to dogs, from healthy bowel movements, increased energy, better nutrient absorption and even better skin.
Here’s a look at what the research says about the health benefits of probiotics in dogs:
1) Probiotics Balance the Microorganisms in the Digestive System
In dogs and other mammals, probiotics bring homeostasis, or a good balance to the microbiome of the digestive system, the collection of microorganisms found throughout the digestive system. (10) Having a balanced microbiome is vital for overall health.
2) Probiotics Prevent and Reduce Diarrhea in Dogs
Probiotics have been shown to prevent and reduce diarrhea in dogs, humans, and other mammals in many studies. (11) (12) A double-blind placebo-controlled efficacy study concluded that probiotics worked efficiently in fighting against acute diarrhea. (13)
3) Probiotics Strengthen the Immune System in Dogs
A great thing about probiotics is that they regulate the immune system’s response, making it stronger. One of the first studies to look into how probiotics affect dogs’ immune systems found that probiotics “enhance specific immune functions in young dogs. (14) Another later study found that probiotics along with prebiotics (also known as synbiotics) had a positive influence on the immune response in dogs. (15)
4) Probiotics May Improve Heart Health in Dogs by Controlling Cholesterol Levels
Numerous studies in humans and animals have shown that probiotics lower cholesterol, which is a big benefit to heart health. (16) A study in dogs found that probiotics maintained cholesterol at a healthy level. (17) More research is needed but it’s a promising finding.
5) Probiotics May Lower Your Dog’s Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Various studies indicate that probiotics help to alleviate mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
In dogs, one study found that dogs undergoing kenneling stress had lower levels of stress-related diarrhea than the control group. (18) Another study found that probiotics lowered anxious behaviors in dogs. (19)
Powder, Capsules, or Soft Chews?
Canine probiotic supplements come in many different forms such as liquids, soft chews and even capsules. Unfortunately not all of these products work effectively.
Many companies have chosen to formulate their products into liquid form. This method is less effective due to the probiotics being directly exposed to the dog’s stomach acids, which the probiotics have a hard time surviving. (20)
Other companies that choose to formulate their probiotic products in powder form face a similar problem. Probiotics in powder form also get directly exposed to stomach acids, which will often lead to the probiotics dying before they can pass off their health benefits, just like with probiotic liquids.
Our approach to this issue was to make our probiotics for dogs in the form of soft chews. That’s because studies have shown that probiotics are more likely to survive the journey through the stomach if they’re taken along with food. (21) Our soft chews act as carriers for the probiotics they contain within so that the probiotics survive through the digestive system all the way to the gut, which is where they need to arrive at in order for your dog to get their health benefits.
In addition to the probiotics, we also chose to include prebiotic fiber in BlueBiology Canine Probiotic, which aids in proper digestion and works synergistically with probiotics, as prebiotics function as a food source for probiotics. BlueBiology Canine Probiotic is flavored with sweet potato, pumpkin, and peanut butter, which dogs love.
What to Consider When Buying Probiotics For Dogs
1. Origin of manufacture and facility guidelines
If you're looking to find a probiotic supplement for your dog it's always best to first consider the origin of manufacture and select a product that is manufactured domestically in a cGMP certified facility. This ensures that the product is manufactured under proper safety and sanitary conditions.
These regulations ensure that products that come out of cGMP-certified facilities contain what is listed on the ingredients label and that they’re safe for consumption. (22)
2. Choose a probiotic product with probiotic strains that are beneficial for dogs
Formulation is next. Certain probiotic strains are best for a dog's needs. Different probiotic strains have different benefits you should choose a product that contains strains that have been tested for effectiveness and have been shown to be safe to dogs.
The following probiotic strains have been shown to be effective and safe in dogs:
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bifidobacterium animalis
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Enterococcus faecium
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
These strains all have been shown to target common problems that many dogs are prone to experience and furthermore they have been shown to be resistant to harsh environments like stomach acid and still survive to pass on their health benefits. (23)
Furthermore, you should consider a product that contains an adequate dosage of probiotics. Products that contain a CFU count that is too low may not be effective because not enough survive the journey to the gut.
3. How easy the product is to give to your dog
It’s not the case with all dogs, but if you’ve ever tried to get your dog to take medicine, you know how frustrating it can be. Many dogs will eat anything in site, but the moment you give them a pill, it’s the only thing they won’t eat.
We found that the same thing goes for many powders and liquids for dogs. And as mentioned before, there can be issues with the deliverability of probiotics that come in the form of products like powders and liquids.
It’s much easier to get your dog to eat a tasty treat — and you can incorporate probiotic treats into your dog’s regular training regimen.
4. The ability to survive the acidic environment of your dog's stomach
When shopping for probiotics for your dog, you should choose a product that has been freeze-dried and does not require refrigeration.
Soft chews are the most effective delivery method for probiotics for dogs. Probiotics essentially latch onto food as they’re going through the stomach, which makes it less likely that they’ll be killed by your dog’s stomach acid.
5. Enough live cultures to colonize the gastrointestinal tract
There is a minimum amount of probiotics needed to be effective in order to have health benefits for dogs. Plus, you want to account for the probiotics that will die along the journey through the digestive tract, which is unavoidable to some extent.
We recommend at least 2 billion CFU per day for small dogs (under 25 pounds), 4 billion CFU per day for medium-sized dogs (25-50 pounds), and 6 billion for large dogs (over 50 pounds).
6. Product stability under normal storage conditions
Be sure that the product is also contained in PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles.
PET bottles are designed to act as a good barrier to temperature and moisture changes that may affect the viability of the live cultures. PET bottles work effectively by resisting high temperatures of up to 160°F. You want a product that you can take on the go and can be stored in various climates despite harsh conditions and a product that will remain viable through days of transit. (24)
The importance of pairing probiotics with prebiotics
It's best to find a product that contains a prebiotic for a variety of reasons. Prebiotics work hand in hand with probiotics by regulating the action of hepatic lipogenic enzymes by influencing the increased production of SCFAs ( short chain fatty acids). Prebiotics act as a fuel source for probiotics, which probiotics need to survive and enables them to grow and multiply.
Prebiotics also make for healthy stools and better digestion, which is not surprising considering that prebiotics are fiber. (25)
What to Avoid When Buying Probiotics for Dogs
Many dog probiotic supplements are sold online, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless the vendor is hard to contact, lists fake reviews or is unresponsive. Buying from these untrustworthy brands should be avoided.
Avoid ordering from foreign countries for dog probiotics. When a product is imported into the United States it can remain in transit up to 30 days in some instances. Unfortunately, this is more than enough time for the cultures to be exposed to high temperatures, and humidity which could affect the quality of the probiotics and the product.
Additionally, not every country has responsible manufacturing guidelines like the United States and you want to be on the safe side when it comes to your dog’s health and order domestically.
Avoid products that don't list their full ingredients or have proprietary blends. This could indicate that there may be harmful ingredients they don't want consumers to see. Doing some basic research into a brand goes a long way towards learning whether they're honest and transparent or not.
Choose a product that contains safe all-natural ingredients and avoid any products with harmful fillers such as calcium phosphate, cellulose, corn starch, lactose, rice powders, and sorbitol.
Side Effects of Probiotics in Dogs
The potential side effects of probiotics in dogs is not thoroughly documented, but it's relatively common for people to experience temporary gastrointestinal upset after starting a probiotic supplement. This is simply an indication that bacteria is producing more gas than usual, which is a sign that the probiotics are doing their job.
The good news is that this feeling generally only lasts a few days until the body adjusts.
Probiotics themselves are considered safe, however, depending on the product there may be ingredients that are unhealthy or can cause allergic reactions so be sure to consider every ingredient and choose a product that consists of beneficial and safe ingredients.
The Best Probiotics for Dogs
There are hundreds of canine probiotic supplements on the market so finding the best may be easier said than done. We found the top 5 best probiotic products for dogs based on potency, quality, and culture selection. Here's what we found.
Potency: 2 billion CFU
Contents: All natural ingredients, inulin fiber, no additives or artificial ingredients
Bacillus subtilis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei subsp. Casei, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bacillus Coagulans
Dr. Marty PROPOWER PLUS
Potency: 2 Billion CFU
Contents: Probiotics, digestive enzymes, natural ingredients
Strain Selection: Bacillus coagulans, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis/longum, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Fructooligosaccharides
PETLAB CO. PROBIOTIC SUPPORT
Potency: 2 Billion CFU
Contents: Probiotics, inulin prebiotic, contains meat and fish products.
Strain Selection: Bacillus coagulans, Lactobacillus reuteri, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Streptococcus thermophilus
Rating: 4.6 / 5
PetHonesty Allergy Relief Snacks Immunity Strength & Digestive Health Soft Chews Dog Supplement
Potency: 3 Million CFU
Contents: probiotics, prebiotic
Strain Selection: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Lactococcus lactis
Zesty Paws Probiotic Bites with Natural Digestive Enzymes Pumpkin Flavor Chews for Dogs
Potency: 3 Billion CFU
Contents: probiotics, contains meat flavoring
Strain Selection: Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Bacillus coagulans, L. plantarum, L. brevis, L. fermentum, L. lactis.