Should I give my dog probiotics?
I’m often asked “should I be giving my dog probiotics and if so, how do I know which supplement to use”?
The answer to the first part is easy. Probiotics are a great addition particularly if you’re feeding a commercially prepared kibble diet. Despite label claims, commercial diets are sometimes deceptively high in carbohydrates, low in protein, and often contain ingredients of questionable quality.
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Photograph by Pexels
Photograph by Pexels
Back to the question, “how do I know which supplement to use?”, is a little trickier to answer.
Whether for humans or animals, probiotics are delicate little molecules. They are sensitive to temperature, moisture and exposure to air. Several studies have demonstrated that many commercially available supplements lose most (if not all) of their active ingredients by the time they are purchased and/or used.
That’s not to say that all probiotic supplement formulas are bad. It’s just important to understand what can go wrong so you can make an informed decision. Good quality probiotics are not cheap. And even high quality probiotic supplements can go south if they are miss-handled in the manufacturing, packaging, or shipping process, sit in a hot warehouse, or hang out on the shelf too long.
So what’s a pet parent to do?
So, what’s a pet parent to do? While there are some awesome products on the market, you might want to consider something a lot less expensive, more bioavailable, and easy to do at home. Luckily, it turns out a lot of foods are naturally high in probiotics and can easily be incorporated into your dog’s diet. So, let’s get started.
Fermented Vegetables are one of the most nutritious ways to introduce highly bioavailable probiotics into your dog’s diet. In the wild, dogs are carnivores. Today’s dogs may look a lot more handsome than images of their evolutionary ancestors, yet inside, their biology remains largely unchanged.
In the wild, dogs are prey animals. They ate what they caught or found, which largely consisted of plant-eating animals. Fermented foods mimic the gut contents of those prey animals, the every-day diet of the ancestral dog. The fermenting process essentially pre-digests the vegetables resulting in lots of beneficial bacteria and enzymes your dog needs for optimal digestion and nutrition. There are lots of easy ways to get started. The following sites offer great tutorials for easy ways to try fermenting vegetables at home.
Raw Goat Milk
Raw goat milk is a source of easily digested probiotics. Goat milk has very little lactose, the sugar that’s in cow’s milk, which is typically what causes digestive upsets. In addition to less lactose, the fat molecules in goat milk are much smaller making it easier to digest. Fermenting goat milk adds even more nutritional value. The fermentation process adds more probiotics which further metabolizes the lactose resulting in nutrient rich compounds. Finding raw goat milk is still not easy in many locations, but interest is rapidly growing in this amazing food source and suppliers are becoming more abundant. Or order it online from Raw Paws Pets.
Checkout these resources for suppliers in your area.
Kefir – Traditionally, Kefir is a fermented milk product that may look like yogurt, however, the culturing process and resulting taste are different. Kefir, (pronounced ka-fear), is readily available at most grocery stores. It often comes in flavored versions which may contain sugars, so be sure to look for plain kefir. For the same reasons described above, goat milk kefir is preferred over cow milk, but most of what you find in the grocery will be regular dairy kefir. Much like fermenting vegetables, making Kefir at home is a simple process. It only requires two ingredients, the fermenting liquid and kefir grains. Kefir grains are the culture that gets the process going and allows the liquid medium to ferment into kefir. Kefir grains are available online from a variety of reputable sellers. If you’re lucky, you may have a local co-op, or health food store that supplies them. Kefir is also more versatile in that it can be made from non-dairy ingredients like coconut milk, coconut water, cashew milk, etc. There are several good sites with tutorials on making Kefir. Check out the resources section below.
Sprouted seeds – yes those same little micro greens you see beautifully arranged in magazine food photos aren’t just there for looks. They are little powerhouses of super-food. The process of “sprouting” changes the entire nature of the seed by releasing an explosion of vital nutrients. Although the dormant seed contains the full potential to deliver the same nutrients, they are simply locked away until the dynamic process of sprouting opens the lock. Certain seeds, grains and legumes contain beneficial bacteria for the emerging plant, which in turn becomes available for humans and animals to consume as probiotics and phytonutrients. As a bonus, sprouts also contain prebiotics which feed the probiotics, and enhance digestive enzymes. Broccoli, flax, chia, hemp, and many others are a great addition to the canine diet. Simply mix in some sprouts with the regular diet. Growing sprouts requires only a mason jar, cheesecloth, or lid with a screen, sprouting seeds, water and a few days to grow. You can have an entire jar of sprouts in about 5 days for just pennies.
Since probiotics are living organisms, they need food to survive. We call their food pre-biotics and those are just as easy and inexpensive to add right from your kitchen. While probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, it’s important that they stay strong and healthy throughout their journey and that’s where the prebiotics come in.
The following list of foods can be added to your dog’s diet to serve as prebiotics to nourish the probiotic foods you can also feed at home.
- Fruits – especially banana and apple
- Garlic – raw cloves
- Leafy green vegetables
If you read my Pet Parents Guide to Leaky Gut Syndrome, you know that probiotics are living microorganisms found throughout your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and various other parts of the body. Since about 70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut, it goes to reason that optimal immune function is associated with a proper balance of good bacteria throughout the entire length of the digestive system. That’s where introduction of probiotics into the dog’s diet can make a big difference. If you haven’t read the Pet Parents Guide to Leaky Gut, you can get it here
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