Avoid Deceptive Marketing And Read This Before You Buy Probiotics. The Truth About Probiotics for Dogs!
Discover how to support your dog’s health now!
All pet parents know that people aren’t the only ones who experience gastrointestinal upsets. Just like humans, our dogs suffer from both acute (short term) and chronic (long term) digestive troubles. After skin issues, gastrointestinal upsets are the second most common health problem dogs experience. You probably already know about the benefits of probiotics for humans, but did you know that your dog can benefit just as much (and maybe even more) by having a healthy gut? Let’s uncover what you need to know about your dog’s gut health and the truth about probiotics for dogs.
Trillions of microbes inhabit both the inside and outside of our bodies (human and animal), but particularly reside in the mouth, nose, gut and intestinal tract. Both humans and animals have a complex internal ecosystem of bacteria located throughout our bodies that we call the microbiome. Whether your dogs microbiome is in good or bad shape comes down to the balance of “good” vs “bad” bacteria.
The term probiotic refers to beneficial or “friendly” gut-dwelling microbes (bacteria). There are trillions of them in the gastrointestinal system of all animals, and they aid in the digestion of food, fight off pathogens, help make nutrients and vitamins, and support the immune system. Sometimes beneficial microbes become damaged or destroyed, and that can lead to stomach upset, skin issues, and a general decline in health. If your dog is suffering from diarrhea or allergies, or seems less healthy than other dogs for no apparent reason, your veterinarian may suggest using a probiotic supplement.
5 Things You Need to Know About You’re Dogs GI Health
First, it is very important to establish a healthy gut early in your dog’s life, but it’s never too late to start. In fact, the word probiotic is derived from the Latin word “for” (pro) and the Greek “life” (bio). With trillions of microbes helping to govern nearly every bodily function, the importance of our gut microbiome cannot be overstated. An increasing number of researchers believe that up to 90 percent of diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome.
Poor gut health can contribute to leaky gut syndrome and a host of more serious conditions if left un-managed. Seeding of the microbiome begins at birth, passing from the mother to her babies during the birthing process. Once seeded, the microbes populate the body inside and out including the skin and mucous lining of the digestive tract. Throughout our lives, both humans and animals contribute to shaping the state of our individual microbiomes. The foods we eat, how much quality sleep we get, the amounts of bacteria and levels of stress we’re exposed to all help to establish the state of our microbiomes.
What is the microbiome and why is it important?
Just like humans, your dog’s intestinal tract is inhabited by tiny microscopic bacteria also known as intestinal flora. You may also see the terms microbiome or microbiota when referring to the GI system in whole. These forms of intestinal bacteria are friendly and promote good health. When these good bacteria break down, become overwhelmed, or are destroyed, bad bacteria can take over causing symptoms including diarrhea, foul smelling gas, loose stool, itchy skin and even bad breath.
Supplementing with probiotics for dogs is one way to support your dog’s gut health and immune system. The word probiotic is derived from the Latin word “for” (pro) and the Greek “life” (bio). In fact, the beneficial bacteria that make up our individual microbiomes can be found everywhere, even outside our bodies, although the vast majority live within the digestive tract. While the microbiome is small in size, it is also tied to nearly every bodily function in some way.
The word “microbiome” tells us a lot in that “micro” means very small and “biome” means a habitat of living things. With trillions of microbes helping to govern nearly every bodily function, the importance of our gut microbiome cannot be overstated. When the microbiome is in good working order, the beneficial bacteria keep bad bacteria under control. As you will soon discover, there are many reasons why that delicate equilibrium isn’t always maintained. When the balance of good microbes becomes disrupted or destroyed, your dog may suffer symptoms like upset stomach, diarrhea, skin conditions, allergies and a general decline in overall health.
Why is the microbiome under attack?
For dogs, modern commercially produced kibble contributes greatly to dietary stress. Nutritionally, dogs have no requirement for carbohydrates, yet most commercial dog foods are formulated with high levels of carbohydrates and/or use plant (vs animal) proteins, which are incomplete sources of nutrition for dogs. Commercial diets today undergo extreme processing, which chemically alters many of the nutritional components. Take a close look at the label on your dog’s food and notice the very long list of additives and preservatives, dyes and fillers. High heat required to make dry kibble destroys much of the original nutrients, which are then re-introduced in what’s referred to as a “pre-mix” in an effort to add back nutrition that was lost in production. A significant percentage of commercial “pre-mix” is manufactured in China where quality control measures are much less stringent than in the US.
Antibiotics, Vaccines and Pesticides
Another common enemy of the microbiome is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t discriminate, they kill both good and bad bacteria. While antibiotic use can be life-saving when used properly, western medicine tends to over-prescribe for even minor ailments. Even if your vet doesn’t over-prescribe antibiotics, commercially prepared foods will contain residuals from the feed that was provided to the animals used to make the food. In addition to antibiotics, corticosteroids and NSAIDS (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), also tend to be over-used and have the same negative effects in the gut. Holistic veterinarians also believe ingestion of toxic pesticides (which many believe includes flea & tick remedies as well as parasite controls) and excessive vaccination protocols also contributes to leaky gut.
The role of probiotics in your dog’s body
The importance of maintaining a favorable mix of gut bacteria cannot be overstated. When the mix of gut bacteria is in balance, systems function optimally, vitamins, minerals and enzymes are produced, and the body’s immune systems are supported. Today’s reliance on commercially produced dog food, overly aggressive vaccination protocols and too much reliance on antibiotics and pesticide products has lead too many dogs to experience the unpleasant symptoms related to an imbalance of gut bacteria.
Fortunately, supplementation with a quality probiotic for dogs can help dogs recover from unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea, gas, itching skin and bad breath.
How do Probiotics Work?
Scientists now largely agree between 70-80% of all immune function is believed to be directly correlated to gut health. And as we just discussed, gut health is directly related to proper balance of beneficial bacteria in the microbiome. Although vastly over simplified, probiotics help the cells of the mucosal lining of the intestines to maintain tight bonds which prevents undigested food particles, toxins, and pathogens from passing through and entering the bloodstream. Leaky gut is the term for the condition that occurs when the junction between cells gets loose. Particles leak through and enter the bloodstream. Once there, the immune system spots them as invaders and goes to work by creating inflammation. Creating inflammation is an important function of the immune system; however chronic inflammation over a prolonged period results in a vicious cycle, ultimately ending in symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, itchy skin, ear infections, bad breath and much more.
Leaky gut, (AKA Dysbiosis) is the term used to describe what happens when the lining of the gut becomes damaged. The lining of the gut consists of a semi-permeable membrane that acts like a filter, keeping undigested food particles and toxins from entering the bloodstream. So leaky gut is exactly what it sounds like. Damage to the lining of the intestines creates spaces between the cells large enough for undigested pieces of food, toxins and bacteria to pass into the bloodstream. Once these particles enter the bloodstream, the immune system spots them as foreign invaders and goes to work to eliminate them by creating inflammation.
While creating inflammation is an important function of the immune system, chronic inflammation over a prolonged period results in a vicious cycle, ultimately ending in symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, itchy skin, ear infections, bad breath and even much more serious conditions.
What are the best Probiotics for Dogs?
There are so many probiotics for dogs on the market these days that say they’re for pets… How can a pet parent know which product is best?
On the surface, the human digestive process is much the same as that of our dogs. But dig a little deeper, and we see there are some significant differences.
First, it’s important to understand that many probiotic formulas that claim to be made for dogs are just human products re-labeled and marketed for pets. Science has clearly identified specific strains of beneficial bacteria in dogs, some of which, are uniquely different from those in humans. So, giving your dog a probiotic for humans likely won’t result in the desired benefit and could cause negative side effects. Secondly, quality of materials and the manufacturing process makes a big difference in the purity and viability of probiotic products. Many products on the market are manufactured with cheap unstable materials which may lose their beneficial properties before they are even purchased. Look for products manufactured in the USA in an FDA inspected facility that adheres to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP certification).
What to look for in a Probiotic for your Dog
Probiotics for dogs are available in a variety of forms including dry powders, tablets (chewable and regular pressed tablets), liquids, treats and manufactured as part of a commercial food. While liquids often deliver the highest potency, they are much less stable, require refrigeration, and are more difficult to dispense to your dog. Dry powders are the most stable type of probiotic since the live bacteria are in a dormant state. As long as the product remains in the dry-inactive state, these probiotics can generally be stored for over a year from the manufacture date if kept cool and free from contaminants. Dry probiotic powders do not require refrigeration and will not react the same way to temperature change as liquid probiotics. Probiotic bacteria in dry powdered formulas is reactivated naturally in your dog’s stomach, then travels to the intestines where they begin to seed and multiply.
To be effective, however, the probiotic must remain alive as it travels from the mouth through the harsh stomach environment and into the intestine. Seeding of beneficial bacteria takes place in the small intestine, so the most stable forms of probiotics generally provide the biggest benefit. Remember probiotics contain living organisms that are delicate and need to be cared for properly. Exposure to air, moisture and temperature extremes will affect their viability. That’s why, dry powder supplements are more desirable over probiotic chews, or dog food with probiotics. Simply put, the process of including probiotics in these types of products often kills the living organisms. If you desire a probiotic in tablet or chewable form, choose one that is cold-processed since heat processing would naturally destroy the viability of the supplement. Powders, cold-processed tablets and chews are shelf-stable, but should still be stored in a cool, dry location. Refrigeration is generally not required, but will enhance the overall shelf life of the product.
Your probiotic supplement should also include a Prebiotic, such as, inulin or FOS. Prebiotics serve as food to nourish the good bacteria in the gut and by creating a favorable environment in which the beneficial bacteria can flourish and grow. Prebiotics like inulin are plant fiber which can only be broken down in the colon. A fermentation process in the colon breaks down inulin (and other prebiotics) into short chain fatty acids, which nourish colon cells. These short chain fatty acids are produced when the friendly gut bacteria ferment the fiber in the colon which serves as the main source of energy for the cells lining the colon. Inulin also promotes a healthy pH in the lower gastrointestinal tract. Inulin supports absorption of calcium and magnesium in the gut. These are essential minerals for maintaining the structure and function of bones and for supporting cell metabolism.
Digestive Enzymes are another key component that will be included in the best probiotic supplements. Digestive Enzymes assist in the breakdown and assimilation of fats, proteins, starch, cellulose from plants, dairy and proteins. The following digestive Enzymes are examples of those to look for in probiotics for dogs.
- Lipase. Breaks down Fats and Triglycerides
- Protease and Bromelain. Breaks down Proteins
- Amylase. Breaks down Starch
- Cellulase. Breaks down Cellulose from plants
- Lactase. Breaks down Dairy milk
While it is true that the pancreas produces enzymes to aid in food digestion, additional enzymes found in food also contribute to digestion and absorption. However, even relatively low temperature heat processing (120-160 degrees) and temperatures below freezing will break down enzymes. Adding powdered enzyme supplements to room temperature food at the time of feeding is the best way to ensure adequate enzyme supplementation.
It’s important to note that dogs on natural raw diets receive the benefit of a number of enzymes not found in processed food. Dana Scott of Dogs Naturally magazine published an excellent in-depth article on the topic. Read Enzymes and Your Dog, Don’t Run Out.
Fundamentally, probiotics represent beneficial (good) bacteria which normally inhabit the bodies of humans and animals. Since 70-80% of the immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract, that’s where most of the beneficial bacteria live. Scientific studies demonstrate solid evidence for nine species of probiotics with beneficial effects in dogs. Those strains include L acidophilus, L rhamnosus, B animalis, L fermentum, L reuteri, L salivarius, E faecium, L plantarum, and B coagulans.
Are more strains better?
Probiotics for dogs represent living organisms which will hopefully take up residence in the intestines, flourish and grow. Choose a formula with at least 4-6 strains, but no more than 8, and preferably strains from the list of those known to exist in the GI tract of healthy canines. Extra strains with no known effect in dogs can compete with and/or dilute the valuable strains rendering them less effective. Don’t be fooled by products making miraculous claims owing to large numbers of bacterial strains. Since research on the canine gut supports only about 9 strains (as of this writing), there’s no scientific reason to believe over-loading a product will have any beneficial effect and could in fact, lead to negative results.
Our pets rely totally on us, the pet parents, to provide them with everything they need. A quality probiotic supplement can go a long way towards supporting your dog’s gut health. Regardless of the product you choose to purchase, be sure that it meets the following general guidelines:
Live viable bacteria. The product is not a probiotic unless the bacteria are live.
A formula created for dogs. An animal’s intestinal tracts contain species specific microflora, so a probiotic designed for humans isn’t necessarily beneficial for dogs and cats. See Canine Specific Research on Probiotics to learn more.
High potency. When it comes to probiotics the more potent the better. CFU stands for colony forming units and is a measure of how many living microbes are in the formula. Look for at least 1-5 billion CFU per serving for the most therapeutic effect. All quality probiotic supplements will list the CFU count on the label. If the product does not include this key measure, then it likely doesn’t contain a significant amount and may not contain any live microbes at all. Although less likely, you may also find a product with an inordinately large CFU count (40-60 billion). Scientific research doesn’t support products with counts this high. Instead, opt for a product in the range of 1-5 billion for a quality product.
Contains a prebiotic. Prebiotics like inulin or FOS which serve as nourishment for the beneficial bacteria and help to support maximum growth and development in the intestinal tract.
Stabilized form. Choose a Stabilized form (dry powder or cold-pressed tablet/chew) that doesn’t require refrigeration and will remain shelf-stable for up to a year.
Made in the USA. Probiotics are delicate molecules and are unlikely to survive the rigors of import from another country. Imported products are likely to come from China where process and quality controls are much less stringent than the USA. As an additional assurance, look for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) on the label of the product.
Purity. Probiotics for dogs are designed to increase gut health, so not all products are created equal. Be sure the probiotic doesn’t contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sugar, salt, corn, wheat, soy or other undesirable ingredients.
Human grade vs feed grade. Quality of ingredients counts when it comes to probiotics. Feed grade ingredients are generally intended for livestock products and may contain undesirable components that may even be toxic to your dog.
Multiple bacterial strains. Different strains of bacteria exert different biological activities. Look for a product containing at least 4-6 different strains, but not more than 8. Some products may include as little as one strain while other products may list a dozen or more. Only 9 strains of bacteria have been studied extensively and are known to produce good results for dogs. Remember that probiotics represent live organisms, so each additional strain competes for absorption and colonization in the gut. “Extra” strains with no known effect in dogs can dilute the valuable strains rendering them less effective. We’re aware of one product being sold for dogs that includes 24 strains (only 2 of which are studied in dogs). Since research on the canine gut only supports about 9 strains (as of this writing), there’s no scientific reason to believe over-loading a product will have any beneficial effect and could in fact, lead to negative results.
Bifidobacterium animalis Studies show B. animalis not only decreases severity of acute diarrhea in dogs but also increases good bacteria levels and improves overall intestinal health. In one study using dogs with acute diarrhea, researchers found B. animalis attaches to lining cells in the GI tract, rapidly reproducing and significantly weakening populations of diarrhea-causing bacteria. Another study suggests B animalis may help protect against salmonella infections. Bifidobacterium animalis occurs naturally in your dog’s large intestine, but can also be used as a digestive aid, and in supporting immune health.
Benefits of L. acidophilus include the ability to produce a compound which exhibits both antibacterial and antifungal properties, protection against salmonella and campylobacter (an infectious bacterial disease-causing cramping, stomach pain, fever and diarrhea). It provides preventative effects against diarrhea associated with antibiotic use. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a naturally occurring bacteria in your dog’s digestive tract. It helps your dog digest their food better, and it strengthens their immune system. It demonstrates particularly beneficial results when used with puppies and is known to increase weight gain and growth in canines (Studies suggest that probiotics are critical in the puppy stage for bolstering foundational immunity). Puppies supplemented with L. acidophilus were found to display less symptoms of allergies and other diseases in later years.
L. rhamnosus, L. fermentum, L. reuteri and L. salivarius
All four of these probiotics figure prominently in populations of normal canine microbiota. Along with providing strong anti-microbial activity in the GI tract, these bacteria are also extremely vigorous and capable of significantly modifying and improving intestinal health.
- rhamnosus-According to a study published by the Journal of Applied Microbiology, L. Rhamnosus is one of the foundational bacteria found in canine intestinal tracts. Formulas that do not have this probiotic in fairly high amounts should not claim to be specifically formulated for dogs.
- fermentum-one of the naturally concentrated bacteria inherit to the canine microbiota, L. fermentum has strong survival characteristics and the ability to significantly modify the intestinal microbiota.
- reuteri-As part of the Lactobacillus family, L. reuteri has many broad ranging health benefits. In dogs L-reuteri may be the most resistant and may be especially helpful in controlling canine intestinal infections.
- salivarius-one of the naturally concentrated bacteria inherent to canine microbiota. Strong and viable, this probiotic should always be in a natural canine probiotic formula.
Don’t waste money on pet food containing probiotics
The results of a Government sponsored study on pet foods manufactured to contain probiotics speaks for itself. Don’t waste money buying pet food that claims to include probiotics for dogs. The process of manufacturing pet food is simply too extreme for delicate living microbes to survive.
Key points to know about pet food claiming to include probiotics
First, pet food is a multibillion dollar business in the US. Pet food manufacturers are wise to know that consumers are looking for natural methods to improve their dog’s overall health. While the idea of combining probiotics into pet food seems appealing on the surface, there are many scientific reasons why it may not be your best choice.
Why you should avoid Pet Food claiming to contain Probiotics
Supplements like MaxxComplete™ 4-in-1 are manufactured in a GMP certified facility and are tested for potency, quality and purity. They are guaranteed to contain the exact microbial content listed on the label.
Manufacturing of pet food is a very different story. Probiotics are very delicate and cannot be added at the beginning of the food manufacturing process. The extreme heat that pet food must undergo guarantees no live microbes would survive. Although we don’t know the exact process manufacturers are using to incorporate probiotics into their food, it’s likely part of the “pre-mix” that is added at the end.
Kibble is produced under extreme heat which kills all living nutrients in the original ingredients. A “pre-mix” is added at the end of the process to re-add lost nutrients and to ensure the product meets label requirements for a balanced diet. Foods claiming to include probiotics likely include the probiotic at this stage of the production process. Unfortunately, that doesn’t resolve storage concerns. Commercial warehouses are not necessarily climate controlled and bagged food may be stored at temperatures above 75, the point at which beneficial bacteria begin to die off.
Almost all goods in the US are trucked to their final destinations under varying conditions with little climate control. With so many variables outside of the food manufacturers control, it’s easy to see why testing of food claiming to include probiotics would produce such dismal results.
Finally, results from the government study suggest these foods may contain unknown bacterial strains which are not identified on the label. Unfortunately, pet food labeling laws in the US are very weak and it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re getting. With quality probiotic supplements like MaxxComplete™ 4-in-1, there’s no reason to take a chance with your dog’s health.
Other supplements – There are a variety of excellent supplements that can be used to assist in repairing and restoring natural balance to the gut. A few of the most common include l-glutamine, quercetin and milk thistle.
- L-Glutamine is an amino acid. While the body does make its own, glutamine plays an important role in the health of the immune system, digestive tract and other bodily systems. Glutamine is the primary fuel for the mucosal cells which line the intestinal tract so it is a very useful aid in treating leaky gut.
- Milk Thistle is the favorite herbal liver protector. Valued for its medicinal and nutritional properties for more than 2000 years, milk thistle has been commonly used to treat liver diseases since the Middle Ages. Today, more than 150 clinical studies have shown that milk thistle has a beneficial effect on the liver in humans and in animals. Milk thistle blocks the entrance of harmful toxins and helps to remove these toxins from liver cells. Milk thistle is especially beneficial to animals with liver disease or damage, and to all animals as a protectant against environmental chemicals and pollutants.
- Quercetin, also called “Natures Benadryl” is a bioflavonoid found in the peel of many fruits and vegetables. Quercetin is a potent anti-inflammatory with the dual benefit of blocking the release of histamines which helps with allergies.
- Essential Fatty Acids – There are two main classes of fatty acids that are important to the health of your dog (omega-3 and omega-6). Animals can produce some of the fatty acids they need, but not all of them. Those fatty acids they cannot produce themselves, but must be obtained through their diet, and are called ‘essential’ fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are found in different quantities in many plants and cold-water fish. Marine oils are good sources of EPA and DHA.