You watch their weight, care for their teeth, and groom their coat; but unless your dog is sick or has diarrhea, most pet owners don’t spend much time thinking about their dog’s gut
. Yet maintaining a healthy gut has been shown to help prevent disease, improve digestion, aid in the absorption of nutrients from foods, strengthen the immune system, and much more. This is because, just like with people, a dog’s immune system
is closely linked to the digestive system in his gut, which contains approximately 70% of all immune cells. In other words, your pet’s gut and the health of his digestive system is vital
to keeping your four-legged companion healthy and happy.
That’s where probiotics come into play. Many holistic veterinarians have been recommending probiotics for years, but with recent studies, even medical vets have begun to agree that probiotics are beneficial to keeping your pet’s gut healthy, thereby reducing their chance of developing digestive and immune system related health issues.
The What and Why of Probiotics
So what are probiotics? Probiotics are the “good” or “helpful” bacteria that live in your pets’ intestines and are responsible for nutrient absorption, digestive health and immune system support. Certain species of bacteria that thrive in dogs are: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus. According to American Kennel Club (AKC) veterinary expert, Jerry Klein, DVM, probiotics (bacteria or yeast) can potentially provide an array of health benefits to dogs.
“They are believed to help treat and/or prevent a variety of illnesses and diseases, especially those related to the gastrointestinal system,” he explains. “They inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, as well as provide other advantages to the intestines.”
Without the right amount and balance of “good” gut bacteria, your pet can experience major health issues such as severe stomach pains, bloating and gas, chronic diarrhea and even inflammatory bowel disease. And the benefits of probiotics are not just for sick pets.
Most people think of probiotics only after they have been sick and have taken a dose of antibiotics, which we all know kills the good bacteria in our stomach as well as the bad. But probiotics are not just for restoring your pet’s body to optimal health after an illness. Taken on a daily basis, probiotics keep optimal levels of helpful bacteria in the gut, thereby helping with food absorption, boosting the immune system, increasing metabolism and energy levels, helping the body to maintain an ideal weight, and reducing digestive related illnesses and problems such as gas and bad breath.
Now that I know the benefits, how do I give probiotics to my dog?
There are many ways to give your dog probiotics. Here are just a few:
Foods that contain probiotics naturally (if these are new to your pet, introduce slowly and in moderation):
1. Dairy that is safe for dogs
- Kefir (add 2-3 tablespoons to your dog’s meal, or give him 1/2 cup on its own)
- Goat's milk (give 3-4 tablespoons to 1 meal per day, or feed 1 cup as a treat)
- Yogurt and buttermilk
- Soft cheeses such as Swiss, Gouda and Cheddar
2. Fermented vegetables
- Pickled vegetables
3. Raw or lightly cooked vegetables and fruits
- Garlic (in small quantities)
- Seaweed or kelp
- Chia seeds
- Chicory root
For both healthy dogs, as well as pets with a compromised immune system or other health issues, a probiotic supplement can also be added to help increase the levels of good probiotics in their system. Look for a good pet probiotic, not one made for humans, as your pet’s needs are different from ours.
Final words ...
To refrigerate or not? A good, dry, stabilized probiotic doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and refrigeration doesn’t mean it’s a better product when it comes to dog probiotics. When the dry bacteria comes in contact with your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, the bacteria become live, active, and multiply many times over.