Probiotic supplements are everywhere. You may be taking one. But is it necessary to give probiotics to your dog or cat?
Probiotics are nutritional supplements that contain live microorganisms (bacteria and/or yeast) that aim to improve health and digestion. They are typically used to improve the gastrointestinal tract.
Consider a dog with diarrhea, for example. The cause could be stress, dietary indiscretion, or infection. Whatever the case may be, the diarrhea will sometimes persist even after the initial cause is resolved. The blame often lies with an imbalance between two categories of gut microorganisms:
- those that promote normal, healthy gastrointestinal function
- those that secrete toxins or are otherwise disruptive when they are present in larger than normal numbers
Probiotics are essentially a way of boosting the number of “good” microorganisms present in the GI tract, which helps them to out-compete the “bad” ones. It also appears that probiotics can improve canine health in other ways, including beneficially modifying an animal’s immune function.
Studies have show that probiotic supplementation can help treat infections outside of the GI tract as well as some allergic and inflammatory diseases. This isn’t too surprising, considering a large portion of the body’s immune system is associated with the gut.
One of the downsides of probiotic supplementation is the fact that the microorganisms aren’t able to effectively stay and reproduce within the GI tract for a long period of time. Noticeable benefits of probiotics tend to diminish once supplementation is stopped. For chronic disorders, probiotics often need to be given continually to maintain the benefits.
If you do have a pet with chronic issues, here are some strategies you may find helpful:
- Many people have found that when taking probiotics themselves, they can eventually move to an every-other-day or less frequent dosing schedule. The same is most likely true for dogs. PetMD recommends following instructions according to the probiotics for the first few months, then trying a less frequent dosage.
- Consider adding a prebiotic supplement to your dog’s diet. Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that support the growth of probiotic microorganisms. Prebiotics are a way to feed the “good”microorganisms in the gut, giving them a potential advantage in their competition with the “bad” microorganisms.
Good bacteria are crucial for the health of your pet’s gut. They also support brain, digestion, assimilation of nutrients, and immune system. These reasons alone should be enough to start supplementing probiotics into your pet’s diet!