The Power of Probiotics

Research keeps finding more to benefit the whole dog

Advertisements touting the benefits of probiotics are plentiful—they are becoming a cornerstone of preventative care. Probiotics boost the healthy gut bacteria, or microbiomes, that digest food. They are a well-known therapy for diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset. More recently, they’ve been found to counter urinary tract infections, immune system disorders, and even anxiety.

In fact, mental health is one of the most exciting revelations about probiotics. Your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and brain are in constant contact, and proper microorganisms in the intestines can result in signals being sent to the brain to encourage a parasympathetic, or rest-and-digest, state rather than a sympathetic, or fight-or-flight, one.

Bifidobacterium longum, commonly known as BL999, is at the forefront of this discovery. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD, of Nestlé Purina Research found that the BL999-treated dogs were less likely to bark, jump, spin, orpace in situations that normally caused them distress and were also more likely to explore a new environment.

Choosing Wisely

The most widely known probiotics are the live cultures found in yogurt, but they are also available as nutritional supplements.Labels should include an expiration date, the species included, the number of microorganisms in the product, and a guarantee for the number of live organisms. If the label has a species name spelled incorrectly, it is probably not a quality supplement. The manufacturer should be able to provide support for the efficacy of the product, preferably a study by a third-party researcher.

Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, Section Chief of Clinical Nutrition at the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, recommends Fortiflora and Proviable as probiotic products that have studies showing efficacy and says that VSL#3 may be helpful for patients with IBD (irritable bowel disease).

Probiotics are measured in Colony Forming Units, or CFUs. Thecurrent recommendation for dogs is 1 to 10 billion CFUs a day.

Most dogs willingly eat probiotics sprinkled on or mixed in with their food. If your dog is pickier, a capsule form can be easily slid down his throat like any medication or disguised in a treat.

Feeding Probiotics

Probiotics can be given proactively if you know a stressful event is coming up, such as boarding while you are on vacation or moving. Start giving the probiotics several days in advance so that he goes into the event with an already ideal gastrointestinal tract. You can also give probiotics daily as part of your dog’s long-term health care.

Digestive Health

Probiotics normalize the conditions in the intestines by changing the local acidity of the digestive tract and releasing short-chain fatty acids. As these conditions are ideal for your dog and for the probiotics, they give them a leg-up in competing with harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. Probiotics help inhibit the growth of these bacteria by competing for the same nutrientsand resources. Boosting the populations of helpful bacteria limits the nutrients available for the bad bacteria and reduces their numbers to levels that your dog can tolerate better.

Immune Health

Your dog’s gastrointestinal tract contains about 70 percent of his immune system, putting it on the front line for preventing pathogens from accessing the body. By normalizing the conditions in the digestive system, probiotics allow the immune system to function properly.


Probiotics are safe. Safety studies for any given product should show that the probiotic does not promote antibiotic resistance in other bacteria and that it is not pathogenic itself.

Severely immunocompromised dogs should only be given probiotics with caution and under veterinary supervision, as their immune systems may not be able to handle the strain of any bacterial load, regardless of its pathogenicity.

Conditions That May Benefit from Probiotic Treatment

  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Bad breath
  • Coat quality
  • Diarrhea
  • Immune disorders
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Skin disorders
  • Urinary tract infections

Probiotic Species Beneficial to Dogs

  • Bacillus coagulans
  • Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7) –acute diarrhea
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Bifidobacterium longum (BL999) –anxiety
  • Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68) •Lactobacillus acidophilus –improve stool quality and frequency
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus (strain LGG) –maybe effective for diarrhea, since it is beneficial for humans with diarrhea

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in your dog’s intestines. Prebiotics are fiber that the probiotics feed on. Both occur naturally but also can be given as supplements or may even be included in your dog’s food.

This article has been reprinted with permission from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DOGWatch Newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. Subscribe online to DOGWatch Newsletter here.