Giving probiotics to dogs is becoming quite common. For instance many vets are now recommending that probiotics be used when a dog is taking antibiotics.
What exactly is a probiotic?
In common use, the term probiotic is used to mean some form of preparation that contains bacteria that will live in the intestine and help with digestive health. The strict definition of probiotics is a more general term meaning using living organisms to aid in health. Other examples of the use of probiotics are to help with infections of the urinary tract, and using certain types of yeast (which are not bacteria).
Which probiotic bacteria are used in dogs?
In humans most probiotic products contain one or more species of the bacterial genera Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium. Though some canine formulations are based on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, the formulations that have the best evidence for effectiveness in dogs contain Enterococcus faecium.
What is the evidence that probiotics are effective in dogs?
One of the problems with human probiotic treatment (with Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium) is that many studies have shown when the therapy is stopped the levels of the introduced bacteria drop rapidly and after several days only low numbers are present. It is unlikely that the remaining bacteria are at a high enough level to have any positive benefit.
In dogs, however, research shows that Enterococcus faecium will continue to live in the gut after a course of Enterococcus is completed. There is evidence that, for at least a few weeks, not only do Enterococcus faecium bacteria survive in the gut but they even multiply and the bacterial numbers increase after treatment stops (Folia Microbiol. 51:239-242, 2006).
Will your dog benefit from probiotics?
Fairly recently it has been demonstrated that bacteria in the gut have several important roles in maintaining health. For instance bacteria in the gut help digest carbohydrates, inactivate toxins in food and are involved in regulation of some aspects of the immune system. It has been suggested that probiotics, by helping maintain high levels of “good” bacteria may help in maintaining a strong immune system, and protecting some aspects of health.
The most common use of Enterococcus faecium by vets is for dogs that are on/have been on antibiotics for an infection. If antibiotics are given by mouth they are going to kill some of the “good” bacteria in the rest of the body, including the gut. The use of a probiotic can help restore the gut flora to a healthy balance.
There are a range of other health situations including diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease, when a probiotic may help with both control of the condition and speed recovery.
Whether a probiotic is helpful when your dog has no apparent health conditions is still a subject of considerable debate. More people are giving their dog supplements to aid in their health, particularly when a dog gets older. In a senior dog, a course of probiotics now and then might help keep the bacteria in the gut well balanced and help their aging immune system.
Should you give your dog a probiotic?
If your dog has any intestinal problems such as diarrhea and/or is senior they are definitely worth considering.
If your dog is healthy, but you would like to help maintain their health an occasional course of probiotics might be of benefit. Additionally, it might also be useful to have some probiotic on hand, since they have a long shelf life, so that you can immediately treat your dog when they have digestive system problems.