Just as in humans, a dog’s largest organ of defence against infection lies in the gut, which contains nearly three-quarters of the body’s immune cells. It is therefore important to keep your pet’s digestive system working efficiently in order to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. Probiotics are a natural supplement that can promote digestive health and boost the immune system in people as well as their pets. Dogs are no exception. So what exactly are they, and how do they benefit our dogs?

What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms (yeast or bacteria) that can offer a wide range of benefits to dogs, boosting their immunity against illness, disease and infection. Essentially probiotics are ‘good bacteria’ that fight off ‘bad bacteria’ such as Clostridium perfringens, E. Coli, Salmonella and other nasties by inhibiting their growth and preventing them from colonizing the gut. If probiotics (the good guys) take up residence in the intestines, they can also help to prevent or treat common gastro-intestinal health issues such as diarrhoea and inflammatory bowl disease. But besides being good for your pet’s digestive system, probiotics can also offer other health benefits, improving conditions such as liver disease, obesity, and behavioural disorders or moodiness. When given daily, probiotics can also improve skin health and coat condition, reduce allergies, bad breath and flatulence, and help regulate bowl movement, resulting in an overall improvement in general health.

In the case of diarrhoea, for example, regardless of whether it was brought on by stress, infection, eating something disagreeable, or as a result of treatment with antibiotic medication, may persist after the primary problem has been resolved, largely due to an imbalance in the gut flora. Bad bacteria that secrete toxins, or otherwise disrupt gastrointestinal functioning, can have negative health impacts when they are present in large numbers and outnumber the good bacteria that are essential for keeping the gut functioning normally. Probiotic supplements boost the populations of good bacteria present in the gut and help them to out-compete the bad bacteria, keeping the gut, and your pet, healthy.

Different types of probiotics for dogs
Probiotic supplements for dogs can come in the form of a liquid, powder, paste, or pill that is given orally. They contain at least one strain of beneficial bacteria or yeast, but very often may contain several different types that each offer different health benefits. Lactobacillus, for example, can help improve nutrient absorption and aid digestion, while Bifidobacterium can boost the immune system and help treat diarrhoea.

Can human probiotics be given to dogs?
While probiotics for humans are not likely to not harm your dog, they have been designed specifically for humans and may therefore not offer any health benefits to your pet. Rather opt for a probiotic that has been designed for dogs and which consists of bacterial strains that have been specifically selected for the benefits they offer in improving your pooch’s gut health and overall wellbeing.

How effective are probiotics for dogs?
In terms of health benefits that a specific probiotic may offer, the efficiency of a probiotic will be limited to the symptoms/issues that the bacterial strains it contains can help alleviate. It is therefore necessary to carefully choose a probiotic that contains the type of bacteria that will be effective at addressing the health problems and symptoms your pet is displaying. Discuss your pet’s health issues with your veterinarian, who will be able to advise the best type of probiotic to give your pet to help improve its condition, as well as the most effect dosage and how often it should be administered.

As maintaining the balance of good bacteria in the gut is crucial to good health, probiotics can provide a simple and effective way of keeping your pet’s gastrointestinal and immune system in optimal health, ultimately contributing to his or her general wellbeing.

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