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How to improve your dog’s digestion with probiotics

Pomeranian dog looking happy advice

Dogs should be given probiotics specifically designed for them

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Feed your dog some probiotics and these can really improve your pet's health. But which ones should you give them?

By Dr Alice Watson MA VetMB MRCVS

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Probiotics are live bugs (microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, viruses) that are beneficial to health when eaten. In humans and dogs several different bacteria and yeast have been studied, although we still have lots to learn about probiotics. An important difference to be aware of is between probiotics (live bugs) and prebiotics, which are fibres (non-digestible bits of food) that feed and stimulate growth of microorganisms already within the gut. Some supplements contain both probiotics and prebiotics.

What is a good probiotic for a dog?

There are many different brands of probiotic available and you may like to ask a vet about which type they recommend. Generally a good quality probiotic should name what organism it contains (including strain name), the amount of probiotic it contains (CFU/kg, the World Health Organization recommends >1 x 10^9 CFU/kg) and have a date by which the bacteria are guaranteed to be present at the stated level.

It is best to look for a dog-specific product that has been shown to be beneficial in scientific studies. Often probiotic products contain several other components that may be beneficial. The first of these is prebiotics. Essentially prebiotics are not live microorganisms but are fibre in the diet that cannot be digested by a dog and, instead, feed the ‘good’ bacteria. Another component is kaolin, which is a type of clay that is used to bind faeces together and it is thought that it can neutralise some toxins inside the intestines.

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Can I give my dog a human probiotic?

While there is no evidence to suggest that human probiotics are unsafe for dogs, there is also often no evidence to show it is beneficial. Most probiotics that are sold for dogs have been tested to show that they work, and you should always try to choose a product that has evidence to show that it is beneficial. Studies have shown that although there are some similarities in bugs between dogs and humans, overall dogs have a different microbiome (array of bugs living in the gut) to humans and even to cats. This means that, ideally, dogs should be given probiotics specifically designed for use in dogs.

Is pumpkin a probiotic for dogs?

Pumpkin is not a probiotic, as it does not contain live microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts etc). Instead it may act as a prebiotic, as it contains fibre. At present no studies have been done to show the effects of feeding pumpkin to dogs. A prebiotic is a source of fibre that dogs are unable to digest and this fibre will pass through the intestines and be available for bugs in the gut to ferment. Prebiotics have been shown to encourage the growth of beneficial microorganisms within the gut and hence can improve the health of the gut. Yet there is currently no evidence to show that pumpkin works in dogs as a prebiotic.

Can I give my dog yogurt as a probiotic?

Fermented products, such as yogurts, are thought to increase the production of lactate in the gut, which may be beneficial to the health of the microbiome. At present there are no specific studies on this for dogs. Yogurts may not be the best source of probiotics, as they often only contain one main type of bacteria (one that ferments milk to make yogurt). Yogurt may also be high in a sugar called lactose, which dogs are not able to digest as well as humans. In small amounts, yogurt is unlikely to be harmful, so could be fed to dogs. Yet there isn’t any evidence to suggest that it is beneficial, or that it will work as a probiotic.

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Is Activia yogurt good for dogs?

There have not been any studies looking at whether Activia yogurt has any benefits in dogs. One type of bacteria in Activia yogurt (Bifidobacterium animalis) has been designated as safe and effective by the European Food Safety Authority for dogs, Having said that, there are other bacteria in Activia yogurt that have not been looked at for dogs. There have been no scientific studies on giving Activia yogurt to dogs.

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Ask for advice

Worried about your pet?

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