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How probiotics may help dogs with anxiety

Brown dog looking anxious advice

 It is possible that certain probiotics may help calm dogs.

© Shutterstock

If your dog is anxious and needs help, it's possible that they'll be prescribed probiotics for this problem.

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS

Updated on the 20/11/2020, 22:21

If you think that your dog is showing signs of anxiety – from over-attachment to you their owner to trembling or aggressive behaviour – then the first thing you should do is contact a vet to see how they can help your pet with this issue. It's possible that the vet may recommend as treatment some probiotics, as they may well be a solution for dog's with anxiety.

Do probiotics help dogs with anxiety?

There is some evidence that specific probiotics may help to reduce anxiety in dogs. This includes certain strains of bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium longum. Not all probiotic products would be suitable, as many are designed specifically for gastrointestinal health and have not been shown to alleviate anxiety. It is important to highlight that there are many causes of anxiety in pets, and you should speak to a vet and a qualified canine behaviourist for expert advice before trialling any treatments.

The theory behind probiotics reducing anxiety relates to something called the ‘gut-brain axis’. This describes the two-way communication pathway between these two structures within the body via the nervous system, and there are different suggested components to this including:

●    The nerves within the intestines make up the enteric nervous system and are linked to the brain via the vagus nerve.

●    Hormones such as adrenaline can be released from the adrenal glands in response to signals from the brain. These hormones will act around the body, including within the gut, and are thought to affect intestinal motility.

●    The microorganisms within the gut biome may affect the immune cells within the intestinal lining. This can alter the chemicals that these cells produce, which may lead to changes in the signals sent by the enteric nervous system to the brain.

●    The gut biome is involved in producing short-chain fatty acids and it is thought that these may play a part in brain functioning.

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Do probiotics calm dogs?

There is evidence suggesting that a healthy gut biome may affect the ‘gut-brain axis’. If this is the case, then it is possible that certain probiotics may help calm dogs. You should seek veterinary advice or speak to a canine behaviourist to help address any anxiety in your pet.

What are examples of probiotics for dogs?

There are many probiotic products available for pets. Most of these claim to support a healthy gastrointestinal tract and immune system, but the evidence is better for the efficacy of some products than others. Most veterinary products contain a strain of a bacteria called Enterococcus faecium.

Can I give my dog probiotics every day?

It is probably OK to give your dog daily probiotics, yet this is not really necessary in a healthy animal. Although it is unlikely to cause harm, a poor quality probiotic could disrupt the balance of your pet’s natural gut biome. It is worth seeking veterinary advice before you start giving your dog probiotics, or any other supplement, to check whether they are appropriate. If your pet has been prescribed probiotics as part of a veterinary treatment plan, this will usually be given as a daily dose but is sometimes recommended twice a day at a lower dose.

When should I talk to a vet?

If your pet is showing signs of anxiety, then you should speak to a vet as this will impact your pet’s welfare and quality of life. Signs of anxiety can include a large range of behaviours including over-grooming, persistent vocalisation, over-attachment to their owner, lip smacking, trembling, destructive behaviours, aggressive behaviours and more. Keep a diary of when these behaviours occur and anything else that you think could be a contributing or triggering factor.

The vet may suggest an appointment with a qualified canine behaviourist for further support, but it is important to check for an underlying medical cause in the first instance. If your pet tends to become anxious during vet visits, speak with the practice for tips on how to minimise this.

What should I ask a vet about dog anxiety and probiotics?

At present there are no probiotic products available in the UK designed to address canine anxiety. Having said that, there are other supplements available that may help keep dogs calmer. You can ask a vet for their advice on whether a supplement would be appropriate for your pet and which ones to try.

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