If you are a dog lover/companion human, the bliss they can provide is nourishing for the soul. Hours of happiness and bonding create fond memories, but when they get sick with stomach ailments, the memories might begin to sour. A dog enduring an unsettled stomach, vomiting or diarrhea is one that is listless and uninterested in anything. His or her zest is temporarily out of order, and your cleaning routine gets significantly more unpleasant.
You may wonder if your dog’s digestive system is like yours. Yes, and no.
The purpose of a dog’s mouth is to bite off and chew large chunks of food because he or she needs to eat quickly lest the food is stolen; our mouths begin the slow digestive process with amylase in the saliva. Also, while our full digestive process can last up to 48 hours, in adult dogs that is whittled down to only eight or nine hours – in fact, dogs have the shortest digestive system of all mammals.
Yet, one study assessed the typical gut microbiome of humans and dogs, and found that the canine microbiome “is closer to the human microbiome than the microbiome of either pigs or mice… Findings in dogs may be predictive of human microbiome results.” Interestingly, the authors of this study cataloged more than 1.2 million genes in the canine microbiome.
Where there is similarity is that in both humans and dogs house approximately 70% of the immune system within the digestive system. Therefore, the link between digestion and immunity is a crucial one to ensure overall good health—for both of us.
And just like humans, probiotics are being discovered to provide numerous digestive benefits for dogs as well.
According to PetMD, more veterinarians are recommending probiotics for dogs. For example, Brennen McKenzie, VMD, extensively studied the use of probiotics in dogs and believes there is evidence of their benefits to dogs’ health. In digestive health, he said, “if probiotics can pass through the stomach and colonize the intestines, they can have a variety of desired effects, such as preventing or treating diarrhea or improving other intestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.”
In her peer-reviewed paper exploring the health value of probiotics for canines, Marcella Ridgway, VMD, MS, DACVIM, writes, “A daily probiotic supplement may also provide some ancillary benefits for dogs such as better skin and coat appearance, a reduction in gas, improved breath, a reduction of allergy symptoms, a reduction in yeast-associated disorders, and help in regulating bowel function.”
Essentially, the rationale for the successful use of probiotics in your dog is based on four known ways probiotics work:
• Producing antimicrobial metabolites (eg, bacteriocins)
• Competitively excluding enteric pathogens
• Enhancing functionality of the epithelial barrier
• Modulating the mucosal immune response
Jennifer Coates, VMD, veterinary advisory for petMD.com, points to several strains she believes have strong research profiles supporting efficacy in dogs: Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Bifidobacterium animalis.
Research is strong and gaining more prominence in investigating how probiotics support canine health and well-being.
One research team sought to clarify the safety and tolerance of a supplementation with the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium animalis AHC7 (Prostora, Procter & Gamble Pet Care). Young beagles at 6 months of age were administered Probiotic B. animalis AHC7 orally once per day at a dose of up to 5 x 1010 colony-forming units (CFU) for at least 12 consecutive weeks. This strain and dose were found to be well tolerated with no safety concerns.
A common issue all canines face is diarrhea, more so than humans. Like humans, dogs’ digestion is sensitive to stress-induced high cortisol, poor diet, antibiotics and aging. However, dogs also tend to get parasites such as tapeworms that will create an array of digestive issues including diarrhea.
Therefore, one study evaluated the effect of supplementation with Bifidobacterium animalis AHC7 on resolving acute idiopathic (i.e. spontaneous occurrence by unknown cause) diarrhea in dogs randomly assigned to receive the probiotic or a placebo. Those given the probiotic showed significantly reduced time to resolution from onset as well as a reduction in the number of dogs that were administered the antibiotic metronidazole. The authors concluded that, the probiotic B. animalis AHC7 “may provide veterinarians another tool for management of acute diarrhea in dogs.”
Another team investigated the impact of probiotics on food-responsive diarrhea (FRD), specifically, if probiotics exerted beneficial effects on intestinal cytokine patterns and on the microbiota in 21 dogs. The results showed that the dogs given the probiotic combination showed clinical improvement over placebo. Meanwhile, authors of paper noted that members of the genera Lactobacillus and Enterococcus colonize in the alimentary tract in dogs, and “as a result, probiotic bacteria take an important part in the treatment of chronic inflammatory bowel disease.”
Taking probiotic lactic acid bacteria (LAB or Lactobacillus) is known to modulate immunity in humans and some laboratory animals but up until recently, the effect had not been examined in dogs. In this study, puppies were given Enteroccocus faecium SF68 or placebo from weaning to one year old. The team looked at measurements of immune cells such as immunoglobulins and lymphoid cells. Specifically, immunoglobulin A and canine distemper virus vaccine-specific immunoglobulins were higher in the probiotic group than in placebo. The authors concluded that the results were the first to show that a dietary probiotic (LAB) can “enhance specific immune functions in young dogs, thus offering new opportunities for the utilization of probiotics in canine nutrition.”
How to Choose Your Dog’s Probiotics
First, it is OK to give your canine companion some of your probiotics, like the ones mentioned by Dr. Coates. A little refresher: you may see the probiotic family on the label, eg, Lactobacillus paracasei, but a strain-specific probiotic will be followed by a combination of letters and numbers. When you see this, there is likely good science showing that strain specifically supports digestive or immune function.
You will also see the CFU, the number of colony forming units. To date there is really no research concluding that there may be too high a CFU number for your dog. Remember, too, that CFU is an estimate of viable (alive and ready to work) bacteria that the brand guarantees is in the dose. And, follow the storage recommendations as well as heed the expiration date. Probiotics do tend to be more sensitive than other ingredients that are beneficial for dogs’ health, such as glucosamine for joints.
If your dog checks out OK at the vet but has occasional GI issues such as excessive gas, low appetite, diarrhea and attendant disinterest and listlessness, start by switching up their diet, and then add probiotics. You can also obtain foods fortified with probiotics. After awhile you may likely notice your dog will be regular, have healthy stools, enjoy good energy and also build up a robustly functioning immune system. Just like the benefits you feel when you supplement with probiotics, too!