What comes to mind when you envision your immune system? You might see it as a sort of armor, surrounding your body and keeping harmful microorganisms from penetrating the skin and assaulting your organs.
Good gut health affects so much more than just digestion. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 80 percent of your immune system lies in the gut, and that’s not all. A healthy gastrointestinal tract also plays a major role in proper brain function, clear skin, and even your good mood. With so much at stake, you might want to know more about the little gut bugs that call your digestive system home. They include some “bad” strains, like E. Coli and Streptococcus pneumoniae, as well as “good” strains, like L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis.
If you’ve been obsessing over how your abs look, it’s time to focus on what’s behind them – your gut! Your gut, which consists of your small and large intestines, plays an important role in the way your body is able to absorb water, take in vitamins and minerals, and digest food (just to name a few of its many functions). 1
Antibiotics are medications that your doctor prescribes when you get sick. Common bacterial infections, including those of the eyes, respiratory tract, urinary tract, and skin, respond well to a cycle of prescription antibiotics. However, with so many foods that damage the healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut, it can be especially difficult to fully restore gut health after taking a round of antibiotics.
If you’ve ever had to clean up after your pet had an diarrhea “accident” in the house— you never want to do it again. The good news is, there might be a way to prevent it from ever happening again. Give your pet probiotics. (Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and other microbes that help the digestive system.)
Supplementing your diet with good bacteria helps digestion, but can it really help dogs or cats?
Let’s take a closer look…
Probiotics for dogs come in different forms, including chews, capsules, and powders. They contain certain types of “good” bacteria that are typically found in the canine digestive system, such as:
· Bifidobacterium animalis
· Bifidobacterium lactis
· Enterococcus faecium
· Lactobacillus acidophilus
· Lactobacillus casei 1
When a pet is suffering from stomach problems, there is a chance that harmful microbes are outnumbering beneficial ones. Diarrhea, gas, and other problems are often the unpleasant results. When beneficial bacteria are destroyed or damaged, stomach problems and other health issues can result.2
How Can Probiotics Help Your Dog?
Some experts believe in pet probiotics wholeheartedly, while the jury is still out for others. Researchers in Ireland conducted a study in 2009 involving dogs suffering from diarrhea. The study consisted of 31 participants, including Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds. Of those, 13 of the dogs were given probiotics containing the Bifidobacterium animalis bacterial strain. The average duration of their diarrhea decreased from seven days to four.3
Advocates of dog probiotics claim these products can provide several benefits. These include:
· Protection against bad bacteria –
Probiotics can keep harmful bacteria from accumulating in the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut.” It is believed they do this by reducing the pH of the intestines. They also help by nourishing the cells in the intestines.4
· Reducing diarrhea attacks –
Bad microbes and parasites can contribute to diarrhea in dogs. Because probiotics inhibit the accumulation of harmful microbes in the gut, they create a healthy gut environment. They restore the balance between good and bad bacteria, helping to reduce the chances that diarrhea will strike.5
· Boosting the immune system –
Researchers conducted a study to examine the effect that probiotics have on the canine immune system. They fed one group of puppies a regular diet, and gave the other group a diet that included a strain of good bacteria known as Enterococcus faecium.
They measured the amount of distemper virus antibodies in each puppy at the start of the study. (Antibodies are proteins that help protect the body from intruders known as antigens). After 20 weeks, the puppies given the traditional diet showed a decrease in the antibodies. The group fed the probiotic, on the other hand, did not.6
Should You Give Your Dog Yogurt?
Some pet owners give their pets yogurt when diarrhea or other intestinal problems strike. The benefits are negligible at best – and potentially even harmful.7
In order to be beneficial, a probiotic has to be strong enough to restore the proper balance between good and bad bacteria. But there are not enough bacterial cultures in yogurt to produce that balance in a dog’s system.
The reason is that the bacteria added to yogurt have almost no probiotic benefits. They are simply not strong enough to be much use to a dog’s digestive system. The types of bacteria that are most beneficial to dogs usually do not function well when added to yogurt.
In addition, yogurt, of course, is a dairy product that contains lactose. But dogs cannot produce as much lactase (the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose) as humans. This can create an issue with a dog’s digestive system – if you’ve ever given a dog yogurt, and he promptly threw it up, that’s likely why it happened. Yogurt also typically contains other ingredients that could be harmful to dogs with sensitive systems, such as sugars and calcium.8
Choosing the Right Probiotics for Dogs
It is extremely important that owners considering probiotics for dogs do their due diligence to help ensure they are purchasing the right product for their companions. Many brands either contain potentially harmful impurities, or they may not have high enough quantities of beneficial bacteria to do your dog any good.
Check the label of any dog probiotics you are considering to make sure exactly what bacteria are included. In general, the more strains of good bacteria that are included, the better the chances they will be able to protect your dog from harmful strains.9 Look for these “good” strains of bacteria in any probiotic product you’re considering:
· L. plantarum
· L. salivarius
· Lactic Streptococci
· Lactobacillus caucasicus
· Lactobacillus rhamnosus 10
The labeling should also provide information on the number of colony forming units (CFUs) per gram and per serving. CFU is a method of measuring the number of beneficial bacteria in a probiotic product. Each gram of the probiotic you purchase for your dog should at least have 20 million CFUs.11
If you can find a product with billions of CFUs, however, that would be better. The reason is that good bacteria have a very difficult time travelling through the stomach and small intestine to the large intestine, where they ultimately live. If a probiotic has a CFU number in the billions, that increases the chances enough bacteria will be able to survive the journey.
Dealing With Canine Diarrhea
Even if you give a dog probiotics on a regular basis, he still might have to deal with diarrhea. An attack can be a major headache for a dog owner. But it’s not exactly pleasant for the dog, either. Here’s some information on why it happens, and what you can do about it.
One of the most common causes of diarrhea in a dog is when he eats too much of something, or gets into something he shouldn’t. This could be garbage, or it could be rotten food. In some cases, a change in diet can lead to an attack. It can sometimes take a few days for your dog to adjust to his new food.
Whenever you change your dog’s diet, do it gradually. Start by mixing a small amount of new food with the old. Then increase to about a 50/50 split between new and old. After a few days, he should be eating the new food exclusively.12
Other common causes of diarrhea in dogs include parasites (such as hookworms and roundworms), allergies, or swallowing something that is indigestible.
This could be a sock, a toy, or just about anything else. Stress can cause canine diarrhea, as can medications, a bacterial infection, or a viral infection. In severe instances, a serious illness could be to blame.
There are a few remedies you can try in order to help deal with the problem without having to go to the vet. First, don’t feed your dog for 12-24 hours. Give him small amounts of water several times during the day. This could help clear up his upset stomach and settle his gastrointestinal tract. If your dog is a puppy or elderly, or if he’s a small dog, then you need to talk to your vet before withholding food.
Once his “mini-fast” is done, give him some food to help firm his stools. These include bland foods like white rice, boiled chicken (take off the skin first), and canned pumpkin.13
When to See Your Vet
If you try these remedies and your dog still has diarrhea, then you need to take him to the vet. This is especially important if there is blood in the diarrhea, or if your dog has a fever or is also vomiting. Be prepared to provide your vet with important information. This includes what your dog’s bowel movements look like, how many he’s had in the last couple of days, and when the diarrhea started.
Your vet will need to determine the cause of the problem. That way, they can decide on the best course of treatment. The vet will check your dog’s medical history, such as vaccinations and previous medications. They may then recommend a type of test known as a fecal flotation. This checks for the presence of worms, parasites, or harmful bacteria. Other types of tests may be needed if your vet suspects that a viral disease may be to blame.14
There are a lot of different treatment options for canine diarrhea. If the problem occurs regularly, then your vet might recommend a permanent change to your dog’s diet. If it appears that a worm is to blame, your vet will prescribe a medication to kill it. Worms can be very difficult to kill, so medications may be needed several times over the next few months. If the cause is a bacterial infection, your dog may receive antibiotics.
The Final Word
As with any decision involving the health of your dog, check with your vet before purchasing a pet probiotic. They will likely be able to recommend specific probiotics that will deliver the most benefits, and will also let your know if your dog will be able to tolerate whatever product you ultimately choose.
Keep reading for more about probiotic benefits:
There are a lot of foods that you can find at either your local grocery store or health food store that should be a staple of any probiotic diet. But it can be hard to get enough beneficial bacteria your system through food alone. Here are some of the foods that are rich in probiotics, and why you should also consider taking a supplement as part of your daily regimen.