Probiotics are quickly becoming a staple supplement for humans, but did you know probiotics might be beneficial for pets, too? These powerful bacteria are commonly used to treat bowel problems in dogs and cats, but they also have many more benefits to help your pet live a happy, healthy life.
What are probiotics?
Inside your pet’s colon lives a complex network of bacteria and other microorganisms that aid in digestion, produce fatty acids, trigger neurotransmitters and more. This microbiome is delicately balanced, meaning too many or too few of a particular bacterium could disrupt the ecosystem and cause problems. Things like stress, poor diet, antibiotics and toxins can cause these imbalances.
If certain bacteria grow too abundantly, your pet might suffer from a range of health problems, including inflammation of the digestive tract and uncomfortable bowel movements. Microbial imbalances can also leave your dog or cat more susceptible to infections or other illnesses, since healthy bacteria prevent pathogens from exiting the colon.
Probiotics are beneficial strains of bacteria that help to balance your pet’s digestive microbiome and prevent these kinds of problems. Probiotics naturally occur both inside and outside your pet’s body, but sometimes, they are diminished due to imbalances. That’s where probiotic supplements might help.
Probiotic supplements include numerous strains of live bacteria that can help repopulate the healthy bacteria in the gut. Most probiotic supplements are species-specific due to the slight differences in microbiota. For this reason, your dog should never take probiotics designed for cats and vice versa. This also means your pet shouldn’t take any probiotic supplements intended for human household members.
Many probiotic supplements also include prebiotic fibers that fuel the probiotics and ensure they thrive once they’re in the colon. Prebiotics act as food for beneficial bacteria so they can stay healthy and fight off pathogens. Pets need a blend of prebiotics and probiotics in their supplements because both are necessary for gut health. While probiotics add good bacteria to the colon to start, prebiotics support your pet’s natural ability to grow their own beneficial bacteria.
How probiotics can help your pet
Most people know that probiotics can be useful in alleviating problems with the digestive tract, such as irritable bowel disease or food sensitivities. However, probiotics aren’t just for pets with digestive problems. They can actually have multifaceted benefits for their entire body!
Here are some of the top benefits of feeding your dog or cat a daily probiotic.
- Healthy digestion: Of course, one of the main reasons pet parents turn to probiotics is because their pet is suffering from a digestive problem like diarrhea or intestinal inflammation. Many of these problems have roots in gut microbiome imbalances. Dogs and cats with gut dysbiosis may experience cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea and more. Probiotics can bring balance to the gut and make digestion operate much more smoothly.
- Immunity: Surprisingly, a healthy gut microbiome is essential to your pet’s immune health. Approximately 70 percent of cells in the immune system live in the gut. Thus, when the gut is compromised by imbalances or harmful pathogens, the immune system is unable to operate as well as it should. This could lead to your dog or cat getting sick more easily or having a harder time recovering from an illness. Introducing probiotics into their diet can restore balance and ultimately bolster their immunity for life-long health.
- Recovering pets: If your pet recently experienced a bacterial infection or had a medical procedure done and is now taking antibiotics, a probiotic may be able to help them, too! Antibiotics do not only eradicate harmful bacteria within the body—they also remove beneficial bacteria and can destroy the natural balance of your pet’s microbiome. Pets that have to take regular antibiotics may suffer from digestive problems as a result. Probiotics help repopulate the gut microbiome with healthy bacteria. In this case, you’ll want to feed your dog or cat a probiotic supplement with many different strains, since bacterial diversity is just as important as beneficial bacterial growth.
- A calm and happy mood: Much like their owners, pets have a link between the digestive and nervous systems called the gut-brain axis. This means your pet’s digestive and cognitive health are directly related to each other. When their gut is healthy, so is their brain. Probiotics can help eliminate unwanted behaviors and improve a pet’s response to stressful situations. These beneficial bacteria can also promote a calm demeanor in dogs and cats prone to separation anxiety.
- Total-body health: Aside from specific ailments like hampered immunity or digestive problems, imbalances in your pet’s gut bacteria can affect their total-body health, from their cognition to their skin. Gut dysbiosis has been linked to low-grade inflammation in pets and humans and may contribute to serious diseases over time, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. By keeping your pet’s gut healthy and balanced, you can help them stay generally healthy for longer.
Check with a vet before giving probiotics
Not all probiotics are the same, and some can do more harm than good based on your pet’s particular health conditions. Because every pet’s microbiome is unique, they often require tailored solutions to aid in achieving bacterial balance. A veterinarian is your number-one resource for finding a blend of probiotics that’s most beneficial for your pet.
Before putting your dog or cat on a probiotic supplement, discuss your options with your pet’s veterinarian. They can help you identify a supplement that provides the right strains to combat the problems your dog or cat is experiencing. And, of course, if your pet’s symptoms worsen while taking probiotics, you should cease administration of the supplement.
Probiotics aren’t capable of repairing a broken microbiome alone. They should work alongside a healthy, balanced diet that contains fibers and nutrients that feed the probiotics in the gut as well as routine exercise and a stress-free home. Together, these things can put your pet on the path to total-body wellness!
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in June 2020. It has been updated to include more relevant and comprehensive information.