By Tracie Korol
As any dog owner can attest, dogs are not too discriminating about what they eat. Select garbage, poo of the wild, domestic poo from the cat box, road-toad jerky — they’re all yummy going in. Not so delightful on the way out. We can move with lightning speed to try to extract the offending item from clenched jaws OR we can prepare our pets in a more proactive way. A good probiotic for dogs is an easy way to ward off an onslaught of bad bacteria by boosting existing good bacteria. In fact, gastrointestinal disorders are the second most common health issues for dogs after skin conditions.
All dogs (and people, too) can benefit from probiotics. They aid digestion and modulate the immune system by producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These helpers inhibit the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens, as well as providing other benefits to the intestines. Probiotics help prevent urinary tract infections, and can even reduce allergic reactions by decreasing intestinal permeability and controlling inflammation.
Given probiotics for pets is a new industry, it can be confusing when investigating the best for your Best Friend. When choosing a commercial dog probiotic, consider the following criteria:
• The list of ingredients should identify the specific bacterial species and also indicate the strain. Species with specific strains known to benefit dogs include Enterococcus faecium (strain SF68) and Bacillus coagulans. Bifidobacterium animalis (strain AHC7) has been shown to reduce the time for acute diarrhea to resolve in dogs. Certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus improve frequency and quality of stools in sensitive dogs. Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG (LGG) is my favorite go-to (no pun intended) for any digestive upset. Probiotic products may contain one or several strains.
• The label should guarantee the number of CFU in millions or billions per gram. Colony-forming units (CFU) is an estimate of viable bacterial or fungal numbers that the manufacturer guarantees will exist in their product.
• The product packaging or manufacturer’s website should have a customer service number so you can contact the manufacturer with any questions.
• The probiotic should have a “best before” or expiration date. Storage time and conditions (i.e., excessive heat or cold) can reduce the viability of some bacterial strains. It is best practice to store your probiotics in a refrigerator.
Alternately, you can go the grocery store route. Following a round of antibiotics, savvy dog owners have long used tablespoonfuls of yogurt to readjust the bacteria in their dog’s intestines. (Antibiotics kill everything, the good and the bad.) Kefir, a souped up super cousin of yogurt, is easy to make if you’re so inclined or it’s available in the dairy cases of local groceries. Kefir is a cultured, enzyme-rich liquid food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance an “inner ecosystem”.
Kefir contains loads of minerals and essential amino acids. Among them, tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is well-known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. It may help a high drive or highly anxious dog chill.
Kefir also contains calcium and magnesium both of which are critical for a healthy nervous system. It is rich in vitamins B12, B1 and vitamin K, promoting healthy looking skin, boosting energy and promoting longevity. For daily maintenance, kefir is excellent at rebalancing intestinal bacteria, boosting immunity and correcting the occasional trash-hound loose stool. If you have multiple dogs, renewable kefir is the most affordable solution. And, it comes in flavors. I find blueberry is the most favored among my dog friends.