“The gut is the largest immune organ in the body,” says Susan G. Wynn, DVM, a veterinary nutritionist in Atlanta, Georgia. When you consider that more than 70% of immune defense mechanisms are in the digestive system, it’s not hard to see where she’s coming from.
The good microbes, otherwise known as bacteria, in your pet’s gut keep the harmful bacteria and potential pathogens at bay, which helps to ensure they are healthy and strong. But sometimes, the bad bacteria can be more present than the good bacteria for various reasons, which is where probiotics come in. They can help rebalance a dog’s gut.
Like humans, dogs can benefit from probiotics for an overall healthier lifestyle. Below we’ve covered the probiotic basics for dog owners and how you can get your pup to eat probiotics — and maybe even enjoy them. Because, after all, a healthy dog is a happy dog!
What Are Probiotics?
The word “biotic” means “biome,” which refers to living organisms. And “pro” means beneficial, so when you put the two together as “probiotics,” you’re saying “beneficial microorganisms.” Probiotics provide a supplement to improve the natural flora of the gut. A well-functioning gastrointestinal system comprises very healthy, diverse biological organisms.
Probiotics for pets are live enzymes, yeasts, and microorganisms, including the healthy bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These beneficial bacteria are found in all kinds of things: yogurt, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, kefir, kombucha, sourdough bread, and apple cider vinegar. But while most humans are getting healthy doses of good bacteria through daily meals, pups aren’t eating yogurt for their midmorning snack — or eating a diet as varied as their wild wolf ancestors.
While healthy bacteria have existed for billions of years, we've only recently begun to study their benefits. In the early 20th century, scientist Elie Metchnikoff observed that rural Bulgarian families were living to exceptionally old ages in very good health, despite harsh climates, dietary limitations, and extreme poverty. After studying these Bulgarian elders, he theorized that their traditional home-fermented sour milk contained host-friendly bacteria that delayed the onset of senility and enhanced their health.
Since then, research has continued to support his findings, proving these and many other benefits of ingesting probiotics. Now, according to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), the official definition of a probiotic is a “live microorganism that, when administered in adequate amounts, confers a health benefit to the host.”
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are often discussed as partners of probiotics. This is because prebiotics are compounds in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms, which makes the digestive system work better. Prebiotics show up in many foods naturally, including squash, beets, apples, and raw oats.
Why Does Your Pet Need Prebiotics and Probiotics?
In recent years gut health has become trendy, but this isn’t just another gimmick — there is scientific evidence to back up these findings. The gut microbiome is instrumental in digestion and benefits the immune system through microflora.
There are a number of benefits of prebiotics and probiotics for your dog. A healthy flora can help protect against certain cancers, provide healthy skin, and even encourage mood balance. This is the case in both humans and dogs. An imbalance in the digestive enzymes can also lead to weight gain, bloating, high blood sugar, upset stomach, and even bad breath. So, feeding your pup the right prebiotics and probiotics will contribute to a healthy gut, which can reduce flatulence and regulate constipation or loose stools, thus supporting a long, healthy life.
Vets also encourage holistic probiotics for most pets — particularly those whose normal digestion might be upset by food change, travel, stress, separation anxiety, or aging. In low doses, they’re great for puppies, too, whose digestive systems are still developing. Owners often report noticing firming stools, brighter eyes, more settled tummies, and less gas. Check out our in-depth explainer for more information about the benefits of probiotics for your pet.
3 Natural Probiotics for Dogs
For dogs, one of the healthiest and easiest ways to improve gut flora is to diversify their food. One way to do this is by alternating between a few different dog foods that are high in fiber at a regular cadence. This is often referred to as rotational feeding, and many holistic vets believe that it may have a positive effect on your pet’s overall health.
Another alternative is to add them to your pet’s diet. You can do this by choosing a food that is enhanced with probiotics — like The Honest Kitchen’s Whole Food Clusters that are boosted with probiotics, rich in fiber, and made with only human-grade ingredients — or by adding a probiotic supplement into their diet.
As a third option, adding natural forms of preservative-free probiotics to your dog’s meals can give a needed healthy boost to their gut. Read more about why your dog needs to take probiotics.
1) Probiotic Yogurt
Yogurt is a go-to for probiotic support for people but can also be extremely beneficial to your dog’s microbiome. Besides providing your pup with live cultures, yogurt has ample calcium and protein, which are both great for dogs. One or two spoonfuls of plain yogurt can get your dog to their required daily quantity of calcium. When it comes to protein, if you really want to give your dog a boost, choose greek yogurt specifically. Greek yogurt contains much more protein than regular yogurt — and dogs love the taste!
When thinking about incorporating yogurt into your dog’s diet, the most common methods include letting the dog lick it right from the spoon or mixing it into their regular dog food. However, you can get creative by making frozen yogurt pops for your dog. This is an especially fun treat in the summertime.
Another common question about feeding dogs yogurt is the type of yogurt to buy. As mentioned, greek yogurt will have more protein than regular yogurt, but either is an excellent source for probiotics. You can even feed your dog lactose-free yogurt if they are lactose intolerant. No matter which type of yogurt you choose, read the nutrition label to ensure there are no artificial sweeteners (especially xylitol, which can be toxic to pets) or natural sweeteners like honey, as these can be detrimental to a dog’s health.
If you plan to give your dog yogurt but have more questions about how much and what kind, check out this article where we cover the topic in greater detail.
2) Fermented Foods (Like Pickles)
Another excellent source of probiotics is fermented foods. Fermented foods are known to help people with gut health, and the same goes for dogs. Pickles are where many people’s minds go when they think of fermented foods, but this category also includes sauerkraut. Since pickles are often fermented with a good amount of salt, you need to be mindful of how many you give your dog. However, a few here and there can benefit their microbiome.
Sauerkraut, on the other hand, can be highly nutritious for dogs. Sauerkraut is just finely sliced raw cabbage fermented with lactic acid. The fermentation process creates probiotics and makes it extremely healthy for the gut. Additionally, it's rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. Whether you’re purchasing sauerkraut at the grocery store or making it at home, be sure to avoid additives that can be toxic to dogs. These include caraway or fennel seeds, sugar, garlic, onions, and any other member of the allium family. If you’re feeding your dog sauerkraut, make sure the ingredients only include cabbage, water, salt, and maybe some vinegar.
3) Apple Cider Vinegar
Another kitchen staple turned superfood is apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has been proven to aid in weight loss, reduce cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels, and improve symptoms of diabetes in humans. This is thanks to the antimicrobial and antioxidant effects of the vinegar. Because the only ingredients in apple cider vinegar are apples and water, it's just as safe for your dog as it is for you. Apple cider vinegar is slightly acidic, which can help soothe a dog’s overly alkalized digestive tract and improve digestion. In certain applications, apple cider vinegar can even help combat yeast infections and relieve allergy symptoms in dogs.
However, getting your dog to drink straight apple cider vinegar may be tricky — and if you've ever smelled or tasted it, you'll know why. Try diluting the apple cider vinegar with water or mixing it into their food. Depending on your dog's weight, start with a small amount and work up to a teaspoon or two. Moderation is key with apple cider vinegar, so if you’re uncertain about dosage, consult your veterinarian and keep an eye on your pup for any side effects.
Switch to a Probiotic Solution for Your Dog, Fresh From The Honest Kitchen
The health benefits of probiotics in your dog’s diet are significant, as they can provide relief for intestinal issues and boost immunity. In addition to incorporating natural probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, and apple cider vinegar into your dog’s diet, The Honest Kitchen also has a ton of dog food and supplement options — including Instant Goat’s Milk probiotic powder — that have an added boost of probiotics.Check out our line of premium-nutrition foods for dogs to give your pet's immune system a boost — your pup won’t be disappointed!