There are basically three different types of bacteria that colonize our dog’s body (and ours too).
One type is the “bad” bacteria that can cause diseases and infections. Another type is the “neutral” bacteria that do not have any known effect on the body.
The third type is the “good, friendly” bacteria that live in the dog’s intestinal tract and maintain its ecosystem. They are called “probiotics”, and are also referred to as the “intestinal microflora”.
There are numerous species of probiotics but almost all of them are lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifido-bacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. These “friendly” bacteria are the first of line defense of our dog’s body against all the potentially harmful microorganisms inhaled or ingested by the dog.
As you can imagine, having a healthy balance of probiotics and other bacteria in a dog’s gut is important to maintain the dog’s health.
A Closer Look at the Roles of Friendly Bacteria
The important roles played by the friendly bacteria in our dog’s body cannot be overlooked. Specifically:
- They produce fatty acids and balance the pH levels in the dog’s GI tract. They also strengthen the cells in the intestine, thereby facilitating better nutrient absorption.
- They produce digestive enzymes and synthesize vitamins.
- They stimulate immune responses in the GI tract.
- They directly block harmful bacteria from attaching themselves to the intestinal wall, and inhibit harmful bacterial growth in the dog’s gut.
The Many Benefits of Probiotics for Dogs
Looking at the roles played by probiotic bacteria as mentioned above, we can understand they are essential in keeping our dog healthy.
Probiotics are beneficial to various organ systems and effective against numerous health problems in dogs:
Probiotics regulate and stimulate the immune system. They act as the first line of defense against invasive bacteria (e.g. salmonella, E.Coli) by producing natural antibiotics.
In addition, yeast growth (e.g. Candida) can also be kept in check by some probiotic bacteria. Yet some other probiotic bacteria show antioxidant properties and can detoxify harmful chemicals and carcinogens from the body via the intestinal system.
Probiotics aid digestion and improve nutrient absorption. They can improve and reduce lactose intolerance and food allergies.
They are effective in preventing and treating intestinal disorders caused by poor digestion, such as diarrhea, vomiting, gas, constipation, and bloating.
Probiotics can reduce inflammation and are effective against joint inflammation, skin irritations such as eczema, and inflammatory bowel disease, cystitis (bladder inflammation), etc.
Probiotics for Dogs – Do All Dogs Need Them?
All dogs benefit from taking probiotics as a dietary supplement because probiotics are nutritive.
Also, dogs with large amounts of beneficial bacteria are better equipped to fight off invasive microorganisms. To maintain a healthy body, therefore, large quantities of friendly bacteria in addition to a natural healthy diet are essential.
In particular, puppies and older dogs should be given probiotics as a dietary supplement because these dogs have weaker digestive and immune systems.
In addition, dogs with the following problems will definitely benefit from probiotic supplementation:
Prolonged Use of Antibiotics
Prolonged use of antibiotics destroys “friendly” bacteria along with the bad ones in the dog’s gut.
It is therefore extremely important to supplement your dog with probiotics to help replenish the “friendly” bacteria in his body. Start the probiotics on the last antibiotic tablet.
Dogs suffering from acute or chronic digestive problems that can result in a depletion of microflora in the body can benefit a lot from probiotics for dogs.
Some such digestive problems include chronic diarrhea, colitis, bloat, and so on.
Many symptoms of allergies (e.g. itching, diarrhea) are the result of an unhealthy and imbalanced gut flora. Therefore, supplementing an allergic dog with probiotics can help to relieve some allergy symptoms.
Additionally, dogs with allergies are often given corticosteroids as part of the treatment. Since corticosteroids can suppress the immune system causing the dog to be more prone to infections, antibiotics are often given along with steroids to prevent infections.
This in turn will destroy the friendly bacteria in the dog’s gut – another reason to give probiotics to dogs with allergies.
As mentioned above, dogs with inflammatory diseases such as skin irritations, IBD, etc. can benefit from dietary supplement of probiotics.
Dogs under stress may suffer from poor digestion (many dogs have diarrhea in stressful situations), which in turn can compromise the immune system. Therefore, dogs with stress can benefit from supplementation of probiotics as well.