Digestive tract upsets are one of the most common reasons dogs visit veterinary clinics. I frequently prescribe probiotic supplements to help dogs recover.
My clients often say, “Can I give my dog human probiotics? I already have some for myself.” My answer is: Yes! You can give dogs probiotic supplements made for humans. The organisms used in most formulations for people are similar to those in veterinary-specific products. However, supplements made for humans might not be the best choice.
I recommend Culturelle (click for link to Amazon) as a good human-grade probiotic that is safe to use for dogs. It’s the most extensively tested product for humans. Culturelle has been recommended by veterinary internal medicine specialists for many years.
Probiotics for Dogs are Live Bacteria
Probiotics are live microbial food ingredients designed to improve the dog’s healthy gut bacteria balance. They do this by increasing the good bacteria and decreasing the bad/pathogenic bacteria.
The microbes used in probiotic supplements are healthy bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus and Saccharomyces.
A dog’s gut naturally has these organisms in varying numbers. It’s unknown exactly how a probiotic bacterium benefits health, but some theories are that
- Beneficial bacteria help crowd out pathogenic harmful bacteria.
- Good bacteria reduce bacterial translocation (bad bacteria moving outside of the gastrointestinal tract to other parts of the body).
- Probiotics produce beneficial antimicrobial products that limit the growth of bad bacteria.
Probiotics Benefit Many Dog Health Issues
There is little information to prove the efficacy of probiotics for most diseases. Researchers believe the following conditions may benefit:
- Atopic dermatitis (skin allergy) (9)
- Arthritis (1)
- Mastitis in cows (12)
- Colitis/diarrhea (7)
- Dental disease (8)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (5)
- Listeriosis in mice (3)
- Pancreatitis (6)
- Salmonellosis in pigs (2)
- Urinary tract infections (13)
- Vaginal infections (4)
Probiotics may have a positive influence on clearing any disease that involves inflammation. Beneficial bacteria influence the immune system and decrease inflammatory chemicals in the body.
A dog’s gut is home to the largest part of his immune system and that’s where probiotics work!
These studies used different strains of bacteria to treat different diseases in various species. It’s hard to say which bacterial and fungal organisms work best to treat dermatitis vs. which is best to treat colitis, etc. All we know is that in these studies, the formula used had a good effect on the disease.
This is important to remember whether you give your dog human probiotics or a dog probiotic. If one formula doesn’t work, a different one still might. Products made specifically for dogs have been tested on dogs, and have proven safe and effective in treating disease.
What Makes a Good Probiotic for Dogs?
There are a few preliminary studies on the normal flora present in pet species and a few other studies showing that probiotics are beneficial to the treatment of several diseases in dogs.
However, at the time of publishing, no one knows the exact dosage or perfect dog probiotic combination.
Number of CFU’s
Researchers believe that a dog must ingest a high enough dose (measured in colony-forming units of live bacteria, or CFU’s) of beneficial bacteria that some will survive long enough to colonize the dog’s gut.
A larger number of CFU’s in a probiotic is usually better than a smaller number, but it may depend on the disease you’re treating. Younger animals may need a higher number of CFU’s to benefit.
Most products contain between 100 million to 100 billion CFU’s per dose.
Multiple Bacterial Strains
The inclusion of multiple bacterial species may be better since there is more chance that at least one will be able to colonize the gut. However, there is some concern that using too many species may antagonize each other.
Prebiotic substances may increase the efficacy of probiotics. These non-digestible food ingredients, usually plant fiber, promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.
In short, natural substances like act as food for beneficial bacteria and may help them survive longer in the GI tract.
Time and Temperature Stability
Some products are sold from refrigerators and others are just sold at room temperature. Refrigerated products are more fragile and more likely to breakdown before they are used.
The organisms in non-refrigerated products are alive but are in a dormant state until they’re administered to the animal. These shelf-stable products should still be handled with care, avoiding exposure to high temperatures or prolonged storage (look for an expiration date on the package).
Probiotic supplements are not classified as drugs and so there is very little regulation of the product.
Just because the label says it contains 15 strains of bacteria with a dosage of 40 billion CFU’s, it ain’t necessarily so. Independent testing has shown many don’t contain what the label claims.
The products I discuss here are made by companies that have a history of good, documented quality control.
Best Human-Grade Probiotics for Dogs
For people asking, “Can I give my dog human probiotics?” the answer is: yes, you can. If you’re planning on giving your dog a supplement made for humans, use the criteria listed above to evaluate them.
Here are the products made for people that I recommend for dogs:
Culturelle® is one of the most widely studied and recommended probiotics for humans but has also been used extensively for pets. The company has several different formulations but this article covers only the Adult Digestive Health Daily capsules.
Culturelle® is probably the most recognized, trusted brand for humans that can be used for dogs. The other great thing is that it’s sold in most grocery stores and pharmacies.
VSL #3® is a high-potency supplement that has been tested on animals. The manufacturer has come under scrutiny in recent years for having an altered formulation from the original one that was tested extensively.
There is now a Visbiome Vet® product available only through your veterinarian. The main difference seems to be that it comes in pull-apart capsules for ease of administration.
Both Visbiome® for humans and Visbiome Vet® are super high-potency supplements. It’s best to use these under the direction of a veterinarian.
Comparison of Top Two Human Grade Probiotics for Dogs
|View on Amazon.com||View on Amazon.com|
|Manufacturer||i-Health, Inc.||ExeGi Pharma|
|Form||Capsule||Capsule or packet|
|Number of Bacteria Strains||1 (Lactobacillus rhamnosus)||8 (Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium breve, Streptococcus thermophilus)|
|CFU’s per dose||10 billion||112.5 billion in capsules, 450 billion in packets|
|Flavor||Neutral (can be sprinkled on food)||Neutral (can be sprinkled on food)|
|Other Ingredients||Inulin (prebiotic), hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, sucrose, maltodextrin, sodium ascorbate, magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide, and titanium dioxide.||Microcrystalline cellulose, stearic acid, silicon dioxide, magnesium stearate, and vegetable capsule.|
|Refrigeration||Not necessary.||Recommended for long-term storage over one week.|
|Dose for Dogs||1/2 capsule once a day for 10 lb. and under, 1 capsule once a day for over 10 lb.||1/2 capsule per 10 lbs. of body weight per day.|
|Pros||Readily available in stores and online, low price, extensive research for use in humans and dogs.||High-potency, extensive research for use in humans and some in dogs.|
|Cons||Contains only one bacterial strain.||Higher price than other options, the high-potency product should be given with veterinary supervision.|
Best Veterinary Probiotics for Dogs
There are many pet probiotic supplements on the market. They may be fine, but without the support of clinical trials and quality assurance, you don’t know what you’re getting. Here are two of the best products for dogs I use and recommend to my clients:
Proviable® is a veterinary-specific supplement. Testing in dogs and cats shows it is effective in treating diarrhea. You can buy Proviable®-DC capsules in a 30 or 80 capsule package, which makes it ideal for long-term treatment of chronic health issues.
This is the product I recommend most often for my patients. It’s readily available, affordable, easy to administer, contains a moderate number of multiple bacterial species, and includes prebiotics.
For firming up loose stool fast, I recommend the Proviable® KP Kit with a kaolin-containing paste plus 10 capsules. It comes with a tube of paste you give orally two to three times a day for a day or two to quickly firm up loose stools.
You can give the capsules to your dog whole or sprinkle the powder onto their food. The capsules are tiny and the powder inside seems to be flavorless so they’re super easy to give to dogs.
Another reason I love these products is that Proviable’s manufacturer, Nutramax, has a track record of good quality control.
Purina® Pro Plan® FortiFlora®
FortiFlora® is another widely used veterinary-specific supplement. It has been tested in animals and proven to help with certain types of diarrhea.
The best thing about it is that dogs seem to LOVE the flavor of it. I’ve actually recommended it as a food topper to get finicky dogs to eat!
Since it only contains a relatively small amount of one species of bacteria, it might not be as useful for treating other conditions besides gastrointestinal problems.
Comparison of Top Two Veterinary Dog Probiotics
|View on Amazon.com||View on Amazon.com|
|Form||Capsule filled with probiotic powder or chewable tablets||Packet of powder or chewable tablets|
|Number of Bacteria Strains||7 (Enterococcus faecium, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Enterococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum)||1 (Enterococcus faecium)|
|CFU’s per dose||5 billion||100 million|
|Flavor||Neutral (can be sprinkled on food)||Meat-flavored (company reports beef-based)|
|Other Ingredients||Fructooligosaccharide (prebiotic), gum arabic, gelatin, maltodextrin, magnesium stearate, ascorbic acid, and titanium dioxide.||Animal digest, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, brewers dried yeast, vitamin E supplement, zinc proteinate, beta-carotene, salt, manganese proteinate, ferrous sulfate, copper proteinate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite.|
|Refrigeration||Not necessary||Not necessary|
|Dose for Dogs||1 capsule per day for all sizes of dogs||1 packet per day for all sizes of dogs|
|Pros||Multiple bacterial strains, some clinical research to support efficacy, supported by clinical trials and recommended by veterinary internal medicine specialists, affordable price.||Dogs love the flavor (don’t believe the internet hype that says “animal digest is toxic”), clinical trials show positive effects for GI issues, FortiFlora.|
|Cons||Not flavored, fewer CFU’s than high-potency products.||Only 100 million CFU’s per dose, only one bacterium strain, higher-priced than alternatives.|
Does Your Dog Need Probiotics?
As a veterinarian, I prescribe probiotics most often to dogs with gastrointestinal problems. I’ve also recommended it for dogs with chronic skin, ear and vaginal infections.
I’ve seen the best results when using these beneficial bacteria for GI problems. Other issues have responded less impressively in my experience.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to give a trial of supplements to your dog. If you haven’t seen much improvement after a month or two, it’s not likely to work even if you give it longer.
I don’t recommend the routine use of probiotics for my healthy dog patients.
Can I Feed My Dog Yogurt, Kefir or Fermented Foods?
While fermented foods are not necessarily toxic to dogs, it is hard to feed them enough to treat an acute GI upset with beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods are natural sources of beneficial bacteria. These include yogurt, kefir, Yakult, Kim Chi, and Sauerkraut.
The number of bacteria that occur naturally in fermented foods is relatively low compared to probiotic supplements. Since digestive enzymes destroy many of these bacteria before they reach the intestine, a lower starting number is not favorable.
Studies suggest that humans need 10 billion CFUs per serving of yogurt in order to see a benefit for GI problems (11). Yogurt usually contains about 1 billion CFUs per serving. So you’d need to eat 10 servings of yogurt to get a good dose of healthy bacteria. That amount of yogurt would be way too much for most dogs!
The other thing is that fermented foods can cause problems for dogs on their own. Dairy can cause diarrhea for many dogs, especially if you feed them a lot. Kim Chi and Sauerkraut have strong flavors many dogs don’t like. Plus they have a lot of fiber that can cause GI upset for some dogs.
Read My Article About How to Help Your Dog With Diarrhea
What About Dog Food That Contains Probiotics?
Dog food manufacturers have started adding probiotics to dog food. It’s hard to say if your dog will experience any benefits from eating one of these foods since we don’t have good studies showing efficacy.
I’m doubtful that adding 600 million CFUs of Bacillus coagulans per pound would be enough to help an acute digestive problem. It’s possible that long-term feeding of this sort of food would strengthen a dog’s immune system, but we don’t have clinical proof of that.
If you want to treat a problem with probiotics, I would recommend a supplement rather than relying on one of these foods.
How to Give Probiotic Supplements to Your Dog
I find most dogs will take the small amount of powder from a capsule just fine when you sprinkle it over their food. The powder is generally flavorless so it’s barely noticed.
If you have an extremely picky dog, you could try hiding a capsule in peanut butter or a small amount of meat or cheese. Some people swear by Pill Pockets for administering medicattions to their pets.
For dogs who refuse both these techniques, look for a flavored powder like FortiFlora to sprinkle on his food. Proviable also comes in a chewable pill so your dog will think it’s a treat instead of medication.
Be sure to follow youor vet’s directions if they’ve prescribed it or follow the directions on the package if you’ve bought the product on your own. Usually the product is given once a day for one to two weeks.
Can Dogs Take Probiotics With Antibiotics?
It’s OK to give your dog probiotics while he is also taking antibiotics. There is some risk that some of the beneficial organisms could be killed by the antibiotic medication.
To avoid this, give the supplement about 4 hours apart from when you give the antibiotic. Probiotics are not known to have interactions with other medications.
How Long Should You Give Your Dog Probiotics?
Purchase a fresh product and store it as directed on the label. Make sure to check the product’s expiration date and discard it after that. In most cases, I recommend these supplements be used for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Most dogs with chronic health issues like skin allergies, urinary tract inflammation, and chronic loose stools benefit from taking the supplement for 30-90 days. Dogs with acute diarrhea probably only need to take probiotics for 7 to 10 days.
How Long Does It Take Probiotics to Work in Dogs?
Acute diarrhea is one of the most common problems vets recommend probiotics to treat. In most mild to moderate cases, you should see improvement within a day or two.
A 2017 study of dogs with a severe form of acute hemorrhagic diarrhea found dogs fed probiotics recovered after three days (13).
Other chronic diseases such as skin allergies and inflammatory bowel disease are expected to take longer to respond to probiotics. One study found dogs with kidney disease had improved kidney function after two months of taking VSL #3® supplement (9).
Side Effects of Probiotics in Dogs
Probiotics rarely cause side effects in dogs. Dogs with serious illness and immune-system abnormalities may be more at risk. Side effects could include:
- Decreased appetite
- Whole-body infection (theoretical, never documented in dogs)
Can a Dog Overdose on Probiotics?
If your dog gets in to the whole supply of probiotics and has a feast he might get an upset stomach and runny poops for a few days. Call your vet if he stops eating or has severe symptoms.
This is something to consider if you’re using chewable tablets or flavored powder. Your dog might not realize it’s medicine and think it’s a treat! Keep all medications locked away where mischievous pups can’t steal them.
- Probiotic supplements contain live microbial food ingredients designed to improve a dog’s intestinal microbial balance.
- Probiotics may improve many health conditions, but we need more research to know how best to use them.
- Higher numbers of CFU’s, multiple strains of healthy bacteria, presence of prebiotics, and good quality control are criteria to remember when evaluation probiotic supplements.
- Serious side effects from probiotic supplements are uncommon when used in relatively healthy dogs. Use caution and get guidance from your vet before giving probiotics to seriously ill dogs or those with immune system abnormalities.
- You can give your dog probiotics made for people but use caution when choosing a product. Ask your vet for guidance, especially if your dog is very young, old or suffering from a serious illness.
Click to View References
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- Hooijmans, C. R., de Vries, R. B., Rovers, M. M., Gooszen, H. G., & Ritskes-Hoitinga, M. (2012). The effects of probiotic supplementation on experimental acute pancreatitis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 7(11), e48811.
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- Plessas, S., Bosnea, L., Alexopoulos, A., & Bezirtzoglou, E. (2012). Potential effects of probiotics in cheese and yogurt production: A review. Engineering in Life Sciences, 12(4), 433-440.
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- Stapleton, A. E., Au-Yeung, M., Hooton, T. M., Fredricks, D. N., Roberts, P. L., Czaja, C. A., … & Stamm, W. E. (2011). Randomized, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial of a Lactobacillus crispatus probiotic given intravaginally for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infection. Clinical infectious diseases, 52(10), 1212-1217.
- Ziese, A. L., Suchodolski, J. S., Hartmann, K., Busch, K., Anderson, A., Sarwar, F., … & Unterer, S. (2018). Effect of probiotic treatment on the clinical course, intestinal microbiome, and toxigenic Clostridium perfringens in dogs with acute hemorrhagic diarrhea. PLoS One, 13(9), e0204691.
Last update on 2021-03-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API