Relatively unknown until recently, probiotics have made their way to the forefront of preventative over-the-counter medications that we can now commonly find in our kitchens and cabinets. Many still remain on the fence with regards to the benefits that these beneficial bacteria can bestow on ourselves and our families, but what must not be overlooked is the fact that we are not the only biological beings in our households. Having over 80% of our genes in common with our dogs and cats, it is to be expected that they can and will contract some of the very same common ailments that we inevitably find ourselves battling. Now prevalent on the shelves of popular pet stores, pet versions of probiotics are more easily found than ever, and it is advisable to take into account the benefits they can bestow on all the members of our families, not simply the human ones.
While the scientific terminology behind probiotics can cause confusion, they and their effects on a body are quite simply broken down. Our bodies, and the bodies of our pets, contain various strains of bacteria, which help us accomplish many of the tasks we take for granted. Primarily, the bacteria in question help to:
- Digest food
- Keep immune systems strong
- Promote healthy intestinal tract
The amounts of these particular bacteria sometimes become unbalanced, and probiotics are beneficial forms of yeast or bacteria that can be introduced into the system to restore the balance of bacteria found there, and promote the proper functioning of the internal processes of the body. The unbalanced bacteria are commonly due to:
- Taking antibiotics (which by their very definition, are designed to fight and kill bacteria)
- Change in diet
When is it Time?
We tend to bring our dogs in more frequently for diseases and discomforts related to issues such as these, than we do for more physical conditions such as broken bones, for example, and it is for exactly these conditions that probiotics were created and made available. Diarrhea may be the visible manifestation of more serious internal issues, such as intestinal inflammation, a weakening of the intestinal walls themselves, irritable bowels, or constipation. Yeast infections, rashes, and allergic reactions may also become evident when beneficial bacteria are out of balance. Be especially mindful of puppies and seniors who may not have the internal or intestinal quality of their middle-aged counterparts, especially if they tend to drink from lakes, ponds, pools or puddles on their daily walks; a urinary tract infection can mean a quick trip to the vet. And be sure to keep an eye out for changes in your dog’s behavior that might be pointing to signs that probiotics may be beneficial, such as more frequent gas or noticeably bad breath, and shifts toward strange eating habits (such as increased attractions to grass, rocks, or even feces).
There are so Many!
So you’ve decided that you want to start your dog on probiotics, but the question remains, which probiotic is right for you both? With a variety of brands, and dozens of delivery methods, the sheer number of choices available is staggering. Keeping in mind a few important characteristics of probiotics will aid you in assessing the alternatives. You’ll want to select a probiotic that, of course, will benefit your dog, and you’ll want to select a product that contains at least one of two beneficial bacteria.
Of most use to your friend will be the Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria, as well as Enterococcus faecium (also known as Streptococcus faecium). These two common inclusions in your dog’s intestines are not only necessary for nurturing overall health, but also work to fight off some of the more harmful bacteria that may cause issues, such as E. coli.
Once you’ve confirmed that at least one of these is included, your next step is to take a look at the CFU’s (or colony-forming units). Once in the intestines, the bacteria will spread out and multiply, and in doing so, maximize their effectiveness against all the ailments they were meant to fight against. To get there, however, the probiotic needs to traverse the harsh interior of your dog’s digestive system, and that means surviving the stomach, and the acids it contains. The higher the amount of CFU’s in the product, the more the chance that some of them will survive to reach their destination and provide the intended benefit, but you don’t want to go overboard here. Too many CFU’s may overload your dog’s system, and tip the scales of balance too far to one side; too few, and they may never make it to the goal. A good rule of thumb here is to look for a product containing CFU’s numbering in the low billions (between 1 and 10) per gram. Though 200 million CFU’s may seem like a lot, keep in mind they are microscopic organisms; and definitely stay away from numbers in the high billions.
Liquid or Dry?
Educating yourself on two top choices may put you at ease with regards to this endeavor, the first of which would be liquid or yogurt probiotics. While they may be flavored, and a more tasty option for your dog, these types of products contain live bacteria. These bacteria have a very specific set of conditions in which they can live, and as such, will require refrigeration to remain effective. If you’re going to be staying close to home, these products can be a good way to introduce beneficial bacteria to your dog’s daily diet.
Dry dog probiotics may come in a pill or powder form, and are an especially viable option for the traveler, or those going on an extended vacation, whether your pet will be present or put up in a hotel. Less susceptible to temperatures, powders can be sprinkled over your friend’s favorite food, if he is not partial to pills. The pill form, however, delivers the product to your dog’s stomach, where the heat and enzymes activate the hibernating bacteria and let them continue on to the intestines, where they will provide their best benefits.
Regardless of which product you choose, providing probiotics to your dog will improve his overall quality of health, and accordingly, quality of life, which will provide you with many years of enjoyment in your relationship together.