What Are Probiotics For Dogs?

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 15, 2023
4 min read

You may have seen probiotics as an ingredient in your dog’s food or heard about how they can help your dog’s digestion. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that may be helpful for some dogs.

The term “probiotics” refers to beneficial bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in humans and animals. Billions of probiotic bacteria are naturally found in your dog’s gut. These bacteria work together to help your dog digest food, make vitamins, and strengthen your dog’s immune system. This network of bacteria is called the microbiome.

Healthy dogs have healthy microbiomes. Sometimes the amounts and type of bacteria can change in your dog and this can make them sick. Some things can cause damage to healthy bacteria and disrupt the balance between healthy and harmful microbes in your dog’s gut, including:

Common symptoms of this include:

Sometimes dogs get stress diarrhea after going to training classes or the veterinarian. They can also get diarrhea from moving to a new home, being in a kennel, and other stress factors. If your dog usually gets diarrhea from stress, probiotics might help.

There are several kinds of probiotics you can give your dog. It’s best to talk to your vet to make sure your dog is getting the best probiotic for its health.

Probiotics come in several forms, including:

  • Pills
  • Powders
  • Soft treats with added probiotics
  • Dog food with added probiotics
  • Yogurt or kefir with live probiotic cultures

Before giving your dog a probiotic, here are some things to think about.

Your dog’s health is an indicator. If your dog is healthy, they may not need a probiotic. A vet will usually prescribe a probiotic if there’s a problem with your dog’s gut or digestion. This is usually caused by illness or stress.

Diet also plays a big role. Research shows that dogs who eat a diet high in carbohydrates may not have healthy microbiomes. Changing your dog’s food and adding more protein could help. Your vet can help you find the right food for your dog.

There are different strains of probiotics. Probiotics differ in the types and amounts of bacteria strains they contain. Some of the bacteria commonly found in probiotics and the gut include:

  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Enterococcus faecium

Not all probiotics are made the same and some don’t have the strains your dog may need. It’s important to talk with your vet and read labels to make sure you’re giving the right bacteria to your dog.

Probiotics are sensitive to temperature, air, and moisture. Probiotics are living things that have been adapted to living in the GI tract. Exposure to air, temperature and moisture extremes for long periods of time can kill the microbes inside and render the product useless. This means they may need to be kept in the fridge.

Check the expiration date. Make sure to check the use-by date on the probiotic you’re buying. The use-by date tells you how long the bacteria are guaranteed to be alive and useful. Probiotics used after the expiration date probably won’t work as well.

Be careful with food-based probiotics. Probiotic yogurt and kefir are natural probiotics commonly used for dogs. If you decide to give your dog kefir or yogurt with live cultures, read the labels carefully. They may contain artificial sweeteners or preservatives that aren’t safe for dogs. You should only feed your dog plain yogurt or kefir without artificial sweeteners. 

Dogs can also be allergic to dairy or lactose-intolerant, which can cause diarrhea and upset stomach.

If your dog is allergic to dairy or lactose-intolerant, coconut kefir might be helpful. This is a non-dairy fermented milk full of probiotics.

Small amounts of coconut are safe for dogs, but make sure to use coconut milk kefir and not coconut water kefir. Coconut water is high in potassium and isn’t safe for dogs.

Find a method that works for you. Dog foods and treats with added probiotics might be the easiest way to give your dog probiotics. They also come in pill and powder form, but some dogs won’t take pills, even if they’re hidden in treats. Try adding probiotic powder to your dog’s food if this is an issue.

There is limited research. There is some research on probiotics for dogs, but most of the evidence is anecdotal and based on pet owners or veterinarians. An Irish study in 2009 found that a single strain of probiotic reduced diarrhea and eliminated the need for future antibiotics in a group of growing dogs.

More studies are needed to better understand how probiotics help dogs. Giving your dog a probiotic can help put their healthy bacteria back into balance. Your vet can help you find the best option for your dog.