What does a probiotic do for a dog or cat? Although intestinal microflora is important for nutrition and digestion, its most important function is helping protect the body from bad bacteria. There is a constant bacterial fight of good versus evil going on in the gut. 70% of the body’s immune system is in our gut and for good reason! If the good bacteria do not win, the body may absorb bad bacteria or viruses, causing illness.
Good Bacteria for Dogs and Cats
Puppies and kittens are born sterile, the gut is seeded with good bacteria from mom shortly after birth. Mom’s cleaning and mothering starts the transfer of good bacteria to the newborn. Nursing and continued cleaning by mom repeatedly adds bacteria that aids in digestion and intestinal health throughout the nursing period. Using a safe disinfectant such as Chlorhexidine around the babies keeps environmental bacterial and fungal infection in check. Less exposure helps prevent bacteria from affecting the babies in a negative way.
Healthy bacteria are constantly killed and quickly replaced in the normal gut. Stomach acid, antibiotics, products that contain alcohol or just stress can upset bacterial balance in the gut. There is a constant struggle for good bacteria to keep the bad bacteria from dominating and causing disease. Some bad bacteria will get swallowed, especially with pets that like to chew, and the GI immune system must deal with them.
Stomach acid will kill most of the bacteria consumed as a first line of defense. In the intestine, good bacteria form part of the mucosal barrier of the intestine and if adequate, leave bad bacteria with no room to live. After that, the immune system will have to deal with the infection, but the goal is to prevent the need for that immune response. This is where probiotics can help.
Using Feline and Canine Probiotics
Probiotics are live, healthy bacteria that live in the gut. Use probiotics in situations that support the immune function and prevent the body from getting sick. Supporting the GI tract or protecting it during stressful issues is a good use for probiotics. Here are some situations in which a probiotic should be used:
- Sick and on an antibiotic: Probiotics hasten recovery from GI upset caused by illness and oral antibiotic use. If your dog is taking a pill, tablet or capsule antibiotic, consider Doc Roy’s Pill Hiders with Probiotics. These pill hiders for dogs contain probiotics to support digestive and immune health.
- Weanling transferring to solid food: Probiotics allow for a smooth transition to solid food and helps reduce the risk of loose stool.
- Before shipping: Probiotics help to ensure control of loose stool due to stress.
- Orphan being bottle-fed: Since mom is not giving good bacteria, you need to replace her. Use probiotic in the milk twice a day for first two weeks to improve digestion. (Usually stops “bottle-fed diarrhea” in 48 hours.)
If a puppy or kitten is not right and you are not sure what the issue is, don’t wait. Give a probiotic and help the neonate fight whatever it is, even when we do not know the cause!
Do Probiotics Work for Dogs and Cats?
Probiotics work by starving the bad bacteria and feeding the good bacteria.
What Does Work
- Bacteria that will pass the stomach acid and become active in the gut.
- Treated products designed to pass the stomach acid.
What Doesn’t Work
- Food with bacteria added is usually dead bacteria and of no use.
- If it was live bacteria, they would likely be digested and of little benefit by the time you wanted to feed it or eat it yourself.
- Whole live culture bacteria.
- Most of these will be killed by the stomach acid and never get to the intestine.
Prebiotics for Dogs Vs. Probiotic
Cat and dog prebiotics are products that promote good bacterial growth but not pathogenic (bad) bacterial growth. Prebiotics are an energy source that the good bacteria can use, but they are not available to the bad bacteria. Much research is being put into how this works and the benefit of using prebiotics with a probiotic.
Beta glucans (bgmos®) is the prebiotic in Doc Roy’s® GI Synbiotics. Bgmos® not only fuels the good bacterial growth, it binds bad bacteria into clumps, making them easier to spot and remove by the immune system. You can see how prebiotics can be beneficial to the GI tract of an upset pet. Many new ones are on the horizon so stay tuned to this new area of research.
Doc Roy’s® GI Synbiotics is a probiotic and prebiotic for dogs and cats that is formulated to bypass the stomach acid, delivering more active bacteria to the intestine. GI Synbiotics is for all ages of dogs and cats and helps fuel the growth of good bacteria, while supporting the removal of bad bacteria using prebiotic science.
Breeder’s Edge® Nurture Flora™ also contains BgMos® but unlike Doc Roy’s GI Synbiotics, Nurture Flora is a probiotic specifically formulated for newborn puppies and kittens from birth through three months of age. Nurture Flora contains 4 strains of live (viable) beneficial bacteria that puppies and kittens need to support good gut health, prevent digestive upset and promote a healthy immune system to create a thriving environment for healthy gut flora.
Dogs and cats carry good bacteria that help digestion and their immune function. You can help the gut by adding good bacteria at times when the bacteria balance is upset and the tummy has issues.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.