Probiotics provide powerful health benefits for dogs by maintaining adequate levels of “good” bacteria in the intestines to counteract “bad” bacteria responsible for a host of infections and illnesses. Since the canine digestive tract is comparable to the functioning of a dog’s immune system, keeping intestines stocked with probiotic bacteria is essential to a dog’s lifelong health and well-being.
The Right Probiotics for Your Dog
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4 Foods That Contain Probiotics
Yogurt is chock-full of beneficial probiotics (described as “active or live cultures on yogurt containers) and can be fed safely to dogs to sustain levels of “good” bacteria in his gut. Similar to sour cream because it is a type of curdled milk but with reduced fat content, yogurt is made when lactose fermentation initiated by probiotic bacteria produces lactic acid. When lactic acid interacts chemically with milk protein, yogurt adopts it characteristic tang and texture.
“Good” bacteria found in yogurt are bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, S. thermophilius and many other bacteria that help prevent a variety of chronic gastrointestinal diseases and fungal infections from making dogs ill. Yogurt can also help counteract the effects of antibiotic therapy, especially diarrhea, vomiting and irritable bowel syndrome.
Depending on a dog’s weight, owners can add one or two tablespoons of yogurt to wet food once a day to maintain their pet’s gut health.
Some probiotic bacteria can’t survive the strong acidic environment of a dog’s GI tract and never make it to his intestines. However, bacteria found in fermented soft cheeses can live in erosive gastric juices and find their way to the intestines intact. Swiss, Gouda and cheddar cheeses contain lactic acid bacteria that kill infectious bacteria, enhance absorption of nutrients from digested food and relieve constipation.
Buttermilk is an excellent source of probiotics because live cultures are added to help ferment sugars in buttermilk. Dog owners will need to give their pets buttermilk right from the carton, since heating or cooking buttermilk destroys the “good” bacteria. Like soft cheeses and yogurt, buttermilk also contains lactic acid bacteria beneficial to the health of a dog’s GI system.
Powdered buttermilk can be bought in select stores and sprinkled on wet food. In addition, buttermilk powder can help eliminate “tear staining” in dog breeds susceptible to runny eyes, such as English bulldogs, cocker spaniels, boxers and poodles.
Similar to yogurt but with a less dense texture, kefir is made using all types of milk–cow, goat, rice or coconut. It has a refreshingly tart flavor and contains loads of probiotic bacteria, yeast, vitamins and proteins.
Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Products and Dogs
Some dogs suffer from lactose intolerance after consuming dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance are diarrhea, flatulence, nausea and stomach cramps. Lactose is a sugar found in milk that must be broken apart by an enzyme–lactase–before it can be digested properly. Dogs with enough lactase in their bodies may experience minimal to no signs of lactose intolerance while other exhibit more severe symptoms.
Milk, cheese and yogurt can affect dogs in different ways. For example, dogs lacking the lactase enzyme may become constipated if they eat cheese. Alternately, milk and yogurt are more likely to induce loose stools in lactose intolerant dogs.
For dog owners who want to give their dogs yogurt, they might try feeding them yogurt made from upasteurized, grass-fed milk or supplementing their meals with non-dairy yogurts made from soy or coconut milk.
Be Weary of Probiotic Enhanced Dog Food
Do not fall prey to the marketing of commercial dog food that claim to contain probiotics. Several studies have shown that the dog food did not actually contain the probiotic species listed on the ingredient label or if they did, it was in very low numbers.
Your best bet is to feed your dog food that contain naturally occurring probiotics.
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Disclaimer: the advice and information in this article is not intended to be used as a replacement for professional medical advice from a veterinarian.