The Guide to Probiotics for Puppies
by Tudor Nikolas on Sep 22, 2023.
Most of us have at some point felt that joy of bringing a new puppy into your home. These furry bundles of unlimited energy and cuteness gradually become an integral part of our families.
Their health becomes our priority and responsibility, especially as they start going out more and eating anything they can find. In addition to being selective with the puppy food we feed them, we also have the option of adding select superfoods and supplements to their diet.
One of these types of food toppers that can be very beneficial even for young puppies is the probiotics. While their use in adult and senior dogs has skyrocketed in the last 5 years, puppies are often not given any supplements at their young ages.
The organism of a puppy is in a constant state of growth and development. Successful adaptation to the new environment is thus critical to their upbringing. Playing outside more, eating new foods and licking everything puts their digestive and immune system to the test.
Probiotics for Puppies: Are they safe?
To answer this question we need to understand what probiotics actually are.
In a brief summary, probiotics are live microorganisms that confer health benefits to the host when consumed in the recommended amounts. You can read more about the role of probiotics here, as we have covered this in a previous article.
Some people refer to them as "good" or "friendly" bacteria.
You might have seen those TV ads for Actimel or Benecol for example which advertise yogurts with probiotics for humans.
The concept of probiotics in dogs and puppies stays the same. What's different is the type, or the strain of friendly bacteria.
Probiotics such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus velezensis have been widely studied in animals and deemed safe.
The best probiotic strains for puppies and dogs
Studies conducted even decades ago show the benefits of probiotics in dogs are not to be ignored. The most useful strains in my opinion are also the most studied. This is where most of our data comes from. Afterall, why would we give to dogs a probiotic strain that hasn't been studied on animals before?
As a big science geek, I am a strong supporter of only ingesting nutrients and foods that have some kind of scientific backing.
This is even more important in puppies, as their digestive system has not yet fully matured. This immaturity makes them more vulnerable to imbalances. A puppy's gut flora can be more easily disrupted as they try out everything in the environment.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or Brewer's Yeast is a fermentation product that is also rich in probiotics. A recent study from 2022 clearly claimed that:
This probiotic yeast can significantly protect the normal microbiota [...] and inhibit the pathogenicity of different diarrheal infections.
This has also been studied in animals. The findings showed that S. cerevisiae can stick to the gastric and intestinal linings of the mucosa and subsequently prevail in the GI tract of both animals and humans!
With no detrimental effects or harmful side effects, probiotics with Brewer's Yeast should be suitable for puppies as well.
Bacillus subtilis/ Bacillus velezensis
Bacillus subtilis, also known as Bacillus velezensis has been used for over 30 years in livestock and for over 10 years as a feed additive to animals in the EU. It was also studied in dogs, fish and avian species.
The conclusion from these studies is that Bacillus velezensis (Calsporin) improves gut health through various different pathways. The overall results were very beneficial.
It is also a highly stable probiotic, which means that it does not get denatured if stored at room temperatures for long periods of time. This is an important factor to consider for probiotics, as pet stores don't tend to keep them refrigerated.
Benefits of the Bacillus velezensis/ Bacillus subtilis probiotic in puppies may include the following:
1) Suppression of atopic dermatitis (source) - this is particularly interesting if your puppy displays signs of allergy. Are they rubbing their back, sneezing or trying to rub their face with the paws?
2) Improvement of digestive health in dogs and puppies (source) - this 2019 study showed a vast improvement on faecal quality and nutrient digestibility in healthy dogs. A healthy gut and improved nutrient absorption is especially important in pups whose bodies demand a rich supply of nutrients.
Bacillus subtilis was also found to reduce ammonia content, which means less smelly poops. All these effects happened after just four weeks of daily probiotic administration, in addition to their normal dog food.
The last point I wanted to add here is that puppies can be even more prone to stomach upset due to introduction of new foods all the time. It is therefore important to introduce new foods gradually, and of course, if you have the means, to also supplement them with probiotics.
3) Decreased stress and anxiety (source) - although the majority of studies on probiotics were done on humans, there have now been over 50 probiotic related studies worldwide done on animals. This is so we can better understand their benefits and potential risks. One of the areas highlighted is the Gut-Brain axis connection.
While not fully understood, it is thought that improving the gut flora with probiotics will also lead to a healthier brain and mental health wellbeing. The study linked above observes this connection and confirms that probiotics may have anxiolytic-like effects on an adult dog or puppy. It was also found that cortisol levels (stress hormone) was reduced in animals who were taking probiotics.
Anxiety and stress in a puppy could lead to diarrhea and other digestive problems. For this reason, probiotics could be very valuable and beneficial even from an early age.
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Puppies should be exposed to both prebiotics and probiotics. These two types work synergistically to amplify the effect of each other. This symbiotic relationship enhances the positive effects on the digestive system, immune system and general well being.
Common prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). Although they are not live organisms, they are non-digestible food ingredients that should not be ignored.
So at what age can I give my dog probiotics and prebiotics?
At pretty much any age. Probiotics, as long as they are made for dogs are usually safe. However, if you have any concerns or are unsure, then please get in touch with your vet.
A trained veterinarian will be able to go through the pros and cons of giving probiotics to your puppy in more detail.
While we're on the topic of probiotics for puppies, don't forget to check some of our other popular dog health guides such as: