Pet owners are a pretty dedicated bunch. From rain boots to doggie toothbrushes, they'll invest in some pretty wacky products for the promise of a healthier, happier pet. But what about vitamins or probiotics?
Ostensibly, if owners rely on these daily remedies for optimal health, it's not so crazy to think that they could work for pets too.
"It depends on the individual, but in average healthy dogs, I'm skeptical that probiotics could make a huge difference in overall health," says Dr. Dana Deperno, a vet at Malibu Coast Animal Hospital. "But in dogs with have a gastrointestinal disease, or animals that aren't getting a balanced diet, probiotics could be useful."
And that's key. Just like in the human body, pets' digestive system is reliant on helpful bacteria flora that live in the gut and intestines. These bacteria break down food, fight disease, and ensure that animals can absorb the nutrients of their food. And while animals have pretty tough stomachs—before domestication, they had to break down all sorts of food sources—a lifelong diet of high carb kibble that's loaded with preservatives and fillers will destroy the natural flora that should flourish in a pet's gut.
Most low quality pet foods are made up of substandard carbohydrate sources, and bacteria feed on carbohydrates, especially the bacteria in the gut. Usually this isn't a bad thing, because animals need good gut bacteria to break up their foods. But if an animal's digestive bacteria is already compromised (if there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria, an imbalance, or just damage to the gut), carbohydrates will feed both the good bacteria and the bad bacteria, essentially exacerbating the issue and causing your pet more problems.
If you're thinking that your beloved furry friend's gut is in the clear because you just switched them over to a diet of high-protein, organic food (good job, Dog Mom or Dad!), you might just be fooling yourself. Even making the switch from big-box dog food that's loaded with preservatives and fillers to an all natural formula can mess with a pup's digestive system.
And for animals that have gone through an antibiotic regimen, rebuilding the natural gut bacteria is a necessity, Dr. Deperno says. Antibiotics do an incredible job of killing microbes in the system, but unfortunately aren't so discriminating and pretty much wipeout all bacteria in the gut.
If this sounds like your pet's current health status, it might be worthwhile to add a probiotic into their daily diet. Pet probiotics work pretty much the same way that human grade probiotics work, except they're formulated for cats and dogs. By containing certain beneficial bacteria species and some nutrition to help that bacteria flourish, probiotics can help balance the gut microbiome in dogs and cats.
Picking up a probiotic is a no-brainer for most of us. The benefits of balancing the gut include better skin and hair, easier digestion, and more energy. The great thing is that probiotics can offer the same benefits to pets too, and a few weeks later you'll likely start to notice differences in your furry friend's energy, digestion, and even the shininess of their coat.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont