Probiotics are oftentimes referred to as good bacteria and can be found in dairy products, probiotic drinks like kombucha, supplements, and more. Probiotics are credited with keeping bacteria in our bodies balanced, enhancing our immunity, and aiding in digestion.
So, do our pets need probiotics? The answer is yes but the sources of probiotics are going to be different for pets than they are for humans because humans, dogs, cats, etc. need different probiotic strains, each meant to benefit different species, well, differently.
If you do a quick Google search, you'll find countless probiotic products for pets. The vast majority of the probiotic supplements that are marketed toward pets are dry probiotics, meaning that they are shelf-stable and do not need to be refrigerated. They are either powdered, in treat form, or part of a pre-made consumable product like kibble or canned food. Always read labels carefully to ensure that you're properly handling probiotics, no matter who they are for or what form they are in. Probiotics are live cells and can easily be damaged if improperly handled.
As pet parents, we have the option to give our pets probiotics daily or as-needed. Following are a few scenarios in which I have successfully used probiotics in caring for my pets:
Because they may or may not have received their mama’s colostrum (they were orphaned at 4 days) and in the effort to counter the effects of an antibiotic that was given to prevent aspiration pneumonia that is common as a result of bottle-feeding, my hand-raised foster kittens have been on a couple different probiotics from a very young age.
While bottle-feeding them, I found a powdered formula that had a probiotic boost. The formula was excellent, and, so long as it was prepared correctly (you have to avoid extreme temperatures when dealing with probiotics,) it added a healthy amount of reinforcement to the babies bellies, helped boost their immunity, which is highly necessary at such a young age, and better prepared them for their eventual transition to canned and dry food.
Now that they have been fully weaned, the kittens are on VetriScience Vetri-Mega Probiotic Digestive Health Dog & Cat Capsules. Each gets a half a capsule sprinkled on their breakfast daily. They don’t even know it’s there but it’s helped them immensely. Before these capsules, the kittens had issues ranging from soft stool to diarrhea with inflammation, obvious from the mucus and blood I spotted in their very messy bowel movements, which was probably caused by the change from formula to cat food but, because they were so young, could have had serious consequences such as dehydration.
If daily supplementation doesn’t work for you – either due to budgetary or time constraints – I highly recommend you have a back-up jar of the above-mentioned capsules in your pet supply drawer for days when your pet’s stool is soft or your pet seems under the weather. Probiotics can only help until you have either gotten the problem under control or sought out veterinary care.
I also highly recommend administering probiotics while your pets are on antibiotics, while traveling, and during stressful situations like weather emergencies. As you probably know, antibiotics kill off all bacteria, not just the bad bacteria. Probiotics help restore the good bacteria and prevent yeast overgrowth that often accompanies antibiotic use. Probiotics also help prevent ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, which oftentimes occur as a result of stress caused by changes in a pets' routine.
When choosing probiotic supplements for your pets, do your research. As with any supplement, you'll want to consider the size of your pet, daily suggested supplementation amounts for his or her weight, and number of probiotic cells delivered in each capsule, serving, or treat. You can’t really overdo probiotics – it would be very expensive to do so – but you can underdo them, limiting the benefits your pets can draw from consuming a probiotic supplement or treat.
As always, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian about what he or she might recommend for your pet based on his or her health, medical history, age, etc. Most veterinarians sell probiotic supplements and are happy to discuss their uses, benefits, etc.