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Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Other Gut Health Supplements for Dogs

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A dog holds a chew in their mouth.

With so many gut health supplements for dogs available today, it can be hard to know which one to choose. Here, we’ll explain the different types of digestive supplements, including probiotics for dogs, and when to use them to support your dog’s gut health.

What are gut health supplements for dogs?

Gut health supplements for dogs are designed to support the communities of beneficial microbes, called the gut microbiome, that live in your dog’s gut. These microbes help your dog digest food, support their immune system, and perform other important functions for their health.

When these gut bacteria are disrupted, it can cause distress, such as diarrhea or vomiting. Certain supplements can help restore those microbial communities to a balanced state and provide extra fiber for loose stools.

Gut health supplements for dogs can come in capsule, chew, or powder form.

Types of gut health supplements for dogs

Gut health supplements for dogs are often classified into three main types: probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics. 

  • Probiotics are live microorganisms that are consumed for health benefits. They are considered “good bacteria.”
  • Prebiotics are certain nutrients that beneficial microbes (probiotics) like to eat.
  • Postbiotics are the beneficial chemical compounds that good bacteria (probiotics) leave behind after they eat prebiotics.

In addition to these three types of gut health supplements, we’ll also explain fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) supplements, a unique and emerging therapy for restoring balance in the gut microbiome.

What are probiotics for dogs?

Our understanding of how the gut microbiome is balanced and influences health has grown rapidly in the past few years. Probiotics for dogs can help improve gut health by introducing increased numbers or strains of good bacteria. By supplementing beneficial bacteria, dogs can more easily digest and absorb nutrients. Increasing the number of good bacteria also helps keep populations of harmful bacteria in check.

There is growing evidence that probiotics can improve immune function, urinary tract health, and behavior by promoting a beneficial gut microbial community.

Probiotics for dogs with diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common reason for a dog to be taken to a veterinarian for evaluation. Most acute diarrhea episodes (up to 7 days of loose stool) resolve themselves without treatment, but are uncomfortable for the dog and can be frustrating for pet parents. 

Acute diarrhea in dogs is a recognized cause of dysbiosis (an imbalanced microbiome) and decreased microbial diversity (Candellone, 2020). Probiotics have been shown to increase bacterial diversity and improve mucosal health (White, 2017). Time to normal stool, the persistence of diarrhea, and the need for additional medical intervention can be reduced with probiotic therapy (Shmalberg, 2019; Xu, 2019; Nixon, 2019).

What are prebiotics for dogs?

Prebiotics are nutrients, such as plant-based fiber, that can’t be digested by dogs but can be broken down by the bacteria in their gut.  Prebiotics can change the composition of the gut microbiome by feeding beneficial bacteria and altering the gut pH. 

The gut microbiota ferment and produce short-chain fatty acids that are circulated in the dog’s blood and have systemic health benefits. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) have been shown to increase numbers of the probiotic microbe Bifidobacteria in dogs and help them digest certain minerals (Pinna, 2018). Mannose oligosaccharides (MOS) help with pathogen resistance by preventing pathogenic harmful bacteria from binding to the gut wall. These molecules are also involved in the body’s immune response (Swanson, 2002). 

Bacteriophages (also called phages) are viruses that infect bacteria and have been classified by some researchers as a probiotic and some as a prebiotic. Phages can target specific bacterial populations, such as harmful E. coli, without disrupting the larger gut community. 

What are postbiotics for dogs?

Postbiotics are chemical compounds that bacteria (probiotics) produce when they degrade fiber (prebiotics). These compounds include polyphenols, vitamins, amino acids, and other metabolites. In your dog’s gut, these compounds can have several health benefits.

In research studies, dogs fed certain types of fiber demonstrated improved stool quality and higher levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory metabolites in their stool  (Jewell, 2022). One form of postbiotic made from the yeast S. cerevisiae has been shown to have a positive impact on the composition of the fecal microbiota, increase immune system capacity, and decrease inflammation (Lin, 2019).

What is an FMT supplement?

Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) has a long history of clinical use in human and veterinary medicine. An FMT involves taking a fecal sample from a carefully screened individual and infusing it into an individual with a health condition. In November 2022, the FDA approved the first FMT product (Rebyota) for use in humans with recurrent C. difficile infections. 

FMT supplements showed particular promise in a study of puppies infected with parvovirus, where it shortened hospitalization time and resolved diarrhea more quickly (Pereira, 2017). Individual case studies have also shown the benefit of FMT in chronic diarrhea, including a nine-year-old dog with a three-year history of diarrhea that resolved following FMT treatment (Berlanda, 2021). 

Because the gut microbiome interacts with other areas of the body, there is potential for microbiome intervention to affect other types of health conditions in addition to digestive health. Researchers attempted FMT supplement therapy in a small study of dogs suffering from environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis). The severity of dermatitis and itching decreased by day 28 (Ural, 2020). 

This is an exciting and emerging area of healthcare. 

When to give your dog a gut health supplement

While many dogs may benefit from a gut health supplement, we recommend speaking with your veterinarian to discuss your individual dog’s situation. Certain conditions require additional diagnostic tests and therapeutic interventions. Rare but reported side effects of supplements in dogs include temporary changes in appetite, gas, constipation, diarrhea, and nausea.

Compare gut health supplements for dogs

Embark offers several types of gut health supplements for dogs, in partnership with AnimalBiome. These supplements help support the gut microbiome during times of diarrhea or other digestive distress.

The chart below compares the different types of supplements and when to use them. For a real-life example of how these supplements support dog health, read about how Embark customer Liz Burke uses supplements to resolve her dogs’ diarrhea while traveling, and why she recommends them to her clients.

Supplement name Type of supplement Key ingredients What it does When to use it
Gut Maintenance Plus Probiotic + prebiotic Probiotic yeast S. boulardii, prebiotic sugar molecule FOS that feeds good microbes, and prebiotic bacteriophages that target and remove harmful E. coli Provides triple-action diarrhea relief for dogs and reduces time to hard stool from 4 days to 2 days If your dog has occasional or acute diarrhea. This supplement has a long shelf life, so it’s helpful to have on hand in case diarrhea strikes.
Gut Restore Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) Thousands of healthy dog-specific bacteria Restores balance to the gut microbiome If your dog has chronic diarrhea (more than 36 hours) or other chronic digestive or skin issues.
S. boulardii + FOS Powder Probiotic + prebiotic Probiotic yeast S. boulardii + prebiotic sugar molecule FOS that feeds good microbes Reduces diarrhea and supports gut function If your dog has occasional or acute diarrhea, and does not take pills well.
ImmuneShield with EpiCor Chews Postbiotic EpiCor Fermentate, a postbiotic produced by the yeast S. cerevisiae Reduces inflammation and supports your dog’s immune system If your dog needs extra immune support during allergy season or when immunity is compromised (e.g., when traveling or at the dog park). Can be used daily to support immune function.
Gut Cleanse Powder Prebiotic  Prebiotic bacteriophage cocktail that targets and removes harmful E. coli + pumpkin for stool support Reduces unhealthy levels of E. coli in the gut  Only use this supplement if you’ve used the Gut Health Test, and your dog’s test results show an overgrowth of E. coli in the gut.

For more on canine gut health, learn about what to do if your dog has diarrhea and what your dog’s poop can tell you about their health.

Kari Cueva, DVM

Dr. Kari Cueva, DVM, is the Senior Manager of Veterinary Genetics at Embark. She is a 2011 graduate of the University of California, Davis College of Veterinary Medicine. Her research background includes four years in canine genetics with Dr. Mark Neff, and genetics fellowships at Cornell University and the National Institutes of Health. She continues to practice emergency medicine at a local animal hospital.

Read more about Kari Cueva, DVM

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