Probiotics For Pets: Why Use Them And Which Ones Are Best

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In recent years, the use of Probiotics has surged in popularity in people trying to “fix” their intestinal issues or improve their health.  And along with the interest and use in Probiotics has been an equal surge in the companies that are making Probiotics.

So what IS a Probiotic and why are we talking about them?  Probiotics are particular live microorganisms that, when given in adequate amounts, may provide a beneficial health effect on the person or pet taking it.  

Perhaps you’ve also heard of Prebiotics.  So what the heck are they ???  Prebiotics are foods (such as apple pectin, bananas, beans, berries, tomatoes, and flaxseed) or supplements that encourage the growth or activity of intestinal microorganisms.  Think of Prebiotics as “fertilizer” for Probiotics.   Synbiotics are products that combine both Probiotics and Prebiotics.

Sadly, the vast majority of Probiotics on the market … for both pets and people … are little more than useless junk.  Period.  Why?  Several reasons …

  1. Probiotics must be stable/strong enough to survive body temperatures of ~100 degrees.
  2. They must be resilient enough to survive strong stomach acids
  3. There must be sufficient numbers of LIVE bacteria that survive #1 and #2 above
  4. And an often overlooked reason:  Because we have so little data and proof of the benefits of particular strains of Probiotics. 

In veterinary medicine, as of early 2022, there are only 5 brands of Probiotics that have PROVEN benefits for dogs and cats.  That’s it.  Five!  For any other products, don’t waste your money.

  1. FortiFlora and FortiFlora SA for Cats (by Purina ProPlan Veterinary Rx)(SA is a Synbiotic = Probiotic + Prebiotic) – Excellent for diarrhea from antibiotic use as well as cats with herpes eye infections 
  2. FortiFlora for Dogs (also by Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Rx) – Excellent for diarrhea as well as pups with Demodex
  3. Calming Care (also by Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Rx) – Excellent for dogs with anxiety, or older dogs with the onset of cognitive/mental decline (may take up to 6 weeks to work – Be Patient!)
  4. Visbiome Vet for Dogs & Cats– Excellent with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
  5. Proviable-DC and Proviable FORTE for Dogs & Cats (by NutraMax) (both versions are a Synbiotic = Probiotic + Prebiotic)

So when should you consider using a Probiotic for your pet?  Most commonly, we use Probiotics with dogs and cats with bowel disorders and diarrhea … dogs and cats that develop diarrhea from the use of antibiotics … diarrhea from stress or travel … cats and kittens with eye infections  … puppies with full-blown Demodex mange infections … kittens and puppies with nasty diarrhea from heavy intestinal parasite infestations.  Calming Care is a fantastic (and unexpected) benefit of a probiotic.

In many of these gastrointestinal situations I just listed, there are other treatments and specific pet diets we will recommend.  Giving Probiotics alone won’t solve the majority of these issues, but when given with other particular foods and medications, Probiotics can be a tremendous boost to a pet’s immunity and can help resolve problems more quickly and effectively.  And stopping diarrhea as quickly as possible is good for everyone!

Certainly, if a pet parent wants to help optimize their pet’s overall health and well-being with Probiotics, that’s absolutely fine too.  I think they can be particularly useful when family members are giving a lot of junky treats or poor-quality food to their pets. 

As more research emerges from the use of the endless strains of bacteria, we’ll find more uses for Probiotics in the pet world.  In the meantime, stick exclusively with 1 of the 5 products I listed, depending on your desired intention. 

And finally, while it won’t hurt to give your pet a Probiotic made for people, there will be very little chance of seeing any benefit whatsoever.  So don’t waste your time and money.  

More Cool Stuff About Intestinal Health …

Much has been studied about the crucial importance of “gut health” and how the bacteria in our intestines have a significant effect on our overall health, including mental health.  Truly.  In people, there is a neurotransmitter known as Serotonin that has a profound effect on our mood, our learning and our memory.  Interestingly, approximately 90% of Serotonin is located in the intestinal tract … not in the brain !  That’s a big reason why the intestinal tract is often referred to in medical circles as the Second Brain.  And that’s also why it’s so vitally important that we keep our intestines healthy, so we can promote the good bacteria in our gut and improve our brain function.

How do we promote healthy bacteria development in the gut ?  Primarily through a healthy diet and lifestyle.  <groan>  I know, I know,  You’re probably tired of hearing that.  But there’s a good reason that you hear it all the time and will continue to hear it:  because it’s absolutely true!

Fixing your diet and getting off the sofa or out of your computer or gaming chair is always an excellent remedy for brain fog, gastric upset, constipation, weight management, and on and on and on. 

Btw, while I do not know if most of the serotonin production in dogs takes place in the gut, I tend to believe that it’s likely just as true in pets as it is in people.

My Shameless Public Service Announcement …

Just an FYI, the 2 brands of HUMAN products for HUMANS (NOT FOR PETS !!!) that I have researched and can recommend are JustThrive and Seed.  They cost more than the junk you find online or at pharmacies because, well, they actually do what they say they do … and they have the data to support all their claims. (Btw, don’t pay full price if you try them.  There are ALWAYS promo codes available.)

If you feel committed to using another brand of Probiotic, I strongly advise that you call the company (find it on the product label) and CALL them!  Ask for any PUBLISHED material that supports their claims for that particular product.  I’m not interested in data for the particular strain of bacteria that shows up in their product ~ I want to see data that proves a health benefit for THAT PRODUCT!  Remember that a probiotic must survive the body temperature and acid in the stomach and still have enough organisms to provide a proven health benefit.  Very few products will pass all these tests.