Probiotics are an important part of a healthy diet for humans and dogs alike. Unfortunately, many people don't realize how much better their health can be when they incorporate probiotics into their diets and lifestyles.
Probiotics can help with digestive issues, allergies, and even your dog’s behavior (Think: Dog food for brain health).
In this article, we will discuss how probiotics affect dog behavior and why a healthy gut is so important to your pet's overall well-being.
The Dog’s Digestive System
Dogs have a complex digestive system. They process food differently than we do, and they rely on healthy gut bacteria to help them digest it. This can include things like fatty acids, proteins, and vitamins that are essential for their health.
If you've ever taken a probiotic or had one prescribed to you by your doctor, you know how they affect your overall well-being. They increase the good bacteria in your body while reducing the bad (or pathogenic) ones.
The same thing happens in dogs, only on a much larger scale. In fact, studies have found that when dogs were given probiotics after being exposed to high doses of antibiotics (which kill off good bacteria), their symptoms improved significantly compared with those who weren't given any probiotics at all.
The Role of the Microbiome in Dog Gut Health
The gut microbiome is the population of microbes in our digestive tract. The canine gut microbiome is complex and dynamic, and it plays an important role in your dog’s health.
It’s composed of hundreds or even thousands of species that inhabit their bodies, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. All of these different types are collectively referred to as the gut microbiota or gut flora.
The gut microbiota is a key component of your dog’s immune system. It helps your dog (and you) fight off infections by producing compounds called antibodies. As such, it can be considered an organ in itself and is often referred to as “the forgotten organ.”
In fact, some scientists consider it as important as the brain or lungs when it comes to overall health because it influences so many other systems throughout your dog's body.
The gut microbiome has been shown to affect numerous aspects of behavior, including depression, anxiety levels, food cravings, sleep patterns, pain perception, and inflammation response.
Symptoms of Bad Gut Bacteria in Dogs
If you're worried about your dog's gut health, there are several ways to tell if your dog has an abnormal gut microbiome.
In general, dogs with healthier guts will have a better appetite and shed less hair than those who are struggling with bacterial imbalances. They'll also be more playful and active than their lethargic counterparts. Some warning signs of unhealthy gut flora include:
- Vomiting or regurgitating food after eating
- Diarrhea that lasts for more than 24 hours (especially if accompanied by blood) or stool that contains mucus
- Abdominal pain and stiffness
- Lethargy or depression (when not resting)
- Weight loss or decreased appetite (generally indicates a systemic problem rather than just a digestive issue)
- Hotspots or areas of fur missing
- Chronic allergies
Offering Probiotics to Improve Gut Health
When your dog eats food, it goes through their digestive tract. The food is broken down by enzymes and bacteria to create nutrients for your dog's body to use. If there isn't enough good bacteria in your dog's digestive tract, then this process will not happen properly.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your dog's digestive tract. They help keep their gut healthy and have been shown to improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Probiotics are found naturally in some foods, such as yogurt and kefir, but they can also be supplemented through a daily supplement like Daily Dog.
If you notice that your dog is experiencing symptoms of poor gut health, probiotics may help improve their gut health by increasing the number of good bacteria in their intestines, and balancing the good with the bad bacteria. A proper balance is essential to your dog’s overall health and well-being.
Probiotics also improve gut health by:
- Helping your dog digest food properly by improving their gut flora composition
- Reducing inflammation in the gut and preventing oxidative stress on the walls of the intestines through antioxidant activity
- Preventing pathogenic bacteria from invading healthy cells by inhibiting their growth
- Reducing your dog’s risk of cancer development
How Probiotics Impact Dog Behavior
Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria that helps support our dog’s (and our own) digestive system. The term "probiotic" was first coined by the Russian Nobel Prize winner Elie Metchnikoff around 1900, who discovered that lactic acid-producing bacteria in yogurt could prevent colon cancer.
Current research suggests that probiotics may also have an impact on behavior, and there is emerging evidence showing positive effects on mental health as well as physical health.
The digestive tract of your dog is home to millions of different bacteria, all of which are vital to their overall health. These microorganisms are beneficial to the digestive process, the absorption of nutrients, and mental wellness. In addition, they play an important part in the control of both stress and weight.
Probiotics have been shown to positively affect a dog's behavior by affecting their gut and brain connection. Dogs with anxiety, fear, and other behavioral issues often have compromised immune systems and weakened intestinal flora, making them more susceptible to infections, stress, and anxiety.
Ingesting probiotics can help improve these conditions by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which helps strengthen the immune system and aid in digestion. This can result in better overall health, which ultimately improves your dog's behavior.
In addition to strengthening immunity, research has also shown that probiotics may be able to reduce symptoms of anxiety by helping with GABA production (a neurotransmitter in the brain). This helps calm anxious dogs, so they are less likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors such as barking or growling at other dogs or humans.
Testing Your Dog’s Gut Microbiome
Dogs can get their feces tested to determine the state of their gut microbiome. An imbalance, which is also known as dysbiosis, plays a contributing role in a wide variety of gastrointestinal ailments like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as well as systemic body problems like allergies.
If your dog's gut bacteria is unbalanced when analyzed, you will want to determine what dog foods to incorporate into the diet, and how the deficiency affects your dog with your veterinarian or nutritionist.
If there is a major deficit, a veterinarian may recommend a procedure known as a fecal implant. A fecal transplant treatment has tremendous therapeutic potential for repopulating the animal's gut with beneficial microorganisms, which will replenish their good gut flora, restore gut function, and boost their immune health.
Begin a Probiotic Regimen
The connection between balanced gut flora and behavioral problems in dogs will continue to be explored by scientists, but research has shown a correlation between the two. Feeding your dog a daily probiotic supplement is an easy, inexpensive way to invest in his gut health, and it's certainly necessary if your dog is experiencing behavioral problems like aggression or anxiety.
Even if your dog does not suffer from these behavioral issues, balanced gut health will lead to a stronger immune system, improved digestion, and better overall health.
Gut Microbiome of Healthy and Arthritic Dogs
The Gut Microbiome-Immune System-Brain Axis
Analysis of the gut microbiome in dogs and cats
The gut microbiome correlates with conspecific aggression in a small population of rescued dogs
Sample of rescued dogs shows link between gut microbiome and aggressiveness
The canine gut microbiome: effects on mental well-being and physical health
The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease