Your dog’s body needs to be able to protect itself from harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms. Your dog’s digestive (GI) tract has some unique ways to protect the dog from infections and to keep your dog healthy. (GI) tract is the place to start since it’s a critical component of their immune health.

So how do you keep your dog’s digestive tract barrier in top shape? Good bacteria (gut flora) and secretions in the GI tract help protect the digestive tract and allow it to function properly, keep your dog healthy and minimize harmful organisms’ that support GI health.

There are billions of microorganisms (bacteria and yeast, both good and bad) living in your dog’s digestive system. This grouping is called the microbiome. When it is in balance, it provides many benefits to your dog’s body, including:

  • Digestion of food
  • Protection against harmful invaders or organisms
  • Production of nutrients and vitamins
  • Enhancement of the immune system

What are Prebiotics?

Many people are confused about the difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics serves as a “food source” for healthy GI flora while probiotics are the actual organisms. Prebiotics are fibers that pass through the digestive tract. They’re a source of food for the healthy flora of the intestines. Keep in mind, not all fibers work as prebiotics.

Different food sources can be a source of prebiotics for your dog. It includes ingredients that contain soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that can be broken down by the GI tract and serve as a food source. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains can be sources of this type of fiber. Many pet food manufactures will add prebiotic ingredients to your pet’s food. Ask your veterinarian which companies have good prebiotic food sources.

Feeding a diet that contains many prebiotics will help make sure their healthy GI flora has a food source and thrives. If your dog has an illness or condition where some of their healthy GI flora is damaged, you may need to give a probiotic. Often, prebiotics and probiotics are used together.

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What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are nutritional supplements consisting of live beneficial microorganisms that, when given in sufficient amounts, help keep the microbiome balanced. Beneficial microorganisms include:

  • Lactobacillus species
  • Bifidobacterium species
  • Enterococcus species
  • Bacillus species
  • Streptococcus thermophilus

What are Probiotics Used for in Dogs?

When your dog’s microbiome is thrown into disorder due to different factors, probiotic supplements help support and re-establish the normal population. Things like medication, changes in diet, illness, and stress can harm the microbiome. Making sure dog has healthy GI flora will insure your dog’s overall health.

When are Prebiotics and Probiotics Necessary for Dogs?

The benefits of a healthy microbiome go beyond just the immune system. It has been found to benefit your dog’s mood, energy levels, and possibly joint stability. As more studies involving prebiotics and probiotics are conducted, the full extent of their benefits will be revealed.

Besides prebiotics being needed as a food source for probiotics, they are beneficial at other times when your dog may be experiencing health issues. Here are a few examples:

  • Gastrointestinal issues. They can aid in digestion and the overall health of the entire digestive tract. By supporting the probiotic balance, they help maintain and improve overall gut health.
  • Poor nutrient absorption. They impact the pH of the intestines as well as influence the microbiome. This combination results in better nutrient absorption and utilization.
  • Endocrine (hormonal) disorders: Different endocrine diseases such as diabetes can cause changes in the microbiome and lead to even more health issues.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as some antibiotics, could alter your dog's normal microbiome.

When in balance, the microbiome enhances your dog’s overall health. There are instances when this microbiome is unbalanced, and supplementation with probiotics is necessary.

  • Gastrointestinal issues. Probiotics impact the gastrointestinal system in many ways, including helping with digestion, absorption of nutrients, synthesis of vitamins and enzymes, improvement of stool quality, prevention of overgrowth of harmful pathogens, and more. Therefore, any issues that impact the GI tract can benefit from probiotics.
  • Dental issues. Probiotics may help balance the microbiome of the mouth. This helps maintain healthy teeth and gums and potentially prevent certain oral issues. They have also been found to aid in the prevention of bad breath.
  • Challenged immune system. The digestive tract affects the immune system since the bulk of immune cells (70% to 80%) are present there1. Probiotics are essential in providing powerful immune-boosting benefits when anything challenges the immune system.
  • Ear infections, skin issues, and allergies. Supporting the GI Microbiome may help with skin issues.

Tips for Using Prebiotics and Probiotics for Dogs

  • Always speak to your veterinarian before adding food with prebiotics or giving a probiotic.
  • To guarantee their efficiency and safety, only use high-quality, pet-specific products. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend ones with good efficacy.
  • Be sure to store them per the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label.
  • They should be given with a meal and come in different forms to suit your pet’s preferences (capsules, powder, chewable tablets, or liquid).
  • To get the maximum beneficial effects from the probiotics, it is best to use them with prebiotics.
  • Their effects and benefits may be reduced when given at the same time as antibiotics or antifungals.


Heather Berst, MA, VMD

Dr. Berst is the Above Brand Medical Lead with Zoetis. In this role she serves as the medical partner for both the veterinary and consumer marketing teams.

Heather has been involved with both the state and national veterinary organizations. She was editor of the quarterly PVMA magazine and was the delegate for Pennsylvania for the AVMA House of Delegates. She was on the Penn Vet Alumni Board and was a board member for the Collaborative Care Coalition.

Heather holds a veterinary degree from University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and in April 2018 she completed a master’s degree in Health Communications from Southern New Hampshire University. Before joining industry, Heather was a veterinarian in small animal private practice, and she continues to do relief work in practice.

She currently resides in Asheville, NC with her husband Rich and rescue Chinese Crested dog, Dottie. She also has a horse she shows in the jumpers, Elroy.

  1. Your Dog’s Microbiome. Animal Wellness Magazine. Accessed August 19, 2022.