Prebiotics and probiotics for dogs This article is verified by a vet

Dog with overflowing dry dog food in bowl

Does your dog have digestion problems and isn't eating? Prebiotics and probiotics can help.

What are prebiotics and probiotics?

Prebiotics and probiotics (Latin: bios = life) are special food supplements for dogs. They can support your dog with digestive disorders or intestinal diseases. In short, they have a positive influence on the large intestine. However, how this happens depends on the type of substance:

Prebiotics for dogs – indigestible substances

Prebiotics are by definition indigestible substances like carbohydrates (e.g. lactulose or fructooligosaccharides). They lead to bacterial intestinal flora (also known as microbiomes) having sufficient food and thriving better. Strengthened intestinal bacteria support the large intestine in particular and encourage health.

Prebiotics for dogs can only be fed in the form of high-quality dry food or wet food. Prebiotic vegetables like carrots, chicory roots or artichokes are particularly common. Psyllium, Jerusalem artichoke and apples are also proven to support the intestinal flora.

Probiotics for dogs – living microorganisms

In contrast to prebiotics, probiotics for dogs are living microorganisms. If a dog consumes bacteria as a food supplement in its food, it rebalances the intestinal flora and helps with digestion.

Check out our selection of food for healthy dog stomachs and digestion.

The combination of prebiotics and probiotics is called synbiotics. They combine the positive features of the different substances on an animal's intestinal health. It often makes sense to use this combination, as the active ingredients usually complement each other.

What functions does a healthy intestinal flora have?

Normally, there are numerous bacteria like Enterobacteriaceae (e.g. Escherichia coli) found in the almost ten-metre long canine intestine that are very important for your dog’s intestinal health.

Amongst other things, the intestinal bacteria belonging to the intestinal flora carry out the following functions:

  • They are an important part of the immune system and fight pathogenic germs.
  • They form important vitamins (e.g. vitamin B2, B12, K) during their work, which the intestine can absorb through its mucous membrane.
  • They split indigestible food particles like fibres and short-chain fatty acids.
  • They achieve their desired effect by metabolising certain medications.
  • Some bacteria can make carcinogenic and toxic substances ineffective.

The intestinal flora can die if the intestine is damaged. This leads to the large intestine no longer functioning as usual. Affected dogs often suffer from diarrhoea and nausea. They also lose their appetite and gradually emaciate.

Healthy gut bacteria
Intestinal flora: healthy bacteria in the large intestine.

When is it sensible to use prebiotics or probiotics with dogs?

If your dog’s intestinal flora is impaired due to digestive disorders or intestinal diseases, you can strengthen your dog’s intestinal bacteria with the help of prebiotics and probiotics:

If your dog is suffering from diarrhoea or flatulence, you can give it the supporting substances in its food. Vets often also recommend substances that support the intestine if dogs need to take antibiotics for several days due to bacterial illnesses.

Since antimicrobial medication doesn’t just kill pathogenic bacteria, the intestinal bacteria that are part of the intestinal flora are preventively protected by probiotic or prebiotic agents.

In general, however, you should make sure that food additives like prebiotics or probiotics for dogs are only used in case of a given event. If your dog is suffering from a severe digestive disorder, it is also advisable to first get it checked over by a vet.

How long must prebiotics and probiotics be administered to dogs?

The administration time depends on the underlying cause:

If your dog’s faeces have suddenly hardened or your dog has diarrhoea, it’s often enough to only apply the additives to your dog’s food for a few days to two weeks.

However, if your dog is suffering from a serious intestinal disease (e.g. inflammatory bowel disease, IBD), you should give it prebiotics or probiotics for several weeks. If you have more questions, you can discuss them with your vet in advance.

Are side effects possible?

Since probiotics are live intestinal bacteria, adding them to food is generally harmless. At most, an overdose leads to the excess bacteria dying.

In contrast, prebiotics for dogs should only be given with caution, because pathogenic bacteria can also feed off carbohydrates. The intestinal flora are further weakened if they are deprived of food.

Franziska G., Veterinarian
Profilbild von Tierärztin Franziska Gütgeman mit Hund

At the Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen I was extensively trained as a veterinarian and was able to gain experience in various fields such as small animal, large animal and exotic animal medicine as well as pharmacology, pathology and food hygiene. Since then, I have been working not only as a veterinary author, but also on my scientifically driven dissertation. My goal is to better protect animals from pathogenic bacterial organisms in the future. Besides my veterinary knowledge, I also share my own experiences as a happy dog owner and can thus understand and enlighten fears and problems as well as other important questions about animal health.

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