Probiotics for dogs are being talked about more frequently ever since more and more people started taking probiotics in their own efforts to improve gut health. But are canine probiotics a fad, a scam or can they really improve your dog's well-being?
A few months ago, one of my dogs was sick. He was sick the next day and even the next. He wasn’t ill, but he kept being sick.
He had acid reflux.
I started to look at ways we could help him. He’s always had a sensitive stomach and the slightest ‘new’ food is thoroughly investigated. If he were a human, I swear he’d be a food critic because each morsel of food is rolled around before he debates whether to eat or not.
Because he does have sensitivities to food and a list of things that he can’t/won’t eat which is longer than the list of things he can/will eat, I knew my options were limited as to how to approach and try something new to help him.
So I decided to approach the problem as if I were solving for myself. I knew I'd try to work out if I was missing out on something I could replace with supplements so that’s what I did with Christopher.
Probiotics have become a part of everyday life for many dog owners, but at this point, I had never really had a need to use long term for any of my dogs. Mia, my oldest Rottweiler had taken some for a short while as she battled cancer and took to them very well.
Like us, our dog’s bodies are full of billions of friendly microorganisms (bacteria and yeasts) and their role is to help us digest food, create nutrients and vitamins and reinforce our immune system.
With the help of Richard Lewis at The Petcare Factory, here’s what I discovered about probiotics for dogs on my journey to help Christopher.
1. Probiotics do more than you think for your dog’s overall health
Humans have used probiotics for several years now and they're becoming increasingly popular in tackling many disorders common in dogs.
There are many types of naturally occurring bacteria found in the digestive system. Richard tells us some are classed as beneficial, or good bacteria, and not only help with digestion, produce vitamins and minerals, but also break down viruses and other pathogens that can cause disease.
He says, "They line the digestive tract to protect it from parasites, toxins from food, chemicals and other damaging substances. Furthermore, in the digestive system, some of the bacteria are classed as harmful and these may leave the body susceptible to many types of diseases and other adverse conditions.
"In a healthy system, the body limits the number of harmful bacteria populating the gut and encourages the growth and spread of friendly bacteria. However, there are many conditions and situations which can compromise this delicate balance, leading to an excess of harmful bacteria; this imbalance is called dysbiosis."
Because of their growing popularity with people, it has been known for some time how probiotics help with the immune system, gastrointestinal issues and allergies, but as more and more research is done, other potential benefits of these types of supplements are being discovered.
Richard explains some of the scientific studies going on to find out more about additional ways probiotics work.
He says, "There's evidence and ongoing exploration into the benefits related to urinary health, chronic fatigue, arthritis, thyroid imbalances, atopic diseases, oral health, anxiety, obesity - it is an ever-increasing list. Although much of the research has been specifically related to human health, it is not unreasonable to assume that it will not provide similar health benefits to our pets."
2. Acid reflux in dogs can be solved by probiotics, but they can also help with digestive problems, such as IBS
Dogs can suffer a large range of intestinal disorders that we often recognise first and foremost as human conditions. We asked Richard to explain some of the more common ones, such as IBS and how probiotics might help dogs who suffer.
He says, "I often receive emails asking about how our probiotic product can help treat or control their pet’s digestive conditions. These include conditions such as sensitive stomachs, IBS, food allergies, yeast infections, skin problems, together with numerous other complaints."
Christopher’s acid reflux was solved by probiotics and because they made his reactions to food more stable, we were then able to change his diet which improved his digestive system (and all that entails) even more.
But Richard tells us there are several possible symptoms which a dog might display, some more subtle than Christopher’s, that mean dogs could benefit from the supplement too.
He says, "Dogs which have bad diarrhoea, possibly alternating with constipation, constant loose stools, or frequent sickness after eating certain kinds of food show indications of a condition which may benefit from probiotics.
"In the first instance, for a dog displaying any abnormal symptoms, I always recommend that you take them to the vets in order to get an accurate diagnosis of the issue. All of the symptoms mentioned above can be a sign of an intestinal problem and probiotics may help your dog, but they are also many other things that could be wrong.
"It is quite common for dogs not to display any physical signs which can be easily picked up on, or only show symptoms which are less obvious. Some of these signs include constant itching and scratching, dry and flaky skin, reoccurring ear infections, the presence of undigested food in the dog's stool, bad breath, foul body smell, excess intestinal gas and bloating. Again, many of these conditions could have several other causes so you should always consult with a vet in the first instance."
3. Look at your dog's overall lifestyle & decide if it could be affecting your dog's health
For Christopher, our first port of call was to introduce supplements to his diet which at the time was predominantly raw. His limited palette meant we couldn't introduce as much variety as we wanted though so we were stuck. Luckily for us, he reacted well – and quickly, so we were able to make small changes to his diet gradually.
Richard told us that unless there is an underlying condition or reason (caused by taking medicines, for example) for the low colonisation of beneficial bacteria then small adjustments to a dog’s diet or lifestyle can sometimes easily solve any issues.
"If their condition is due to diet or lifestyle, these may sometimes be addressed by relatively small adjustments. Diet plays a significant role in not only the population of bacteria in the digestive system but also with the actual strains of bacteria which are present. Poor diets result in low microbial diversity and lack particular strains such as bifidobacteria, which are an important part of a healthy microbiome.
"They also contain starchy carbohydrates which act as a food source for pathogenic bacteria and yeast that effects the concentration of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Some lower quality foods are additionally heavily loaded with chemicals from the additives used. Research has shown that the gut is surprisingly responsive to even subtle changes in diet, so after only a short time it is possible to achieve a healthy, balanced environment within the digestive system."
4. Read pet food labels & avoid starchy foods
Even with a healthy dog, it is easy to disrupt the natural healthy balance of bacteria in the intestinal tract, Richard tells us.
"Diet can play a big part in digestive health so it is important to feed your dogs the right kinds of food. It is believed that a diet which is largely based on a limited range of highly processed foods, rather than a healthy, balanced one, can significantly reduce the population of good bacteria in the gut."
Learning what to look for, or avoid, in pet food labels can be hugely useful for this and many other reasons. Here are a few things to avoid.
"Many modern dog foods contain large quantities of preservatives, colourants, artificial flavours, emulsifiers and texturants.
"These are all chemical based additives use to make the food last longer and more appealing, in terms of both look and taste. In addition to these, the lower quality foods usually contain high levels of salt, fats and sugars. Some kinds of preservatives, behave in a similar way to antibiotics and work by either inhibiting the activity or killing off bacteria in the food. Once ingested, however, these don't automatically stop acting as preservatives and can destroy the bacteria in the dog's digestive system. Giving a dog excessive scraps of food and constant changes to their diet can also be the cause of intestinal issues.
"Although it is sometimes difficult to decipher what is in a dog food by looking at the label, it is best to try and avoid starchy, carbohydrate-laden foods, and ones which seem to have excessive preservatives, colourants and artificial flavours. It is worth doing a bit of research and there are a couple of websites which look at the contents of pet foods and rate them based on their nutritional value," Richard tells us.
"Lifestyle can play its role in reducing the levels of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, especially when they don't get the exercise they need, or they are constantly put under a stressful condition which causes anxiety. This affects the movement and contractions in the gastrointestinal tract which can cause inflammation, and make the dog more susceptible to infection."
5. Prescription medicines can affect a dog’s intestinal health
Have you ever given your dog medicine to solve one problem to discover another created by the medicine? It can be a real balancing act sometimes to get, and keep our dogs healthy, can’t it.
One of the biggest things which can have a negative effect on intestinal health is some of the more commonly prescribed medications. We asked Richard to explain more.
"Although these are necessary and useful at what they are designed to do, they can have a dramatic effect on the level of beneficial bacteria in the body.
"Medications such antibiotics, steroids and some types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can all kill off good bacteria, which can lead to other consequences. For example, a dog's which finishes a cause of antibiotics is often open to some secondary infection since the there is an insufficient level of beneficial bacteria to help prevent infection.
"Additionally, dogs are natural scavengers, and will often find and eat the unhealthiest of things whilst out on their walks which make them more prone to all types of illness."
6. How probiotics for dogs are made is key to how well they work
To understand even more about how probiotics actually work, we wanted to learn how they’re made and the importance of ingredients. Richard explained to us how their supplement is made to help us understand how the live bacteria remains effective when put into a supplement.
"Making a new supplement is a fine balance between getting the best ingredients to create a highly effective product and making something which is affordable to the customer. We looked at the type of products which have been effective in the past and examined the latest research to see what this revealed.
"There is a great discrepancy between the different brands of probiotic available, and the true measurement of the effectiveness of a supplement equates to the number of beneficial bacteria which reach the intestines, where they can then grow and multiply. The main potential barrier in dogs which can affect this number is the stomach.
"Since dogs are carnivores, their digestive system is more suited to dealing with protein from meat sources. When a dog eats, they secrete hydrochloric acid in their stomach and this creates a highly acidic environment so that meat and bone material can be more easily digested.
"It is also meant to kill off any harmful bacteria which could be present in the meat to help protect against disease. Obviously if you have probiotic containing beneficial bacteria, these are also susceptible to the acidic environment, thereby potentially reducing their potency."
Richard continued, "This was an important consideration when looking at introducing a probiotic to the market because we wanted to maximise the effectiveness of the product by making sure as many live bacteria as possible reached their final destination, both after long-term storage and during its passage through the dog's body. This was achieved in several ways.
- First of all, the supplement was produced in tablet form. With this kind of medium, the beneficial bacteria used are present in a suspended state and remain as such until reaching the moist conditions of the intestines, where they are then reactivated and are then free to grow and multiply.
- The bacteria come from a source where it is coated in a cryoprotectant (usually some form of sugar which protects the cells from the sudden freezing) and then freeze dried immediately after incubation. This protects the micro-organisms from harsh temperatures, moisture and oxygen, both before and after manufacture.
- It's important that the conditions are such that the probiotics can thrive because the lifetime of some bacteria can be relatively short, once in the intestines.
- The product additionally contains a prebiotic, a substance present which induces the growth and activity of the micro-organisms. It is in effect a food source for the beneficial bacteria present in the supplement and offers protection to the bacteria from environmental conditions.
"Another advantage of the product comes from the presence of several digestive enzymes. These help to break down different food types, usually ones which are difficult to digest, by dogs, increasing the nutrients which are available for absorption and utilisation. The digestive enzymes also help shield the bacteria from the harsh conditions of the stomach and allow them to make their way into the gut.
"Different strains of bacteria can work in different ways and have properties which are more suited at performing certain roles. We have used a selection of five strains of beneficial bacteria which we believe collectively offer a comprehensive range of benefits which can help to combat multiple conditions. Advanced Probiotic Plus is a multifunctional product to give a good all round performance.
"For some conditions, once balance within the digestive system is achieved, we recommend trying to reduce the dose of probiotics taken. It is about providing what is necessary for helping the body to be able to deal with issues itself. Advanced Probiotic Plus is there to give the helping hand to restore the balance, and for some dogs, they may not need to always take the full dose indefinitely."
Thanks for helping us to understand a little more about probiotics for dogs. To help us put a face to the name we'd love to ask you some quick fire questions, are you up for it?
Q. It's obvious a lot of care and attention goes into what you do, tell us about the dogs who inspired your ethos.
In 1998, Arran and Indy joined our family, two boisterous Springer Spaniels who lived to the ages of 13 and 16 respectively. In the later years of their lives, both developed difficulties with walking and at the time we weren’t given too many options other than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which did not always agree with them and tended to make them feel unwell.
Both our dogs experienced similar issues to what many of our customers’ pets face on a daily basis. Afterwards, we began to think about what other options there were and how prevalent this was in pets. Arran and Indy had their challenges later in life, but we were astonished to see how many dogs, who were very much younger, were diagnosed with joint issues such as hip/elbow dysplasia and arthritis. This led to us launching our first product, Advanced Joint Support, which was a joint supplement loaded with ingredients designed to help a dog suffering from these debilitating joint issues. It was also designed to use as a preventative measure for high-risk dogs, as these can help with protecting the joints when they are at their most physically active.
The Petcare Factory ethos is to provide effective products using natural ingredients for canine and feline health issues, that are at an affordable price. The questions we always ask ourselves when considering a product are: what problem are we trying to solve and how can this benefit the animal?
We are animal lovers first and a business second, we hope this comes through when we are interacting with our customers. We are genuinely interested in their pets and love to hear stories of how our products are making a difference.
As a small family run business, we know how important pets are to their owners and they also become important to us.
Q. What three words sums up the ethos of The Petcare Factory?
Ethical, effective, value.
Q. Is your office dog friendly?
Yes, I think every office would benefit from being dog friendly. It promotes a healthier lifestyle at work; you’re not tied to your desk for 8 hours, since you have to get up and take them out for walks, throughout the day, and they will always want to play.
There is also the emotional side, dogs bring such joy so it’s always nice to have them close by.
It sounds like you're an avid fan of the concept, can you share any particular stories?
You’ll need to come back to me in a few months with regards to funny stories having dogs at work. We are looking at getting a couple of dogs very soon…maybe with having two young pups in the office, there won’t be that much work getting done.
Q. Describe a typical working day for you, how does it begin?
Customer service is a high priority for The Petcare Factory so the day begins with dealing with any emails from customers and answering any queries. As an e-commerce business, people are ordering throughout the night and early in the morning, and our aim is to respond to any questions within hours, not days. The day continues with monitoring stock levels, dealing with Amazon, advertising and continual research into new products. I am also currently writing an e-book, which is in relation to canine joint issues.
At The Petcare Factory, we provide products for several pet issues so we also want to help and educate owners in a way that is engaging and useful.
Q. What three items do you never leave home without?
Laptop, phone, music.
Q. Finish the following sentences:
My dogs are…English Springer Spaniels. I’ve had a Springer for much of my life, I just love their energy, character and fun they bring.
For the past few years, there hasn’t been a dog in our home and it feels sort of empty, however, we’ll be welcoming two Springer pups around the end of May. We have been putting this off for a while as we have been working flat out with getting the company up and running, but we feel we can now devote the time required to give them our full attention. I’m not so sure what Rusty, our cat is going to think of this intrusion, but he has been around dogs before and I’m sure he will show them who the boss is. We’ll hopefully be posting regular photos/videos on our Facebook page once they arrive to share the fun.
My business is…rewarding. There is nothing better than to hear from customers who tell us about the positive impact our products have on their dogs. For us, the priority is improving the dog’s quality of life, so when they tell us they can see a vast improvement in their health and well-being, that’s what it’s all about.
Q. Finally, what’s next for The Petcare Factory?
The Petcare Factory is always looking to continue to develop and grow, We’re wanting to have a greater reach both within the UK and Europe. To do this we are looking at moving to additional e-commerce platforms to make the products more accessible, whilst at the same time keeping the costs down, making them affordable for everyone. I am currently working on selling our products directly from our website, which I hope to put live in the next month or two.
We’re also working on another couple of new products which we’re aiming to release during 2017. This is always an exciting time, although a lot of work.
One of the things we started to do early on, was to make a donation from each sale to a charity. We are avid supporters of Dogs Trust but we are also wanting to support smaller, local charities who do brilliant work at helping animals, but who do not always get the funding they need. Our success means we can continue to help these charities and others which need help.
And of course, we’re going to have our hands full with two young pups; it’s been a long time since we had energetic and lively dogs around so they’ll be keeping us on our toes!