1). Provide a probiotic in powder or liquid form if possible
The reason for this is that if you use a tablet or capsule you are generally restricting benefits to the deeper parts of the GI tract (the small and large intestines). By supplementing with a powder or liquid you will be benefiting the entire digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. Capsules may of course be opened and the contents emptied onto your animal’s food or placed into a small glass of water for human consumption.
2). Provide a probiotic supplement on an empty stomach
This is because high levels of stomach acid can quickly kill many strains of bacteria. Hydrochloric acid is secreted by glands lining the stomach in response to hormones triggered by the presence of food, so it would only make sense that acid levels are at their highest levels when eating. Provide beneficial bacteria first thing in the morning 30-40 minutes before breakfast, or, one of the best times is, right before bed (placed in a little meat ball of food). Dividing a dosage between morning and evening is optimal, but this depends on your schedule, you have to do the best you can and for most pet parents this means placing all supplements in with the dog or cat food.
3). Probiotic supplements should be refrigerated
Many products are now being marketed as shelf-stable. They are freeze-dried and with such low levels of moisture are placed in a dormant stage. However, there will be more viability of the beneficial bacteria if they are refrigerated. With fresh product on store shelves, just refrigerate it as soon as you get home. There are some really neat fermented probiotic supplements becoming available and these are living and feeding on the food that is suspended along with them in their liquid. These do not have to be refrigerated under normal room temperature conditions. In addition to heat, bacteria are also sensitive to oxygen and moisture so close the container quickly when you are done and make sure your hands are dry when handling.
4). The quality of the product is more important than dosage
Since probiotics are living organisms, not drugs, precise dosages are not as important. It also varies by individual because certain dogs and cats are subjected to different environmental toxins and fed diverse pet foods. A typical daily dosage for a 50lb dog is 1 billion or so live organisms. However, the number of viable organisms varies greatly by product, so this is where quality really counts. You could have a product that promotes 2 billion live organisms compared to another that offers only 1 billion. Yet, the one with the smaller probiotic count on the package may actually have more viable, or living, organisms that enter your pet’s digestive tract.
5. Provide your dog or cat with probiotics when using antibiotics or steroids
This is actually the time when your pet needs a probiotic supplement the most. Antibiotics and steroids destroy the mucous lining of the gut and with it the abundance of beneficial flora. Antibiotics don’t discriminate between good and bad microorganisms, and unfortunately opportunistic organisms, like Candida albicans, will flourish once the antibiotics are discontinued. When using antibiotics, supplement your dog or cat with probiotics at least two hours after the treatment (right before bed is a great time) and when the antibiotic treatment is complete double or triple the probiotic dosage for 7-10 days.
6). When probiotics are first used they can cause discomfort
Experiencing digestive upset with probiotic use is most likely caused by the feeding of poor quality commercial pet food that is hard to break down and digest. Consequently, it moves slowly through the intestines allowing some fecal plaque to adhere to your pet’s intestinal walls. Once it gets a toehold, it thickens over time. Even fairly young animals can experience some blockage as a result of this build up. Probiotics will slowly begin to dissolve the fecal matter, and during this clearing/cleansing process, pathogens and microbes that were covered up with layers of fecal matter will be exposed and can cause episodes of diarrhea or vomiting. Depending on the buildup, it may take a few months before it is completely removed. To help restore your animal’s health and happiness we suggest a healthier, more digestible diet and reducing the dosage of probiotics to a level tolerated by your animal, building back up gradually as your animal begins to feel better. Also, a good fiber supplement with psyllium seeds will help clear away the debris in your dog or cat’s intestinal tract.
7). Supplement with numerous strains of beneficial bacteria
Many commercial brands of probiotics contain one or two strains of bacteria. That is not optimal because different microorganisms bring different benefits to the table and over supplementing with one type can lead to imbalances in the body. The most common strains found in probiotic supplements are Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, and while they may supply a good match for what is found in your pet’s GI tract, there are many other probiotic species that would be beneficial.
8). Not only antibiotics kill beneficial flora
Anything that places stress on the body can reduce levels of friendly bacteria. Common culprits include a diet with low-quality ingredients, NSAIDs, surgery, various medications, acute and chronic diarrhea, chlorinated water, artificial ingredients and preservatives in food, toxins in food and the environment, and stress. What can you do? Feed a high, quality, whole food diet (preferably raw). Filter your pet’s water, that chlorine was put in there to kill microorganisms, and unfortunately, even well water can be contaminated. Avoid the use of pharmaceutical drugs whenever possible. Much of what a vet prescribes antibiotics for can be accomplished with immune system support using herbs such as echinacea or olive leaf and wonderful antimicrobials like a silver hydrosol.
9). Those symptoms your dog or cat has can often be linked to dysbiosis
Dysbiosis is an imbalance between the friendly and unfriendly bacteria in the GI tract and occurs when something damages the beneficial flora allowing opportunistic bacteria to gain a foothold. This imbalance where undesirable bacteria begin to flourish plays a role in many of the chronic disorders we see today. Symptoms in your dog or cat can include bad breath, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas, foul smelling stool, allergies, autoimmune disease, skin conditions; poor vitamin K synthesis which can cause blood clotting problems and low bone density; magnesium deficiencies which can lead to asthma, migraines, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, urinary incontinence and other related disorders; B vitamin deficiencies which can lead to lowered blood pressure, abnormal gait, lowered uric acid levels and lowered hydrochloric acid levels which can lead to malabsorption issues; irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, dairy intolerance and frequent vaginal, yeast, bladder and sinus infections.
10). Fermented foods are a great source or probiotic cultures
Functional foods like kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut can do a world of good for your dog or cat. Unfortunately, what is found in the supermarket are not real examples of these products. Kefir is a food derived from raw goat or cows milk and is rich in beneficial bacteria and yeasts (some yeasts are good!) and is generally made at home using kefir grains. Yogurt is another superfood derived from milk, however, most of the products found in the supermarket don’t resemble the real thing. Most yogurt nowadays is processed and then freeze dried cultures are added before packaging. Shelf life and taste is the real important thing here, so sugars predominate and the amount and variety of probiotic cultures provides little benefit. Sauerkraut can be a functional food powerhouse, however, the mass produced varieties are made with vinegar, again for shelf life and ease or manufacture, so they provide little of the health benefit real fermented cabbage and other vegetables provide. The only option, really, is to make these products at home, which can be fun if you have the time, or to use a high-quality probiotics supplement for your dogs and cats.