Over the last ten years, demand for oral probiotic supplements has skyrocketed, both for us and for our pets. With hundreds of products on the market, it can be a rather daunting task to choose one. Below you'll find a few suggestions to help you choose a safe and effective probiotic for your cat or dog.
Select a human-grade probiotic rather than a veterinary probiotic.
This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but it is key to finding a good product. Fortunately or unfortunately, the human supplement market is much more tightly regulated than the veterinary one. This means that human-grade probiotics are generally held to higher standards and face significant consequences if what's inside the bottle doesn't match what's written on the label.
In the veterinary supplement world, this is not the case. A group of researchers recently evaluated the accuracy of the labels on thirty of the most popular pet probiotic supplements. Only one-third of them contained at least the same number of colony-forming units** that was stated on the bottle. Three products listed bacterial species that don't exist. One didn't contain a single live bacterium.
**Colony-forming units (CFUs) are an estimate of the total number of viable bacteria present in the probiotic.
Furthermore, human probiotics and pet probiotics typically contain the same groups of bacteria. We have much to learn about what goes on in the gut microbiome, so for now, probiotics contain bacteria that are beneficial to pets and people - from the tiniest kittens to the tallest humans.
Look for several different bacterial strains on the ingredient list.
Individual strains of bacteria have been touted as anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and even anti-aging, but these benefits only come when the bacteria are working alongside hundreds of other species. Imagine we took an individual without a single bacterium in their body and filled their gut with Lactobacillus acidophilus, a probiotic that's often used to help treat GI issues like diarrhea and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The person wouldn't become a digestive superhero; instead, L. acidophilus' anti-inflammatory effects, left unchecked by other bacteria, would likely suppress the immune system and make them highly susceptible to infection.
In short, it's wise to choose a probiotic that has several strains of bacteria, so that their different benefits can complement each other and no group becomes too abundant. The more strains in the probiotic, the better, but try to go for at least five.
If you'd prefer to administer the full range of species-appropriate bacteria in the form of a convenient capsule, check out our oral Fecal Microbiota Transplant Pills for cats and for dogs. They're properly balanced and contain cat- and dog-specific microbes from carefully screened donors in perfect health. And most importantly, the pills are highly effective at relieving diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.
Choose a probiotic that's contained in an enteric-coated capsule.
It doesn't matter how wonderful your probiotic is: if all the bacteria die in the stomach acid, they probably aren't providing much benefit. This is especially important for cats and dogs, whose stomachs can be up to one hundred times more acidic than ours. Most of the gut microbiome exists in the large intestine, so our goal is to get the bacteria all the way there, ideally still alive.
Enteric coatings are applied to the outside of many medications, including some probiotics, and they prevent the medication inside from being destroyed by the stomach acid. Enteric coatings are made of long-chain carbohydrates and are not digested by the organism, so they rarely cause GI distress, even for those with severe digestive issues.