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Are probiotics right for your dog? They may enhance digestion and immunity, but the burgeoning industry is largely unregulated.

Your dog's gastrointestinal tract, like ours, is home to billions of bacteria. A healthy GI tract allows the absorption of food, while excluding toxins and disease-producing organisms. Yet malfunctions can sometimes occur. Perhaps your dog ate something he shouldn't have--something containing parasites that cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Given the growing interest in probiotics--live bacteria primarily intended for digestive health--you might wonder if they could help your dog. Probiotics are now account for 20 percent of annual sales in the $541 million pet supplement market, sharing the No. 2 spot with hairball products. (Omega fatty acid supplements are No. 1).

Research Continues. Studies on probotics' efficacy are ongoing. Accurately labeled probiotic supplements have been shown to boost the population of resident bacteria while lowering the number of disease-causing bacteria. A peer-reviewed Nestle Purina PetCare study of GI bacteria in kittens and puppies found probiotics to be effective in regulating the immune system.

However, nutritionist Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., associate professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, issues a caution about probiotic products: "Anyone can take some bacteria, package it and put it up for sale, so quality control is lacking."

The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine doesn't regulate supplements like probiotics as it does pharmaceuticals, so the consumer doesn't know if bacteria in their supplements are alive or dead, says Dr. Wakshlag, president-elect of the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists. "This is an important distinction because live bacteria can stimulate the immune system to release more antibodies, as well as improve the GI flora [bacteria]. Dead bacteria may stimulate the immune system but will not change the gut flora."

As part of its effort to improve animal supplements, the National Animal Supplement Council, an industry group, initiated a certification program for members meeting quality standards.

Standardization has been a problem in the industry. A 2009 study at Ontario Veterinary College in Canada found that only two out of 25 probiotics were labeled properly and had the "good bacteria" they claimed to contain.

"That's how haphazard these products can be," Dr. Wakshlag says. "There are also no clinical trials or efficacy trials required for these products. But as long as the product labels are not making any outrageous claims, the manufacturers are free to sell their product--and pet owners are free to buy it."

In some cases, consumers might not know the number of bacteria in each capsule or even if they're an appropriate type. "For example, the products could contain other bacterial strains than the one that they are promoting, which is usually a good bacteria like Lactobacillus," says Dr. Wakshlag.

On the other hand, while he hasn't heard of any miraculous recoveries, Dr. Wakshlag says, "I have heard that probiotics have helped in some cases. Pet owners try probiotics when gastrointestinal problems surface in their dog. They may be looking to get a handle on their pet's diarrhea and/or vomiting. The dog's gut bacteria may be out of balance, and they are seeking to reestablish the 'good' bacteria and return their pet to regularity."

Dr. Wakshlag recommends probiotics for mild GI problems. "They are another tool in the veterinary toolbox. Perhaps they are more like a chisel than a hammer, but they are a tool nonetheless."


Many owners like to feel they're enhancing their pets' health with probiotics, but their first course of action should be a veterinary consultation. The supplements may enhance immunity and digestion but not in every dog, says nutritionist Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., at Cornell. "As an example, owners may simply add probiotics randomly to their pet's diet without first knowing what is causing their pet's diarrhea."

The cause could be stress, inflammatory bowel disease or something else entirely. "Some veterinarians prefer to hold off on recommending probiotics in instances of inflammatory bowel disease," Dr. Wakshlag says. "If the immune system is already revved up, it may not be advisable to use probiotics, which can further stimulate it.

"However, puppies may have depressed immune systems due to their immunity not being fully developed. Similarly, older dogs may have depressed immune systems because of the general aging process. In these cases, probiotics can be helpful."
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Title Annotation:NUTRITION
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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