Prebiotics and probiotics for dogs: do they really need them?

Labrador dog eating from blue food bowl
(Image credit: sssss1gmel/Getty Images)

Prebiotics and probiotics for dogs can be a great addition to your pooch’s diet if they struggle with digestion issues. Whilst you may be familiar with some of the benefits, you might have a few questions that you’re still a bit unsure about (like what the difference is between the two).

When it comes to your dog’s health and diet, we know you want the best for them. Whether it’s stocking the cabinet with some long lasting dog chews for added nutrition or giving them the best dog food for a well-balanced diet. So, if they’re still struggling with issues like digestion, you might be left scratching your head a bit. 

With the help of our trusty vet Rebecca MacMillan, we’ve answered the most common questions that pet parents have about prebiotics and probiotics for dogs. From the benefits to whether you can give them human supplements, consider this your complete guide:

rebecca macmillan
Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS

Dr. Rebecca MacMillan is an experienced veterinary surgeon who graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2009. Over the years, she’s done a mixture of day-to-day routine work, managerial roles, and on-call emergency duties in a first-opinion small animal practice. She recently achieved a BSAVA postgraduate certificate in small animal medicine (with commendation)

Prebiotics and probiotics for dogs: what's the difference?

A common question is, ‘What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?’ They sound pretty similar (right?) but it turns out that they’re actually completely different.

Dr. MacMillan explains: “Simply put, probiotics are made up of the ‘friendly’ bacteria that typically live in our guts and prebiotics are the ‘food’ that these bacteria like to eat. Prebiotics consist of certain types of fiber that allow healthy gut flora to readily multiply. It should be noted that not all fiber acts as a prebiotic, only particular types.”

If you’re wondering what gut flora is, it’s the group of bacteria (and other microorganisms) that live in the intestines. 

“Probiotics are supplements consisting of beneficial amounts of live gut bacteria including microorganisms like lactobacillus species, bifidobacterium species, and enterococcus species.”

Dog eating out of yellow food bowl

(Image credit: Carol Yepes/Getty Images)

Benefits of prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics are crucial to the body, and make sure that the gut gets enough healthy bacteria. Not only does this support normal digestion but it’s also a defence against harmful microorganisms.  

Do I need to give my dog prebiotic and probiotic supplements?

Dr. MacMillan says that whilst most animals have a healthy digestive tract (the organ that digests and absorbs nutrients), some dogs might need a little helping hand. 

The only time a dog will need a supplement is when they’ve been diagnosed with problems like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, a condition where food cannot be digested by the small intestine.

Finn Digestive Prebiotic & Probiotic Supplement for Dogs

Finn Digestive Prebiotic & Probiotic Supplement for Dogs

A supplement and treat all in one? We’re sold. Your dog will love the taste of these beef liver bites while reaping the benefits of the prebiotics, probiotics, and digestive enzymes. 

Are there any side effects?

You might be worried about potential side effects when introducing a new supplement into your dog’s diet. But rest assured, Dr. MacMillan says there are no side effects to these and you can even buy them over the counter. 

She adds: “Many owners use them for a few days if their dog is otherwise bright with some loose motions, or if they have eaten something recently that disagrees with them.”

Can I feed my dog human prebiotics and probiotics?

If you’ve got your own prebiotics and probiotics lying around the house, you might be tempted to give them to your dog as well. However, Melissa advises using dog-specific products that are suited to them.

Dr. MacMillan says: “This will be tailored to the types of organisms that are most beneficial to canine digestive health and will also have instructions about the correct doses that you need to give your pet to be effective. Some diets designed specifically for digestive health contain prebiotics as part of their formulation which will help your dog’s gut bacteria thrive.”

Fera Pets Probiotics with Organic Prebiotics for Dogs & Cats

Fera Pets Probiotics with Organic Prebiotics for Dogs & Cats

This prebiotic and probiotic combo contains 12 strains of good bacteria, helping your dog with their digestive system. You’ll be pleased to hear that it’s flavorless too, making it easy to mix into your dog’s normal food. 

Should I consult my vet first?

If your dog suffers from ongoing stomach issues, blood in their stools or they seem sick, Dr. MacMillan advises consulting your vet. There are lots of reasons why your dog might vomit or have diarrhea (such as parasites, infections, or underlying disease processes) so it’s important to get them checked out.

White dog at the vets

(Image credit: Sebastian Condrea/Getty Images)

What are digestive enzymes?

The body produces proteins called digestive enzymes to help break down food molecules.  

For more health advice like this, check out our advice on what to do if there’s blood in dog stool and how to treat gastritis in dogs.  

PetLab Co. Prebiotic Dental Sticks Dog Dental Chews

PetLab Co. Prebiotic Dental Sticks Dog Dental Chews

Prebiotics come in all shapes and sizes, and if your dog loves a chew then they’ll love this dental stick. Not only will it keep their pearly whites in order, but it also contains chicory root - a natural prebiotic that supports the immune system and digestion. 

Megan Milstead
Staff Writer

Megan is a Staff Writer on PetsRader, covering news, features and buying guides. She has a wealth of experience looking after animals, having grown up with dogs, cats and horses all of her life. She’s particularly interested in pet happiness and behavior, which she loves to research in her spare time. You’ll often find her watching webinars on reactivity in dogs or researching cat body language. She loves going the extra mile for her cats Chilli and Nala (who also help out with testing the best products for our buying guides). 

Megan studied BA Journalism at the University of Westminster, where she specialized in lifestyle journalism and was editor of Smoke Radio’s online magazine. She also graduated from West Herts College with a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Journalism. Before joining the PetsRadar family last year, she worked on the editorial team at Harrods and has spent most of her career writing for specialized titles, like RunningShoesGuru, Licklist and Mr. After Party. 

Megan works alongside qualified vets and accredited trainers to ensure you get the best advice possible. She is passionate about finding accurate and helpful answers to your pet-related questions.