Choosing the Right Probiotic for Your Dog & Cat (Part 3)

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Oscar: “Look! Today’s paper has a coupon for probiotics. Mom can save money if she gets this kind for us. I’m gonna go show her.”
Felixx: “Not so fast! Is the coupon for pet probiotics?”
Oscar: “Well, no, but…”
Felixx: “Will it help with my itchy skin? What about your gas?”
Oscar: “I assume it…ummm…”
Felixx: “And this question is really important, so listen carefully: Is. It. In. PILL. Form?”
Oscar : “Ohhh… Right.”
Felixx: “Because you know what happened the last time Mom tried to give me a pill.”
Oscar: “But it has, like, 40 billion CFUs, so I’m sure it’ll work. And she’ll save money!”
Felixx: “Are you sure she’d be saving money? Because CFUs don’t matter as much as you think. Mom did her research, remember, and she’s pretty smart. For a human.”

Mom here. I did do a lot of research – some of it trial and error. Here are a few things I learned about probiotics that might help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of choosing a probiotic for your pets.

Choosing the Right Probiotic for Your Dog & Cat

Different Probiotic Strains Are Good for Different Things
Did you know that “probiotics” doesn’t refer to just one thing? Dozens of types, or strains, of live, beneficial micro-organisms make up what we call “probiotics,” and each of those strains does something a little different. Probiotics aren’t a one-strain-fits-all remedy.

While it’s true that most strains help promote healthy digestion and work to strengthen your pet’s immune system, not all of them address the specific issues your pet might have, like Oscar’s dog-breath. (That would be Lactobacillus salivarius, for instance, or L. acidophilus or Bifibobacterium bifidum.) So, simply giving your pet any old probiotic won’t necessarily help. You need to find the right probiotic.

By the way, human probiotics may not be as effective as the ones specially formulated for pets. Yeah, that was one of the trial-and-error mistakes I talked about. Felixx got a bit pouty when all of those weird-tasting powders I sprinkled on his food did nothing for his itchy skin.

Here’s another thing I didn’t understand before I did my research: Probiotics sellers claiming to have more strains than the other guys aren’t necessarily doing you any favors, either. Hit-or-miss is rarely an effective strategy, and it’s certainly not one I want to take with my fuzzy little companions.
Believe me, I understand it’s confusing. There are a lot of companies out there selling their products, and their marketing can be pretty misleading. If you want a good place to start with understanding how different strains of probiotic work, you can download this chart of 12 of the most common probiotic strains and their benefits.

About CFUs: More Isn’t Always Better
Ever wonder what a “CFU” is? I did. It’s an abbreviation for “colony-forming unit,” which is the way scientists estimate how many micro-organisms are active (alive and able to multiply) when they’re processed to sell. At the grocery store, yogurt labels will often say they contain a certain number of “live cultures,” which is basically the same thing.

Just as more isn’t better regarding the number of strains in your pet’s probiotic, so the staggering numbers of CFUs in some products aren’t necessarily any more beneficial than products with lower CFU counts.

You have two things to consider here:

  1. How many of those little bacteria survive the production process before they even get to your dog
  2. How many of them survive the digestive tract and take up residence in the gut, where they can do some good?

Assuming the cultures survive processing, shipping, and storage, research indicates that anywhere from 80-99% of most traditional live probiotic cells will be killed off by your dog’s stomach or gall bladder before they ever get to his intestines.

Let’s do some math.

If a probiotic company says they have 50 billion CFUs in their product, they’re probably hoping that 1-2% of them will make it to your dog’s intestines alive. That means they’re counting on about 500 million cultures living long enough to do some good.

Now, 500 million live bacteria are nothing to sneeze at. That’s within the generally accepted effectiveness range for humans (from 10 million to 1 billion CFUs), after all.

But the questions are these:

  • Do these companies really know how many CFUs is the right amount?
  • If they know that, do they really know how many of the CFUs in the product survive long enough to do any good?
  • If so, how do they know?

We’ll talk more about scientific testing in a later post, but the takeaway here is simply this:
You don’t need a gazillion CFUs to see the benefits of a probiotic. You just need the right probiotic.

Probiotics Don’t Work If You Don’t Give Them to Your Pet
The bottom line here is that if they’re hard to give – or if your pet refuses to take them (*ahem* Felixx) – probiotics don’t do anyone any good, including your wallet. So, part of choosing your pet’s probiotic is choosing one that works with your schedule or lifestyle and with your pet’s tolerance for whatever form (powder, capsule, pill, liquid) the probiotic comes in.

That’s all I have for you for right now. It’s a lot to digest (pun intended) but it’s important to your dog’s (or cat’s) health, so it’s all worth considering.

To sum up, look for a probiotic that:

  • Most closely addresses your pet’s specific needs
  • Contains the right strains for what you’re trying to achieve (relieving disease symptoms, improving digestion, promoting overall health)
  • Is specially formulated for animals
  • Doesn’t contain a bazillion CFUs (which could be a red flag about the product’s effectiveness)
    How’s that, guys?

Felixx: “Good talk, Mom.”
Oscar: “Know what we’re going to talk about next time?”
Felixx: “Please, tell me. I’m waiting with bated breath.”
Oscar: “I thought you had tuna for lunch.”
Felixx : “Bated, not bait-…never mind. What are we going to talk about next time?”
Oscar : “SCIENCE!”
Felixx : “Well, I might actually look forward to that.”
Oscar : “Don’t strain yourself, Felixx.”

In case you missed the first two parts of this series:

To try Probiotics for you or your pet, use our affiliate link here: and our affiliate code: PositivelyWoof

Part 1: The Health Benefits Of Probiotics For Your Dogs & Cats

Part 2: Four Ways Probiotics Can Help Your Pet
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Larry Kay is the award-winning coauthor of Training the Best Dog Ever, which became a #1 best seller in dog training on Amazon Kindle. He is Leader of the Pack at Positively Woof, which helps shelter dogs get adopted by making videos and raises awareness and funds. Larry is an award-winning dog filmmaker and has been a frequent contributor to the American Animal Hospital Association and Dog Fancy magazine.
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