But it seems to me that their benefit to our dogs is often overlooked.
Give Me Some 'Bugs'
Just as is true with us, a healthy dog's intestine is home to a large number of useful microorganisms, most of which are bacteria. When the helpful bacteria are lost, bad things start happening.
How do they get lost?
There are a number of reasons, but the most common one is antibiotic use. Antibiotics work by destroying the bad bacteria that made your dog sick. But in the process, a lot of the helpful gut bacteria are lost also.
For one reason or another, I believe that most of our dogs do not have as many of these good bacteria as they need for their optimal health. That is when supplementation is needed.
So what do these good bacteria do?
The main and most obvious job of these bacteria is to help with proper digestion. That by itself is pretty important. Your dog's body needs nutrients. No matter how well you feed your dog, he cannot make use of the nutrition that you give him without an ample supply of probiotic bacteria.
Another—probably not as well known--benefit is that as long as the good bacteria flourish, they can protect your dog from harmful organisms, such as Candida, E.coli, and Salmonella. Here is why - the bad and the good bacteria are in competition. One of them will win and one will lose. And you get to pick whose side you're on.
Probiotics also seem to have a positive influence on the body’s immune response. They help strengthen the immune system and may help with treatment of allergies and other immune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Probiotics also seem to have antioxidant properties.
So, to me, they seem like friends worth having.
How do I know when to supplement?
I think that most dogs, and people, could use probiotics supplementation.
If your dog has had an antibiotic treatment, it is a good idea to consider supplementing. If your dog has digestive issues, such as diarrhea, probiotics might help. If your dog has a problem with allergies or other immune system issues, I would discuss possible benefits of probiotics with a vet.
In any case, probiotics can do no harm.
'Feed My Bugs': Prebiotics
Supplementation will help to re-introduce the friendly bacteria back into your dog's system. This is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients, such as some types of dietary fiber, that help good bacteria multiply and prosper. A good example is beet pulp. Think of prebiotics as nourishment for your dog's friendly bacteria. Prebiotics are your dog's friends' friends.
Whether your dog has a healthy population of good bacteria on his own, or if you supplement with probiotics, you might want to make sure that his diet provides the prebiotics needed to support his friendly bacteria.
Not all bugs are your dog's enemies. Some are very important friends. Know your dog's friends.