Vet Reviewed

By Jon Zeller | February 26, 2024

To some extent, almost all of us are familiar with probiotics; humans have consumed fermented foods like yogurt for thousands of years. Some just like the taste, and others eat them for health reasons. More recently, you may have heard doctors—and companies—tout the potential benefits of probiotic supplements. This increased popularity has extended into the veterinary world, and interested dog people can now feed their dogs any number of products that promise to boost their levels of good bacteria and address problems like diarrhea. But should they?

Here’s some information about what probiotics are, what they can do for dogs, and how to figure out if they’re right for your best friend.

What are probiotics?

Basically, as noted above, probiotics are good bacteria. Every dog is different—but any healthy dog’s gut will contain a lot of bacteria, much of which is beneficial. The idea of feeding probiotics is to help the dog’s microbiome—the group of microorganisms living inside of them—maintain the right balance of good bacteria. This balance can be thrown off by factors like infections, antibiotics, stress, aging, and food allergies. If your dog suffers from issues like diarrhea, infections, or gastrointestinal upset, their veterinarian may recommend that you try a probiotic supplement as part of their treatment.

Are probiotics safe for my dog?

Probiotics backed by research and recommended by vets should be safe for most dogs—but don’t just feed them any product that claims to be beneficial.

Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Nutrition)—who oversees the formulation of food at The Farmer’s Dog—advises only considering probiotics that have been tested to confirm their contents. “Typically,” he says, “more-researched products will have the backing of a health professional.” He recommends discussing the options with your veterinarian.

How can you feed probiotics to your dog?

Probiotic supplements for dogs come in various forms, including pills, powders, and treats. Your veterinarian can talk about the pros and cons of various delivery methods. One consideration is what your dog will be most willing to eat.

Do probiotics work for dogs?

Many people say that probiotics have helped their dogs’ health—bringing about improvements to their digestion, immune systems, and even skin—but there’s not yet as much research supporting their benefits to dogs as there is for their benefits to people. The authors of one recent study believe that certain probiotic strains could reduce obesity in overweight dogs, and a 2023 paper in Microorganisms says that “probiotics confer health benefits in dogs with various intestinal disorders.”

“There is very little good data that shows [probiotics] can do much for overall health in general,” says Dr. Wakshlag. However, he says,“it does seem that probiotics may have the benefit of making an acute bout of diarrhea about a day shorter on average in some studies.” This may not sound like much, but considering that diarrhea can often last just a few days, it actually represents a big improvement.

Dr. Wakshlag says that probiotics can also be a reasonable option for those with issues like chronic diarrhea. “If you have the one dog that seems to respond,” he says, “it may be worth it for you.”

I’ve also heard about prebiotics. Are those the same as probiotics?

Prebiotics are not probiotics, but they’re related to them. Prebiotics are soluble fiber, and they serve as food for the good bacteria that live in your dog’s intestines.

Dogs need to get the right amount, and right kinds, of fiber in their diet. For much more detail on this topic, read our full article about fiber in dog food.

Should I give my dog the same probiotics I take?

No, you should not do this. Dogs and humans are different, and if you’re going to feed your dog probiotics you should give them a product specifically designed for their needs. Check the label, make sure it’s backed by research, and consult your vet to confirm that it’s the right choice for your pet.

Can I feed my dog yogurt?

Plain yogurt is safe for most dogs, and many of them enjoy a small amount of it as a snack or a meal topper. Just make sure your dog isn’t lactose intolerant, and never feed yogurts with any added ingredients—especially artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which are highly toxic to dogs. Some pet parents and vets report anecdotally that yogurt has helped with dogs’ digestive issues. However, there isn’t research to support this.

Sum it up: Are probiotics good for dogs?

Scientists continue to research probiotics’ effects on dogs, and you can’t assume that every product with the word “probiotics” on the label will benefit your dog. But if your veterinarian recommends trying a specific supplement, there’s reason to think that it could help.