Alternatives to probiotics for dogs

I'll first summarize what probiotics do and then look at the alternatives to probiotics for dogs. Or first read about the benefits and indications for canine biotics.

What are canine probiotics?

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Probiotics are micro-organisms that promote intestinal health in dogs.

Many different strains of bacteria are used to improve or sustain canine health. Most often you find them in neutraceutical supplements for canines that are readily available in pet shops. Probiotics directly increase the numbers of the "good guy" bacteria, but several novel food ingredients contribute - in a more indirect fashion - towards increasing these beneficial bacteria and downsizing the "bad guys".

Some of the food ingredients and supplements listed below are very novel at this time, and rarely seen in dog food. Though FOS for instance is getting more common.

As one of the indications to start supplementing canine probiotics is your dog getting antibiotics treatment, I've listed a novel alternative to antibiotics treatment at the bottom of the article.

Carbohydrates alternatives to probiotics for dogs

Mannan-Oligo-Saccharides (MOS)

MOS are indigestible carbohydrates - fibers - that are derived from the yeast cell wall (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). These carbs help prevent colonization of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and E.coli which bind to MOS.

MOS inhibit growth of these bacteria by preventing them to adhere to the gastro intestional (GI) lining. The "bad guys" are then excreted with your dog's stools. Your dog's intestional villi are protected since mucin production is increased (this is good for the absorption of nutrions from his diet). In conclusion, MOS are very valuable in promoting canine health.

Fructo-Oligo-Saccharides (FOS) - pre-biotics

FOS are indigestible fibers that are derived from chicory root, sugar beet or sugar cane. FOS are created by a fungus, Aspergillus nigricans.

These carbs cannot be digested by dogs, but these are fermented in its colon. During this process fatty acids are formed which lower intestinal pH (the environment gets more acid).

They serve as food for specific beneficial bacteria such as Bifidus and Lactobacilli. So these carbohydrates also promote the immune system - like MOS - but they work in a different way. Not by inhibiting growth of the "bad guys" but by promoting growth of the "good guys".

When FOS are given to lactating bitches, the amount of IgM antibodies in their milk increases. The immunity transferred to the puppies is then improved.

Nice to know perhaps: FOS also help reduce stool odor.

Galacto-Oligo-Saccharides (GOS) - prebiotics

GOS are like FOS, prebiotics, but are not as 'famous' as the fructo-oligo-saccharides. GOS are carbohydrates derived from milk sugar (lactose). These carbs are good food for the beneficial bacteria in your dog's intestines.


Beta-glucans are polysaccharides that can be extracted from yeast cell walls (yeast autolysate). Yeast is a source for many functional ingredients we can utilize to improve canine health (and ours).

These molecules help maintain a strong immune system by activating macrophages, which are the 'vaccuum cleaners' in your blood system. Macrophages destroy bacteria and virusses. Beta-glucans also help production of specific and non-specific immunoglobulins (antibodies). It seems that these beta-glucans do make the immune system work better, but never cause overactivation.

Fatty alternatives to probiotics for dogs

Calcium butyrate

Calcium butyrate also keeps the intestional lining in good condition. Calcium butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that is a potent detoxifier of ammonia and neurotoxins. It helps improve absorption of nutrients and protects your dog against pathogenic bacteria.

intestinal lining Intestinal lining in good and bad condition
Ref. Probiotech Inc., St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada

Thyme extract

These natural essential oils are obtained by steam destillation of thyme leaves (Thymus vulgaris). These leaves are often used to flavour meats, soups and stews. It's derived oils are thymol, carvacrol, p-cymene, estragol and linalool.

The thyme extract oils have anti-microbial activity. Amongst others against Enterobacteria. Just like FOS these oils acidify the intestines( lower intestional pH) and maintain firm stools.

Gangliosides against Giardia infection

Gangliosides are an unusual type of lipid that is a natural component of cell membranes in animals and humans. Part of the ganglioside molecules is composed of short chains of sugar units, which extend out from the cell membrane.

Gangliosides modulate cell signal transduction and are highly important for accurate immune responses and cell growth. Pathogens may target these specific cell membrane components to enter the cells. Gangliosides play an important role in some infectious diseases.

Some intestinal diseases result in depletion of gangliosides from important cells that line the GI tract. When that happens these cells get more permeable. Potential toxic or allergenic molecules can just 'leak' into the bloodstream, resulting in serious disease.

Gangliosides can be derived from bovine milk and used to kill a parasite called Giardia lamblia. Giardia is one of the most common intestinal parasites that infects the GI tracts of puppies.

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Alternatives to antibiotics in dogs

Organic acids, such as for instance fumaric acid, citric acid, lactic acid, phosphoric acid and malic acids, are rarely used in dog food.

These acids are potential alternatives to anti-biotics as they help promote the presence of beneficial bacteria (by lowering the pH) and help reduce the presence of harmful bacteria (because these don't like acidic environments). Organic acids won't replace antibiotics, but they are a safe method in prevention at least.

In order to reach the intestines these organic acids are encapsulated in fat, so they are released in the intestines rather than the dog's stomach. This is because the digestion of fat only starts when the fat has reached the intestines. About 70% will reach the intestines.

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