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An overgrowth of yeast can cause a dog’s skin to become itchy and inflamed. Yeast infections don’t just sound unpleasant but they can be very uncomfortable for your dog. While any dog is susceptible to yeast infections, they tend to be more common in dogs with allergies and are often the result of poor diet and overuse of antibiotics.

After a thorough discussion of your dog’s diet, along with oral or topical treatment, your veterinarian may recommend probiotics for dogs to reduce the occurrence of yeast infections. Probiotics are foods or supplements containing living microorganisms that help preserve or restore the “good bacteria,” in your dog’s gut, skin, and ears. Learn more about probiotics including what to look for in these dietary supplements and how they can benefit your dog.

Why Choose Probiotics?

As with people, a dog’s body is home to the microbiome, a collection of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on and inside the body. Factors such as diet and exposure to toxins can lead to changes in the microbiome, resulting in different health effects. For example, the gut microbiome includes the “good bacteria” which aid in digestion. Poor diets can disrupt good bacteria, increasing the likelihood of certain diseases and conditions.

Probiotics are living microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria. They are nonpathogenic, meaning they don’t cause illness. “When ingested in appropriate amounts, probiotics can confer health benefits for dogs and people,” says Dr. Amy Attas, VMD of New York-based practice City Pets. “These organisms behave very similarly to the good bacteria that are normally residing in an animal’s gastrointestinal tract.”

Another feature of probiotics is that “they have to be able to live and colonize the gut,” she explains. In other words, probiotics need to be resistant to digestion by the acid and enzymes in the stomach and intestines. Unlike pathogenic bacteria which may cause infections, probiotics support the beneficial bacteria living in the gut and are “essential for manufacturing and saving vitamins from food going through the intestinal tract,” she adds.

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What Causes Yeast to Develop in Dogs?

Yeast, which is a type of fungus, occurs naturally on the skin, ears, and mucous membranes in small numbers. Due to various health and lifestyle factors, yeast can grow and reproduce on the skin, resulting in an infection. An example of a health factor is a history of allergies or bacterial infections, whereas lifestyle factors may include a poor diet, hot and humid environments, and long-term use of antibiotics.

Yeast overgrowth frequently affects the ears, resulting in scabbing or a waxy discharge. You might notice your dog rubbing their ears, tilting their head, or losing their balance. They might experience hair loss or have a coat that feels greasy or smells of sour milk.

Benefits of Probiotics

Probiotics are readily available online and in pet stores. Although they don’t require a prescription, consulting your veterinarian is a good idea. Along with helping to restore the normal balance of bacteria in the gut, probiotics have the following benefits:

  • Absorbing nutrients from the food
  • Decreasing allergy symptoms
  • Maintaining good digestive health
  • Inhibiting the growth of yeast and harmful bacteria
  • Supporting the immune system by fighting infection
  • Providing relief to dogs with inflammatory bowel disease or colitis
  • Improving a dog’s overall well-being

Probiotics are “safe for puppies as long as the puppy is weaned,” Dr. Attas says. You don’t want to interfere with the bacteria the puppy is getting from their mother’s milk, she adds.

How Do Probiotics Help With Yeast Infections?

By promoting the right balance of microorganisms in the gut, ears, vaginal area, and mucous membranes, probiotics may help reduce the likelihood of developing a yeast infection. “When the normal bacteria are present, they create an environment that is very inhospitable to yeast,” Dr. Attas says. That’s because normal bacteria compete with yeast, preventing it from colonizing the area and causing an infection.

Some probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacteria, are particularly effective at absorbing nutrients and warding off harmful bacteria. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus can produce lactic acid which lowers the pH in the gut, making the environment more acidic, Dr. Attas explains. “Yeast has a harder time living and reproducing in acidic environments,” she adds.

Antibiotics tend to kill off the normal bacteria in the body which can lead to a yeast infection. This is where probiotics can come in handy by creating a better environment in the gut and reducing the chance of a secondary infection. Probiotics are also helpful following antibiotic therapy to help bacteria return to normal levels.

In certain instances, bacteria known for causing disease can serve as a probiotic. For example, Escherichia coli (E. coli) can be considered a probiotic in the appropriate doses, Dr. Attas says. In addition, some types of yeast, such as Saccharomyces can function as a probiotic for treating gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea.

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Tips for Buying Probiotics for Dogs

Select Products Meant for Dogs

“The bacteria that live in our bodies have co-evolved with us over millennia,” Dr. Attas says. “This means that the bacteria that live in a human’s intestines are different from bacteria in a dog’s intestines.” Accordingly, she recommends purchasing products that are specifically marketed to dogs.

Probiotics for dogs come in liquid or capsule form, so you can sprinkle it on their food or hide it in a treat. Some products contain flavor additives that are safe for dogs. In contrast, the artificial sweeteners and ingredients used to make probiotics more palatable to people can be toxic to dogs, so it’s best to choose products designed for dogs.

Look for Reputable Companies

Probiotics are not drugs nor are they controlled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “You want to buy products that are manufactured by reputable companies,” Dr. Attas says. “We want to be as sure as possible that what it says on the label is actually what exists in the packaging.” She also recommends choosing a probiotic with more than one type of microorganism.

Some dog food manufacturers advertise that their food contains probiotics. Dr. Attas cautions that these foods don’t usually contain enough of the purified probiotic to make the food affordable. Her advice is to buy dog food that is nutritionally balanced and complete along with a good quality probiotic.

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Store and Use Probiotics as Directed

Probiotics contain live organisms whether they are in liquid or capsule form. Some products may need to be refrigerated, so make sure to read the instructions for how to store them. Keep an eye on “expiration dates, because it doesn’t do any good to be giving dead organisms,” Dr. Attas says.

Another reason for reading the label carefully is to check that you’re giving your dog the right dose. The label can tell you how many units of bacteria are in each capsule or dose. Since you’re introducing bacteria into their gut, you don’t want to give them more than what’s needed, she says.

When trying dog probiotics for yeast, introduce it to your dog slowly. “I wouldn’t start a probiotic the same day I’m starting a new food or something else the dog might react to,” she says. Some dogs may have a sensitivity or allergy to a particular probiotic strain.

“We are at the infancy of knowing how important probiotics are for human health and animal health,” Dr. Attas says. “The anecdotal responses I get from people are that their animals eat better, have more normal bowel movements, less frequent ear infections, and their skin is better. I think these are all really positive effects that we can see from something that is a food supplement rather than a medication.”

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