By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What are probiotics?

Probiotics (brand names: Fortiflora®, Prostora™, Proviable®, Advita™, and others) are dietary supplements that contain live microorganisms (such as bacteria) that are considered beneficial. Normally, humans and animals have populations of these microorganisms living in and on their bodies without causing harm, and in some cases providing protection against disease causing organisms. Probiotics are used to support and replenish these normal populations of microorganisms when they have been disrupted by medications, diet changes, disease processes, or stress. Some examples of these beneficial microorganisms include Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacterium species, and Enterococcus species. Probiotics are most often used to support the gastrointestinal tract in cats, dogs, horses, and rabbits, such as in cases of diarrhea due to inflammatory bowel disease, antibiotic use, or stressful events.

"Probiotics are used to support and replenish these normal populations of microorganisms when they have been disrupted by medications, diet changes, disease processes, or stress."

Dietary supplements are substances that can be used to supplement the diet, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics. While many supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects that should be managed by your veterinarian. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

There are differences in how countries regulate supplements. In the United States, these substances are not as vigorously regulated by the FDA as other medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label.

How effective are probiotics?

Limited studies in animals have been performed, but there is anecdotal evidence that probiotics work to treat gastrointestinal disease by supporting the maintenance of non-pathogenic microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby supporting the immune system, and competing with pathogenic microbes. More studies in animals need to be performed.

How are probiotics given?

Probiotics are given by mouth in the form of a capsule, powder, chewable tablet, or liquid. Give with a meal. Measure liquid forms carefully.

What if I miss giving my pet the supplement?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Only give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses if instructed by your veterinarian.

Are there any potential side effects?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding side effects is also limited. However, probiotics are considered very safe and have few reported side effects. Rarely, probiotics have been reported to cause gas, stomach upset, or stomach discomfort, particularly when first taking the supplement.

Are there any risk factors for this supplement?

Studies are limited for this supplement and therefore information regarding risk factors is also limited. Do not use in pets that are very sick, debilitated, and immune compromised. Do not use in pets that are allergic to it (usually the inactive ingredients included with the probiotic).

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

The following medications may reduce the efficacy of probiotics when given at the same time: antibiotics, antifungals.

Vitamins, herbal therapies, and supplements have the potential to interact with each other, as well as with prescription and over the counter medications. It is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including all vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this supplement?

There is no specific monitoring that needs to be done while your pet is taking this medication. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working.

How do I store probiotics?

In general, store this supplement in a cool, dry place, protected from light. There are many formulations and manufacturers of probiotics, so always follow the specific storage instructions on the product label.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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