What Are Digestive Supplements?

Digestive supplements are provided to dogs who need extra support for their gastrointestinal tracts. These supplements can be found over the counter or can be prescribed by your veterinarian. The most common dog digestive supplements are probiotics, prebiotics, fiber, and digestive enzymes. Dogs who are fed a complete and balanced diet and who don’t have any dietary restrictions or health concerns typically do not need to have a digestive supplement added to their diet. Dogs who have digestive conditions and diseases, allergies, or other conditions, may benefit from adding some digestive support. 

What Are the Health Benefits of Digestive Supplements?

Different digestive supplements have different health benefits, but the goal is to keep the gut as healthy and happy as possible. Many dogs can benefit from probiotics and prebiotics, including those who struggle with chronic or intermittent diarrhea, flatulence, anal gland problems, or any other digestive condition. Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria that help maintain the normal balance of the intestinal microbiome. Adding these good bacteria can help decrease gas, support the immune system, and provide antioxidants. Prebiotics essentially help to feed and maintain the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. They are typically found as soluble fiber which ferments in the gut and becomes a food source for the probiotics.  

Dogs with pancreatic insufficiency have problems digesting their food because they lack the necessary enzymes to digest the food. These dogs can benefit from adding powdered digestive enzymes such as amylase, lipase, and protease which are typically made from pancreas organ material. 

Some dogs with digestive problems such as mild or chronic diarrhea can benefit from a fiber supplement to help firm up their stool. Make sure to only give this under the direction of your veterinarian so your dog doesn’t get constipated. 

How Should I Choose a Digestive Supplement for My Dog?

  • The best way to choose a digestive supplement is to ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. The best digestive supplement for your dog will vary based on what digestive condition he or she has. In general, a high-quality probiotic and prebiotic is not harmful and can be helpful in most cases of an upset stomach.  
  • Think about what form of supplement would be easiest to give your dog. They may prefer a powder, capsule, chew, or tablet. 
  • Choose a supplement that is easy on the stomach. Think about if your dog has any dietary sensitivities from certain ingredients that you will want to avoid. 
  • When choosing a probiotic, look for different types of bacteria… you want to provide a variety of good bacteria. 
  • Choose a high-quality digestive supplement. There are many different formulations offered in pet stores and online, but these may not be best for your dog. Find a company that you can trust with your dog’s health. Purchase from companies that perform research, have quality control procedures, and provide data to back their supplements ensuring that they are effective. Avoid products from companies that do not do research or studies on their products. 
  • Cost is a consideration as well. You want high quality, but not necessarily one with a high price tag. Make sure it is something you can afford to give based on how frequently your dog needs it. 
  • Remember that different supplements work differently for each dog. One supplement may work great for one dog but not another. 

What Are Key Ingredients?

  • Probiotics
    • Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria that live in or on the body. These bacteria are healthy bacteria and are needed for a healthy system. While they can be found in various parts of the body, they are commonly known to be necessary for gut health. The gastrointestinal tract naturally has good bacteria. With disease or unbalance (like diarrhea), there can be an overwhelming number of bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria. Such conditions are often treated with an antibiotic to get rid of the bad bacteria, and a probiotic to replenish the good bacteria. In addition to good bacteria, there are also some healthy yeast species that can be present in a probiotic supplement. 
    • Probiotics are important to help with digestion of food, maintain a normal pH balance in the gastrointestinal tract, protect the gut lining, reduce the number of harmful bacteria, and help produce enzymes and fatty acids to aid in digestion. 
    • Lactic acid probiotics are found in many dog probiotic supplements. You will see names such as Lactobacillus species, Bifidobacterium species, and Enterococcus species. 
    • Spore-forming probiotics are hardy and are found to survive through the stomach acid, heat, and other natural bacteria-killing mechanisms. A common name is Bacillus
    • Probiotic yeast is typically found as Saccharomyces
  • Prebiotics
    • Prebiotics are soluble fiber products that help to feed the probiotics (good bacteria). Prebiotics keep the probiotics happy, healthy, and alive. 
    • Some common types are fruit derived pectin, some grains, guar gum, and methylcellulose (from cellulose). 
  • Digestive enzymes
    • Digestive enzymes are naturally produced by the pancreas and work to digest food. Dogs with a disease called Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), do not have a well-functioning pancreas, and need to have these enzymes supplemented with their food. These enzymes break down nutrients into usable forms by the body. 
    • Common digestive enzymes:
      • Protease – breaks down proteins into amino acids.
      • Lipase – breaks down fat.
      • Amylase – breaks down starches. 
      • Cellulase – breaks down fiber. 
  • Fiber
    • Fiber is found in two forms: soluble and insoluble fiber. They are found in variable numbers in balanced dog foods but can be supplemented for dogs needing additional fiber. 
    • Soluble fiber is fermentable and considered a prebiotic. This type of fiber absorbs water. Common soluble fibers are pectin and gum. 
    • Insoluble fiber helps bulk up and increase fecal output. An example is cellulose. 

What Ingredients Should I Avoid?

Avoid fillers, preservatives, artificial food coloring, and artificial flavors. If the ingredient list is long, it is best to avoid the product, research the ingredients, or ask your veterinarian. 

How Do I Understand Common Marketing Phrases?

Watch out for phrases that seem too “salesy” or offer a quick, easy, and/or cheap fix. 

What Indicates a High-Quality Supplement?

Look for digestive supplements that are certified with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) or other regulatory bodies. Typically supplements that your veterinarian recommends are of the highest quality. 

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) creates guidelines to help veterinarians and pet owners find high-quality products. 

Look for companies that employ board-certified veterinary nutritionists and PhD-educated animal nutritionists. 

As always, make sure to consult with your veterinarian when choosing the best digestive supplement for your dog.