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Probiotics vs Digestive Enzymes for Dogs

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Good digestive habits are an imperative part of your dog's continued long term health.  Plenty of exercise, high-quality food, and regular check-ups at the vet are all essential practices in making sure your dog is as healthy as possible.  But what about supplementing your dog's health routine with a dog digestive supplement? Are there products that could be helping your dog to maintain a healthier digestive system from the inside?

Maybe you have been taking supplements for your own health, or perhaps a friend has recently been in your ear about their dog's new dietary addition, regardless of why it has been brought to your attention, digestive supplements can make a major difference in your dog’s digestive system. 

There are two main types of digestive supplements you should know about. There are two main types of digestive supplements you should know about. Digestive enzymes and probiotics are both categorized as digestive supplements and both help to give your dog a happier and healthier digestive tract. 

If you have been tempted to try digestive supplements for your dog, it is vital that you know what you're purchasing. One quick Google search will yield countless positive health stories where success is attributed to either probiotics or digestive enzymes. To make the best possible decision for your pet, you should always rely on your own research, and more importantly, the counsel of your dog's veterinarian. While you do have the final say about what you give or don't give to your dog, your vet's advice should be weighted heavily in your decision making.  

If you are interested in learning how digestive enzymes and probiotics can help to benefit your dog's health, the following article will give you a solid understanding of what each supplement does and the differences between the two. 

To understand how supplemental enzymes and probiotics affect a dog, we must first understand what each supplement does and how they differ from one another. 

What Are Digestive Enzymes for a Dog’s Digestion?

Based on the findings of Doggy Digest, a digestive enzyme is any protein that helps to break down food to aid digestion. This is not the same kind of protein that is in the food your dog eats, but rather a specific chemical produced by the body that interacts with food. When food initially reaches your dog's stomach, it is still in relatively large chunks and pieces. Generally speaking, it can take up to 12 hours for a dog to digest his food, but this may depend slightly on his age and weight. Food must then be broken down and digested so nutrients can be absorbed by the body.

Your dog's body naturally does this process through the use of stomach acid and other natural enzymes that help to break the food down. The idea behind supplemental digestive enzymes for dogs is that these additives work with your canines's biologically-produced enzymes to help break down food at a faster rate. As a result of these supplements, your dog's digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard, allowing for easier digestion and less gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, indigestion, loose stools, and other problems.

Where Do Digestive Enzymes Come From?

Digestive enzymes are created by the pancreas, which is responsible for producing and regulating the proteins that aid in digestion.  There are three major digestive enzymes that your dog produces naturally to aid in the digestion process:

  • Amylase - the enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates
  • Lipase - the enzyme responsible for breaking down fat
  • Protease - the enzyme responsible for breaking down protein

According to the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, these natural digestive enzymes do most of their work in the stomach.  As this acid fills within the stomach, digestive enzymes are secreted through the lining of the pancreas where they begin to break down food for further absorption.  In contrast, the digestive supplemental enzymes that your dog would take orally are activated once the digestion process has started. 

What Is a Probiotic? 

Your body is covered with these single-celled organisms that help keep you healthy and clean.  Your dog is no different. You've probably heard that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's mouth; well, this is due to the wide variety of healthy bacteria dogs have living within their mouth.  

A probiotic is a supplement that simply introduces more of these healthy bacteria into your dog's body.  Probiotics are found in a number of fermented foods and are often attributed to eradicating the body of germs. Think of probiotics as a cleanup crew for your dog's intestinal tract.  The microorganisms that live in your dog's GI tract are there to support the muscle tissue and keep everything clean.  

Probiotics help stimulate cell growth, aid in immune health, and increasing the production of vital nutrients.  Doses of probiotics often come in small capsules or powders and help to introduce billions of helpful microorganisms to the body.  

Wouldn't These Healthy Bacteria Disrupt What's Already Going On in My Dog's Gut?

Not necessarily.  Bacteria are really good at fitting in, and what's more, they are even better at falling into line and taking on jobs that your natural bacteria won’ cleaning. The healthy bacteria that are alive in your dog's gut are continually scouring the inner workings of your dog's digestive tract. These bacteria don't have as much to do with breaking down food as much as they are there to support the tissues within your dog's body and keep them healthy and active.

Major Differences Between Digestive Enzymes vs. Probiotics

Both probiotics and digestive enzymes for dogs claim to aid the digestive system, but they each do it in a radically different way. As we know, digestive enzymes are proteins that help breakdown food, aiding the body by making the food easier to digest. Probiotics provide stimulus and support to the tissue and organs working to absorb that food. 

Imagine that probiotics and digestive enzymes are both professional masseuses. The enzymes massage the food, softening it for digestion, while probiotics massage the muscle tissue preparing the organs for the hard work that goes into the digestion process. Both claim to aid in the digestion process actively, but one does it by preparing the food, and the other does it by preparing the body.

The second way probiotics and digestive enzymes differ is in their lasting effect on the body.  Dog digestive enzymes have no lasting impact on the body and do not play a part in promoting long term health.  Once the body uses the digestive enzymes that your dog took orally, those enzymes dissipate and become part of the nutrients that your dog absorbs.  

Probiotics, on the other hand, have a little bit more to do with long term health. Keeping your dog's gut in good health is a great way to keep him healthy overall, especially if your pup suffers from a sensitive stomach, diarrhea, or any other type of common dog digestive issues. The collection of bacteria that make up probiotics don't live forever. But, the short term presence of these microorganisms helps to stimulate other live bacteria in the gut which can then reproduce and thrive, keeping your dog healthy and happy on a long term basis.   

Food for Thought

The inner workings of a dog's stomach are much different than that of a human's. For dog's, digestion can take up to twelve hours, almost twice the amount of time it takes their owners.  The diet you feed your dog, while radically different than your own, is specially formulated to provide your dog with the nutrients he needs to sustain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The decision to add supplements into your dog's diet carries with it the potential to throw off the whole ecosystem of their gut, and radically disrupt their once healthy digestive tract. That’s why it is imperative that you do your research and only use the very best supplements. 

Do They Work?

The short answer is yes and no. These supplements can show great results as long as you buy the right kind of products. Below are some of the major differences between probiotics and digestive enzymes.

What Is the Result of My Dog Taking a Probiotic?

Introducing a daily probiotic into your dog's diet is something that should definitely be considered.  Based on recent studies, there is evidence to support claims that a daily probiotic in dogs can help to regulate dietary function, improve skin and coat health, eradicate bad breath and even reduce symptoms brought on by seasonal allergies. 

Also, because the digestive enzymes taken orally are later absorbed by the small intestine during the digestion process, it can be potentially harmful for your dog. Remember how the pancreas is responsible for the production and regulation of enzymes in the body? Well, it is the job of the small intestine to tell the pancreas if too many of these enzymes are being produced.  

Because oral digestive enzymes are simply digested without performing their assigned task of mixing with and breaking down food, they can potentially trigger your pancreas to suppress the production of regularly produced enzymes like amylase, lipase, and protease. Not only do digestive enzymes prove to be ineffective for dogs, but they are also potentially harmful on a long-term basis. 

What Is the Result of My Dog Taking a Probiotic?

Introducing a daily probiotic into your dog's diet is something that should definitely be considered.  Based on recent studies, there is evidence to support claims that a daily probiotic in dogs can help to regulate dietary function, improve skin and coat health, eradicate bad breath and even reduce symptoms brought on by allergies.  Probiotics, and how they relate to canine digestive health are currently being studied as potential natural cures for liver disease and chronic gastrointestinal disorders.  

If you recall from earlier, probiotics are healthy bacteria that work to support the other microorganisms and tissues that comprise your dog's GI tract.  A daily probiotic for dogs promotes a healthy gut and allows good bacteria to keep your dog's immune system active and their body running smoothly.  

Where Can I Find Probiotics For Dogs?

A quick Google search will yield plenty of dog-specific probiotic supplements to choose from, but selecting the right product for your dog may take some additional research. If you are serious about adding probiotics to your dog's health care routine, be sure to consult with your veterinarian before adding anything new into his diet. Your vet may want to run a blood panel and a full physical on your dog to ensure that the addition of a supplement won't cause any unforeseen health complications down the road.  

Supplementing your dog's diet could potentially be a good health decision for your furry companion, but as their owner, it is your duty to be diligent and patient in finding the right product.  While it may seem like a good idea, in theory, creating new dietary changes into practice requires certainty and commitment.  Although digestive enzymes may not be the rockstar supplement, most people believe them to be, probiotics may be a great addition to your dog's daily health habits. Your dog is too special and precious to be the victim of health fads and diet crazes, so always consult your vet before making any diet adjustments. Whether you decide to pursue supplements or not, a healthy diet, a consistent exercise routine, and regular check-ups with your vet are a tried and true way to keep your dog healthy and happy from the inside out. 



Camille Arneberg and her dog
Camille is a co-founder of Pet Honesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs' quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs' health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.