Probiotics are very important to include into your daily diet regimen because they provide your body with "good" bacteria that maintains a healthy gut, aides in digestion and boosts the immune system. This is just as important for your pets, especially since many of them only eat dry kibble food and don't get the type of bacteria that their bodies might get while hunting in the wild. Some signs that your pet may need a probiotic added to their diet are diarrhea, vomiting after eating, lack of appetite, or vomit consisting of a slimy, yellow colored substance, which is basically phlegm. Other signs are indigestion, much like our heartburn, causing them to hack, like they are trying to clear their throat, which is from that burn that we are so familiar with, if you have ever experienced heartburn. Of course, it is important to consult your veterinarian if your dog has any of these symptoms longer than a couple days, as it could also be signs of something more serious. Another important time to include probiotics into the diet is if you or your pets have recently taken antibiotics. Antibiotics rob the body of healthy bacteria and can really throw the eco-system off very quickly. Many times women will experience yeast infections after a round of antibiotics, if they aren't balancing their diet with probiotics. Just make sure that you don't take them at the same time, for obvious reasons. A PRObiotic and an ANTIbiotic will cancel each other out.
There are probiotic supplements that you can purchase at any grocery or health food store, but as with anything, my opinion is that it is more beneficial to get your probiotics through food - in this case, fermented food. My favorite source of probiotics for myself and for my dogs is milk kefir, which is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains. In case you are nervous about feeding a dairy product to your dogs or cats, since dairy can be hard on their digestive system, don't be. The fermentation process pre-digests the lactose, making it very easy on their digestive system and milk kefir contains more strains of bacteria and yeast than yogurt or water kefir, therefore less of it is needed to reap great benefits. I choose milk kefir as my own probiotic source, over yogurt, both so that I can share it with my dogs without any reservations and to provide myself with the biggest bang for my buck with regard to healthy bacteria and enzymes. Yogurt is not going to hurt your dog or cat either, when given moderately. I know of many people who feed their dogs yogurt when they have an upset stomach, but I am of the opinion that milk kefir is going to provide them with more healthy enzymes to build their immune system, especially when made with raw goats milk. Another benefit to goats milk, especially for dogs, is that it digests within 20 minutes as opposed to cows milk, which can take up to 24 hours. Since dogs have a much shorter digestive tract than humans, and most of their food passes within a couple hours, it is important to focus on giving them food that is easily broken down and digested in a shorter period of time. Otherwise, the food will pass through them before their bodies can absorb all the nutrients. This is also why stray dogs can sometimes eat rotten food without getting food poisoning.
You can purchase milk kefir at your local health food store, but you have to be careful about what you are actually purchasing. There are many on the market that are sold as a kefir "smoothie" with sugars added and this is not going to be good for your pets, plus I don't believe they have the live bacteria cultures that you need to heal your gut. The great thing about milk kefir is that it is easy to make at home, giving you full control over what exactly goes into it. It is best to make it with raw goats milk, but in a pinch you can also use raw organic cows milk since raw goats milk is not always easy to find. Once it is fermented, you can flavor it with raw honey, berries and cinnamon, which are all very healthy for your pets too, but I mostly give my dogs plain milk kefir and add it to their food. They don't need a lot, only a couple tablespoons a day, but if they love it and want more, let them have as much as they want within reason.
If your dogs or cats aren't used to eating raw or fermented foods, it may make their stool soft until their system gets used to it, so don't worry if this happens. Starting with a tablespoon a day and working your way up will most likely alleviate this problem. My dogs have not ever had this issue, but I gradually introduce all new food into their diet. My two medium sized dogs only get a couple tablespoons, twice a day, added to their food. If your dog is suffering from diarrhea or upset stomach that is caused from an unhealthy gut, then the milk kefir will actually help to heal their gut and eliminate these symptoms. I read a story when I first began researching the benefits of milk kefir for dogs, which I thought I saved in my research files and would have loved to share with you, but since I can't find it I will have to give it to you in a condensed version. The story was about a dog who had horrible digestion issues and the poor thing could not eat anything, not even the smallest amount of food, without having horrible diarrhea and vomiting. They were worried that their dog was not going to survive because it simply could not keep anything down and nothing seemed to be working to remedy the problem until, you guessed it, they tried milk kefir. The lady's neighbor made her own milk kefir and told her to try it and sure enough, the dog lapped it up and she claims that it solved the problem almost overnight.
We have a similar story with our little dog, Suri, only not as severe. Suri is what I would classify as a "puker," but she does it more as a way to cleanse her system. She doesn't throw up her food, rather when her stomach is empty she will eat grass and then regurgitate it, very methodically. She was doing this every day, but never acted sick otherwise. Her stools were healthy and her appetite was great, so I didn't worry too much about it, but I still felt that she needed something that she wasn't getting. During this time, we were out of kefir grains and therefore we weren't giving our dogs any kind of probiotic and it occurred to me that this may be exactly what she needed...duh. Once we finally got back on the kefir making train, she stopped her regurgitating regimen immediately. If we miss a day of the milk kefir, she goes right back to eating her grass like clockwork.
So order those grains and start fermenting! Your gut will thank you and so will your pets!