Did you know that most of your dog’s immune system is in his gut? So his gut health is tightly linked to immune health. And that’s why prebiotics for dogs are an essential part of keeping your dog healthy.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are soluble, indigestible fiber contained in some foods. The fiber ferments in the colon and creates short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that can lower inflammation, support gut health and reduce the risk of disease. Not all fiber acts as a prebiotic. That’s because there are two types of dietary fiber … soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fiber is fermented by gut bacteria when it reaches the colon
- Insoluble fiber is not fermented as it passes through the digestive tract
So when we talk about prebiotic fibers, we mean soluble fibers. Common prebiotics in supplements (often combined with probiotics) are:
- Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) – derived from fructose molecules in fruit and root vegetables
- Mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) – from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) – found in dairy, beans and root vegetables
- Inulin – indigestible starch found in many fruits and vegetables
Caution: You may also find maltodextrin used as a prebiotic. It’s best to avoid products with maltodextrin. It may also show on labels as resistant starch or soluble corn fiber.
Why Avoid Maltodextrin?
Maltodextrin is a sugar usually made from corn. While it does have prebiotic effects when combined with certain types of probiotic bacteria (especially Lactobacillus plantarum), there are reasons not to give it to your dog:
- Corn is often genetically-modified (GMO), so most maltodextrin will also contain toxic glyphosate.
- It’s a sugar that’s rapidly absorbed and can spike blood glucose … so definitely avoid it for diabetic dogs.
- Research shows it can change gut bacteria and increase the risk of disease, including E. coli.
What Do Prebiotics Do?
Fermented prebiotics have an important purpose. They feed the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in your dog’s gut. More than 80% of your dog’s immune system lives in the gut. So keeping it healthy means you have to feed the good bacteria. And that’s where prebiotics come in.
Feeding prebiotics to your dog feeds the probiotics in his gut. Prebiotics help grow, restore and maintain healthy gut flora … which support your dog’s immune system. So … that’s why you need to make sure you feed prebiotics to get the most out of your probiotic supplements.
Here are some prebiotic foods to give your dog.
6 Natural Prebiotics For Dogs
Mushrooms are an excellent prebiotic for several reasons.
They’re rich in carbohydrates … like chitin, hemicellulose, beta-glucans, mannans, xylans, and galactans. These constituents make them a great choice for prebiotics. But mushrooms also offer a ton of other benefits. They have immune-boosting, anti-cancer, anti-tumor and anti-allergy properties.
So … when you feed mushrooms as prebiotics, your dog gets a host of fringe benefits!
In 2017 the International Journal of Molecular Science published a study examining mushrooms’ effects on gut microbiota. The researchers found that many types of mushrooms …
- Are prebiotics that stimulate the gut microbiota
- Act as immunomodulatory agents, activating gut microbiota
- Contain biologically valuable polysaccharides and phenolic compounds
And they’re easily available and well-researched.
Which Mushrooms Are The Best Prebiotics?
The study singled out several mushrooms for their favorable effects on gut microbiota.
Turkey Tail (Coriolus versicolor) or Trametes versicolor)
As a prebiotic, regulates the microbiome, can alter bacteria flora. The study also noted “remarkable immunomodulatory effects” and anti-tumor benefit Turkey tail mushrooms have two main medicinal components: Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharide-P (PSP). They help form Turkey Tail’s cell wall structure and give it its prebiotic properties.
Other Turkey Tail Benefits
Turkey tail mushrooms are especially well known for their anti-cancer properties. Several studies show turkey tail can reduce tumor size … and help improve immune response in cancer patients.
In a 2012 study, researchers gave dogs with hemangiosarcoma PSP from turkey tail. At the higher doses, it more than doubled survival times. Turkey tail mushrooms also …
- Help protect against viruses and infectious diseases
- Help fight yeast infections
- Control inflammation in the bladder and digestive tract
- Support the body in preventing and eliminating parasites
Provide antioxidant nutrients
Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
Lion’s Mane has oligosaccharides, naturally occurring sugars. That makes it a powerful prebiotic that helps feed the good bacteria in your dog’s gut. Research in mice shows Lion’s Mane immune system benefits.
And if your dog has leaky gut, you’ll want to give him Lion’s Mane mushrooms. They help regenerate the intestinal lining which can help repair or prevent leaky gut.
Other Lion’s Mane Benefits
Lion’s Mane has also been found to have anti-ulcer effects and control IBD. Here are some studies showing its value in other areas.
- Anti-ulcer effects
- Improved gastritis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Improvement of immune function in mice
Lion’s Mane has been used by Traditional Chinese Medicine for these benefits:
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)
As a prebiotic, increases Bacteroidetes, creating a healthier bacterial profile.
Chaga’s high level of polysaccharides provide its value as a prebiotic …
In fact, its prebiotic effects remain, even at several different dosing levels.
Other Chaga Benefits
Chaga modulates the immune system. That means it can not only boost immunity, but can also slow down an overactive immune response. (Think allergies or autoimmune disease).
Chaga has anti-cancer effects in several different types of cancers. It’s said to promote cancer cell death while leaving healthy cells alone.
Chaga can also …
- Support heart health
- Benefit liver health
- Boost intestinal health
- Act as anti-inflammatory and analgesic
- Protect against viruses
Maitake (Grifola frondosa).
As a prebiotic, contains many natural polysaccharides that stimulate the immune system. Its principal constituents are polysaccharides, making it a powerful prebiotic.
Other Maitake Benefits
Maitake mushrooms can also stimulate t-cells, inhibit tumor growth and lower cholesterol. Maitake is very high in a polysaccharide called beta-1,6-glucan. It’s a powerful immune system stimulant that’s known for:
- Preventing cancer
- Slowing tumor growth
- Helping manage diabetes
- Supporting dogs with liver problems
Reishi (Ganoderma and Ganoderma lucidum)
As a prebiotic, increases beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus, roseburia, and lachnospiraceae. A study found that fermentation of Ganoderma lucidum extracts showed prebiotic ability of polysaccharides in increasing the number of Bifidobacteria.
Other Reishi Benefits
Reishi mushrooms are often called the mushroom of immortality for their powerful health benefits. They help …
- Fight cancer
- Protect the liver
- Manage diabetes
- Support heart health
- Control allergies
- Slow the aging process
Caution: Reishi mushrooms have amazing medicinal benefits. But don’t be tempted to feed only Reishi powder every single day for long periods. Reishi is known to protect the liver and can improve liver function. But there have been very rare cases of the powder causing liver damage in patients who took it for one to two months.
How To Give Your Dog Mushrooms
Of course, you can feed your dog whole mushrooms. Just be sure to cook them first. Raw mushrooms are indigestible and can be toxic for your dog.
If you buy a mushroom supplement, make sure the product you buy contains the whole mushroom. Beta-glucans are the main medicinal ingredient in mushrooms for dogs, and whole mushrooms have higher levels of beta-glucans.
But many mushroom supplements are just mycelium, which is only part of the mushroom. Mycelium is also grown on grains. This makes it higher in starch and lower in beta-glucans. So always check the ingredients before you buy. Contact the manufacturer if the label isn’t clear.
If you’re giving a supplement made for dogs, follow the dosing directions on the package. If you use a human product, assume the dose is for a 150 lb person and adjust for your dog’s weight.
2. Chicory Root
Chicory root was once used as a coffee substitute. But it’s better known as a prebiotic … thanks to its effect on intestinal microorganisms.
It’s high in the prebiotic fiber inulin. This makes it a very rich source of food for probiotics.
The bonus to this prebiotic is that it’s naturally semi-sweet … so it’s not hard to get your dog to eat it.
Other Chicory Root Benefits
- Improved digestion
- Anti-inflammatory support for the intestinal tract
- Alleviates constipation
- Provides antioxidant support
How To Give Your Dog Chicory Root
Chicory dosing varies a lot depending on your dog’s overall health and other needs. So if you’d like to try it for your dog, ask your holistic vet to help you decide how much to give.
Garlic is another prebiotic source for your dog that you may not have thought of. Now you may be thinking, “Isn’t garlic toxic to dogs?” Well … it can be … but only if you give really large amounts. Like whole heads of garlic.
But in the right amounts, garlic is excellent for your dog.
Other Garlic Benefits
- Prevents the formation of blood clots
- Reduces cholesterol build-up
- Helps regulate blood pressure
- May help prevent cancer
- Natural antibiotic, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic
- Stimulates the lymphatic system to remove wastes
How To Give Your Dog Garlic
Garlic contains an enzyme, alliinase, that’s released when you chop raw garlic. Alliinase then combines with alliin (a derivative of the amino acid cysteine) … and together they form allicin.
Allicin is the active medicinal ingredient of garlic. So always chop or crush your raw garlic. Then wait a couple of minutes before feeding the crushed or chopped garlic. This lets the allicin develop.
Here are some guidelines for daily feeding depending on your dog’s size …
- 10 to 15 pounds – 1/2 clove
- 20 to 40 pounds – 1 clove
- 45 to 70 pounds – 2 cloves
- 75+ pounds – 2 1/2 cloves
The allicin becomes unstable once exposed to air and heat. So don’t wait more than 20 minutes before topping your dog’s meal.
4. Burdock Root
You may recognize burdock as a pesky weed giant… but its root is a powerful prebiotic. The root contains great medicinal properties during the plant’s first year. And it offers the same high levels of inulin as chicory root.
Other Burdock Root Benefits
- Bladder and kidney support
- Provides a wide range of nutrients … including calcium, phosphorus, iron and B vitamins
- Great support for flaky, oily or inflammatory skin issues
- Regulates blood sugar
- Anti-inflammatory support
- Antioxidant support
- Helps with liver and gallbladder detoxification
- Cancer treatment and prevention
How To Give Your Dog Burdock Root
Almost all health food stores carry a burdock root product. You can buy teas, powders, tinctures, capsules, and even natural root.
Burdock root doesn’t taste very good to dogs, so a decoction is a great way to give it to your dog.
- Combine 1 cup cold water and 1 to 2 tsp dried or 2 tbsp fresh herb in a pot
- Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes
- Remove from heat and let stand for 10 more minutes
- Strain the liquid and store in a container with a tight lid
- Refrigerate for up to a week
- Pour liberally over food
5. Dandelion Greens
You might consider dandelion to be a weed … but it’s much more than that! Dandelion is an excellent whole food source of vitamins and minerals. And the greens have a high level of inulin. So they’re an excellent prebiotic as well.
Other Dandelion Health Benefits
- Liver support and detoxification
- Antioxidant support
- Natural diuretic (but without depleting nutrients as diuretic drugs do)
- Can stimulate appetite
How To Give Your Dog Dandelion Greens
Dandelion is available in most health food stores a dried herb, a tea or as a tincture.You can also buy dandelion leaves in many grocery stores. Or you can collect dandelion leaves from your yard or a woodland trail. But make sure they’re never sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.
You can sautée or steam them and feed them fresh. Or you can dry them and sprinkle 1 tsp per 20 pounds of body weight onto your dog’s meals.
Caution: Dandelion is a diuretic. So make sure your dog has plenty of opportunities to get out to pee during the day.
Choose some of these prebiotics to give your dog. You may find he prefers one or two choices over the others. Then you can rotate different prebiotics so he gets his favorites!
Remember to give your dog prebiotics as well as probiotics. Together they’ll help keep his gut bacteria at its healthiest. And that translates into a strong immune system.
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