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Antibiotics and your dog's microbiome

Heed these takeaways:
  • Antibiotics play a crucial role in fighting off infection.
  • However, they also kill the good bacteria in your dog’s gut and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and other digestive problems.
  • You can help restore digestive balance with probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods.
  • Prebiotics provide food for probiotics and can also help promote good gut health.

If your pup is battling infection or illness, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to help your pet get back to full health. That’s all good and well — after all, antibiotics play a vital role defending your dog against serious infections. If your vet has prescribed them, they represent your dog’s best chance of getting back on his feet as quickly as possible.

But antibiotics can also have negative side effects, especially for your dog’s gut health. In fact, they can throw your pup’s microbiome way out of balance, so it’s important that you support your fur-baby during and after antibiotic treatment.

Photo by Mike Burke on Unsplash

How do antibiotics affect the microbiome?

Before we answer that question, let’s just have a quick refresher on what the microbiome actually is.

The microbiome is the mini-ecosystem of bacteria found in your dog’s gut. Made up of trillions of microbes, the microbiome is so important that it’s sometimes referred to as “the forgotten organ”. It plays a crucial role in a wide range of bodily functions, providing up to 70% of your pet’s immune system function and protecting against disease and infection. Sink your teeth into our gut guide for a more detailed explanation of the microbiome.

In other words, the microbiome is a big deal. But antibiotics can have a big impact on your pup’s gut health.

Why? Antibiotics don’t discriminate between the good and bad bacteria in your dog’s gut. So while a course of antibiotics can kill off the nasty bacteria that may be causing an infection, it can also kill off the beneficial bacteria that help your pet’s digestive system run smoothly.

In some cases, this can throw off the proper balance in your dog’s gut, resulting in vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and other digestive problems.

How to support your pup

The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to help support your dog during and after antibiotic treatment — the first thing you need to do is talk to your vet. Discuss your concerns about the potential side effects antibiotics could have for your pup, and get your vet’s advice on how best to manage your dog’s recovery.

While your dog is on antibiotics, your main focus may be on dealing with any problems that arise. For example, you may need to help your dog cope with a sensitive stomach, or find ways to add flavor to your pup’s meals to encourage his appetite even when he’s not feeling his best.

Once treatment has ended, you can shift gears to focus on restoring proper intestinal balance. A simple way to do this is to feed your dog a probiotic-rich food to help promote a healthy gut. 

You may also want to give your dog a probiotic supplement to help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria. There are many different supplements available, so ask your vet for advice.

It’s also important to think about prebiotics. Prebiotics are food for probiotics and can help the good bacteria in your pup’s gut thrive, so you may want to consider adding foods that are natural prebiotics to your dog’s diet. 

Despite their downsides, antibiotics are sometimes necessary to fight off serious infections. By caring for your dog’s gut microbiome, you can help him overcome the nasty side effects of antibiotics. And if you pay careful attention to promoting and maintaining good gut health into the future, you’ll reduce the chances of your dog getting sick (and requiring more antibiotics) in the months and years ahead.

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