Dog food in a bone-patterned bowl

Q. The dog food we get now says it has probiotics. Is this just marketing hype or is it really better?

A. I would say that it’s really better. The science on probiotics has been presented at veterinary conferences for a few years now, and it’s pretty convincing. As with many veterinary issues, it tracks closely developments in human health, where probiotics — "good" bacteria added to the gut — are widely accepted as beneficial.

I was convinced enough to recommend to my co-author, Gina Spadafori, that we put her Retriever McKenzie on a daily dose of probiotics while she was our “tour dog” during our 29-city BIG Bus Tour last spring for “Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.” I wanted to reduce the effects of stress on McKenzie, and the plan worked well. McKenzie handled the tour with no problems, and she and Gina’s other dogs and cats have remained on probiotics ever since. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, as I said, but I like the science behind it.

There’s no doubt that there is a degree of marketing involved with adding probiotics to food — and especially to the label. And again, trends in pet food track human diet trends closely. If you doubt this, just check out all the “holistic,” “organic” and even vegetarian foods in the pet-food aisle.

Should you buy a food solely based on the inclusion of probiotics? Probably not; after all, not every pet needs probiotics, and you should talk to your veterinarian before making any diet changes. Discuss your options with your veterinarian and make the best choice overall when selecting a food for your dog or cat. Probiotics can be added separately, of course, and there are several companies offering well-respected products in this line.