Q: For several months I’ve been eating a 6-ounce carton of yogurt two or three times a week. My two 9-year-old Maltese dogs dearly love it and they think I should share it with them, which I do on occasion. I’ve been wondering if yogurt is as beneficial for dogs as it is purported to be for people. If so, I’ll feed it to them regularly (they’ll love that) but would like to know what amount to give them and how often. Thanks for any advice on the subject. — Marie N.

A: If yogurt, and other probiotics, are just half as beneficial as many roundly claim, you’d be wise to share your portion daily with your older dogs. The dose for dogs that size would be one or two tablespoonfuls every day, as artificially introduced bacteria are short-lived. They’ll love you for the treat, and it’s good strategy to employ anything that has a positive influence on the general health of dogs when they reach that age.

Yogurt is considered a “probiotic.” Probiotics also are available in a more potent and consistent tablet, capsule and powder form providing “friendly” or “good” bacteria. One nutritionist describes probiotics (Greek, meaning “for life”) as: “a live microbial supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal bacterial balance.” Some workers believe that the introduction of large numbers of “friendly bacteria” improves the properties of the normal or indigenous bacteria known as the micro flora.

We normally think of bacteria as germs that can make us sick, but some bacteria are actually good for you and your dog or cat. Remarkably, about 400 species of bacteria reside in the intestinal tract of the average animal. Most are beneficial organisms that help keep the animal healthy by boosting the immune system and encouraging digestive health. Other benefits are derived by the fact that yogurt and other probiotics also contain calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, protein and important vitamins and minerals.

All yogurt is low in fat content — some fat-free — and numerous flavors are available. Be sure to select products on which the package states “contains live and active cultures.”

Yogurt and other dairy products that contain live bacterial cultures have been a popular folk remedy for thousands of years to prevent and treat intestinal problems. But oddly, nutritionists today still don’t fully understand the mechanism by which this works in the G.I. tract. Benefits have been vividly touted worldwide, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal and will require a lot of good, solid scientific research to determine how and why probiotics such as yogurt work. Fortunately, in-depth studies are under way.

Pure science or not, people and their pets today obviously consume a huge amount of yogurt as evidenced by the space now devoted to its display in supermarkets and health food stores.

DR. WILLIAM K. FAUKS is a retired Oklahoma City veterinarian. If you have any questions regarding the health of your pet, please write to “Ask a Vet,” at 3142 Venice Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73112, or e-mail bfauks1@aol.com.

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