Supplements, vitamins, & herbs; we hear a lot about their benefits in human medicine, but are they necessary or safe for our pets? In general, feeding a quality commercial pet food should supply your pet with all the required nutrients for general health. Different age groups, specific breeds, or pets with medical conditions may require different nutrients.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring compounds that are often paired together in joint supplements. They are commonly recommended for elderly, arthritic, or patients with joint injuries. These supplements are a chondroprotectant, which means they help to alleviate joint pain by boosting repair of damaged cartilage, helping to retain fluid to lubricate the joint, and protect against cartilage break down. These supplements often work behind the scenes and results are usually not seen immediately after starting these supplements; they need time to build up in the patient’s system and take effect. Sometimes owners will notice more of an effect when they stop these.
Glucosamine and chondroitin can be found in many forms. These supplements are sold over the counter and can be found in tablets, capsules, and powder form. It is often included in senior pet foods and foods marketed for joint health (Hill’s Science Diet j/d®, Purina Veterinary Diet Joint Mobility®, Royal Canin Advance Mobility Support®). Prescription treats made with Glucosamine and chondroitin are also available. Make sure the supplements have been FDA approved, otherwise the ingredients, dosage, etc. may not be reliable.
Not all fats are bad. Essential fatty acids are found naturally in a balanced diet. Pets that lack adequate fatty acids can have dry, dull hair coat and skin. Adding Omega-3 is commonly recommended to improve skin and coat health. Fatty acids can also improve heart health by reducing inflammation in the body that can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease. Studies also suggest it may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and may also help with arthritis.
Fatty acids can be found in certain oils, flax seed, chia, and safflower. Studies suggest that pets may have difficulty converting these into the correct form to provide the most benefit. Cold water fish, algae, and krill oil have been shown to already contain the correct form that does not need converting. Therefore, the source of the fatty acid is important when choosing a product. Supplements are commonly found in either liquid or capsule form.
Excessive amounts of fatty acids can cause undesirable side effects such as gastrointestinal upset or blood clotting issues. Avoid these supplements within two weeks of any surgical procedure. Pet owners may not appreciate the fishy breath and “fish burps” that often accompany the use of these supplements. Most products require refrigeration or can become rancid, and the efficacy can be affected by exposure to light, heat, or oxygen. Be sure to read the labels regarding storage and expiration.
Note: Fatty Acid supplements may need to be discontinued before surgical procedures.
I could write an entire blog on probiotics, but in summary probiotics can be beneficial to most patients. The benefits range from aiding in digestion and GI health to supporting a healthy immune system. Probiotics can be found in many forms; including powder, capsules, tablets, liquids, pastes, and in treats or food. Powders have been found to be most effective. Attention to bacterial strains, ingredients and dosages are important no matter which product is used. Probiotics tend to work best when they are given to the species they are formulated for. For example, human probiotics work best for humans, canine probiotics work best for canines, and feline probiotics work best for felines.
For patients with gastrointestinal issues, adding more fiber to their diet may improve symptoms. Fiber aids in regulating bowel movements, which can benefit pets experiencing either diarrhea or constipation. Canned pumpkin is an inexpensive and palatable addition to a pet’s diet to increase fiber. Make sure to use canned pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which has ingredients that may cause gastrointestinal upset.
The anal glands are normally expressed with a solid bowel movement. Patients with loose stools or altered anatomy near the rectum may have issues expressing their anal glands naturally. By adding fiber to their diet, the stools become firmer and more regular, aiding in expressing the glands regularly. Products such as Glandex®, No Scoot®, and Express Ease® are marketed for patients with chronic anal gland issues. Fiber is a main ingredient in these products.
Overweight patients will also benefit from added fiber. Eating more fiber allows them to reduce caloric intake but still feel full. Studies show that diabetics who consume a high fiber diet experience less fluctuation in blood sugar levels. Weight loss and diabetic diets (Hill’s Science Diet prescription w/d® and r/d®, Purina Veterinary Diets Overweight Management® and Diatetic Management®, Royal Canin Satiety Support®) are formulated with increased fiber and fewer calories.
Antioxidants & Vitamins
The benefit of adding antioxidants and vitamins to a pet’s diet is debated. Some evidence supports the possibility that they counteract the effects of aging, such as cognitive dysfunction. For example, vitamins C and E may reduce inflammation and help aging dogs with memory problems. A patient may be diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency or disease that would be slowed by the addition of a supplement. In these cases, the supplements should be prescribed by a veterinarian and monitored closely.
Ancient civilizations have been using herbal medicine to treat ailments for centuries. Many of the same herbal blends are still used today. There are many different ingredients with multiple benefits such as controlling urine leakage, aiding in blood clotting, and even slowing the progression of cancer. These supplements should be prescribed and closely monitored by your veterinarian. It is important to obtain them from a trusted source since the ingredients, dosage, etc. can widely vary. Counterfeit products are also a risk when ordering online.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
You may have heard the phrase “Too much of a good thing ain’t a good thing.” This rings true for supplements. For example, too much calcium can cause skeletal problems. Excess vitamin A can harm blood vessels and cause dehydration and joint pain. Too much vitamin D can prompt a dog to stop eating, effect bones, and cause muscle atrophy. Though studies have been done on the short-term benefits of supplements, they often don’t examine the long-term effects. As veterinary medicine advances, more knowledge of the effects of supplements will evolve.
Each individual patient is unique. Always consult your veterinarian before starting any supplements and report any side effects. Please bring any supplements along to appointments so they can be documented in the patient’s medical history.