I often recommend one health supplement or another for most patients that I see in our clinic. I also get the chance to answer questions and clear up misconceptions around pet nutritional supplements. Sometimes pet lovers are completely uninformed, while others may have read misleading information on the internet.
One thing I hear the most often is: “Why do you recommend this particular supplement? Aren’t they all the same?”
This couldn’t be farther than the truth. Pet healthcare supplements are not all the same. Let’s explore a few general types of supplements and how they could help your pet.
Probiotics have been one of the best advances in veterinary medicine in the last decade. Researchers have learned more about the dog’s digestive system and the microbes that inhabit it. Some of these “bugs” are similar to ours, while others are quite different. Many probiotic supplements are labelled for dogs because they contain more ‘dog-specific’ active microbes. Some are Lactobacillus species that are related to those found in yogurt, so the names of the organisms may be familiar when you read the label.
Probiotics are often mixed with something called prebiotics. Prebiotics are specific types of fiber, called oligosaccharides, that have properties that boost gut health. Some of these fibers pass through the small intestine where they are ‘eaten’ by microbes in the colon.
Who can they benefit?: Everyone!
Puppies, adult dogs and seniors alike can all benefit from daily prebiotic supplements.
Sensitive stomach? Even more of a reason to start a probiotic.
Joint supplements have been around for thousands of years, just not in the form in which we know them now. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used bone broth to help ease the pain of aching joints. We know now that boiling bones (specifically joints of mammals and fish) releases compounds that nourish our own cartilage. These compounds include glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
Over time, the cartilage that protects our joints wears down or suffers from disease. When the cartilage is damaged or missing, painful osteoarthritis results.
Most pet owners don’t start their dog on a joint supplement until they are showing signs of wear and tear. Commonly, these dogs seem to ‘slow down’ or ‘limp occasionally.’ Dogs with diseases like hip dysplasia can show signs of arthritis as young as 6 months of age.
Who can benefit?: Everyone!
If your puppy is a breed that is high risk for hip dysplasia, such as a German Shepherd dog or Labrador, starting a glucosamine-based product like Hip & Joint.
Otherwise, if you have a young adult dog that is active, consider protecting their joints and keeping them healthy before injuries occur.
Middle aged and older dogs with signs of discomfort may benefit from the introduction of a product like Hemps & Hips, which contains organic turmeric. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for pain relief. Modern research has shown that the ‘active’ compound in turmeric, curcumin, does reduce inflammation.
I am often met with resistance when I recommend a ‘skin supplement’ for dogs. These dogs are typically ones that suffer from a chronic skin issue such as atopic dermatitis or hypothyroidism.
The biggest concern is that ‘my pet already eats food that contains an omega supplement.’ Well, the difference is that skin-boosting supplements have much higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in them than in commercial dog food. The supplement helps to deliver more ‘medicinal’ levels in a concentrated form
These omegas help the skin barrier to repair itself more efficiently. It also contributes to healthy, shiny hair, improved cardiovascular and brain health. Omegas are also excellent for joint health as well.
Who can benefit? Everyone!
Supplements with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can be quite expensive and have little known benefit for normal, healthy dogs. If your dog does not suffer from a skin issue, seek out a combination supplement that supports both skin and joints for a sleek, shiny coat.
What to look for?
Seek out products that contain hemp oil, fish oil or krill oil for the best essential fatty acid punch.
The next time your veterinarian recommends two completely different supplements, it is for a reason. Don’t hesitate to ask about why two (or more) may be needed. One may be for joints and the other for digestive support. It is often difficult to find ‘one size fits all’ nutritional supplements for dogs – taking two or even three high-quality supplements can provide the best benefit.
It is worthwhile noting that pet nutritional supplements are not evaluated by government entities like the FDA for safety. While most have been used for decades and appear to be very safe, side effects and harm from long-term use are possible. It is best to speak with your veterinarian before starting your dog on a new health supplement.
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About the Author
Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine.