Our pets are like our family, right? Even pet food manufacturers now refer to “pet owners” as “pet parents” in their marketing! This humanization trend has been fueled by us Baby Boomers who are refocusing our discretionary spending on our pets rather than spending it on feathering our now empty nests. So it’s no wonder we “pet parents” are now pondering the question of vitamins and other supplementation for Fido and Fluffy. But what’s the real scoop of pet supplements? Good idea or bad?
Animal health experts say any quality commercial pet food typically supplies a healthy and balanced diet for your pet. Often, supplementation is just not warranted and can actually have negative side effects. The experts suggest looking for grain-free pet foods and adding fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats if desired.
However, experts also say that pet supplements are worth considering – under a vet’s guidance – for two reasons: to correct deficiencies caused by a pet’s medical condition and to assist with healthier age management. And while many vets endorse supplements in these instances, most agree that more education, research data, and regulation are needed.
In the meantime, there is general agreement in a few condition-specific areas where supplements are deemed to provide benefits:
As with aging humans, making sure your pet is at a healthy weight and active during its life will help control degenerative joint diseases and arthritis. Supplements containing recognizable ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin may be able to inhibit degeneration, reduce inflammation, increase mobility, and help reduce joint pain.
Skin, Coat, and Immune System
In pets, healthy fats make for a healthier pet with fewer inflammatory skin responses (allergic reactions, itching), improved coat quality, and other added health benefits such as improvements to immune system. Some commercial pet foods do not contain enough omega-3 fatty acids, so a fish oil supplement may be warranted. The best sources are marine oils such as sardine or wild salmon oil.
For pets with digestive issues, such as chronic diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, and hairballs, probiotic supplements (beneficial bacteria) can be helpful. And if Fido has been taking antibiotics,which kill the good gut bacteria, a probiotic is actually recommended to re-establish a healthy digestive environment.
Your vet can recommend the best probiotic for your pet’s condition, which will likely contain these four basic gut-pleasing enzymes: protease (breaks down protein), amylase (breaks down starch), lipase (breaks down fat), and cellulase (breaks down plant cell walls allowing nutrients absorption).
A variety of antioxidants are available to neutralize the effects of aging, stress and environmental irritants on your pets. Many work together synergistically, so ask your vet about a supplement that contains a range of important antioxidants such as carotenoids, Vitamin E, flavonoids (vitamin C, quercetin) and zinc. Also helpful: Lysine, an amino acid that supports stronger immune systems.
You really do need to consult your vet prior to taking the pet supplement plunge. A poor coat can be the result of hormonal or metabolic issues. Too much Vitamin D can cause your dog to stop eating. There can be drug interaction issues between supplements and prescription meds. Experts also suggest the following:
• If possible, purchase through your vet’s office.
• Be wary of claims that sound like miracle cures.
• The label “natural” does not mean safe.
• Do not give human supplements to pets.
• Don’t be fooled by fads and “buzz” terminology.
• Look for lot numbers on products, which indicate quality control checks.
Based on market research studies, as many as 1/3 of us “pet parents” are expected to provide supplements to our pets in their lifetime, so let’s all be smart about it!