Are Supplements a Good Idea for Your Pet?

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If you Google "pet supplements," you'll see some 27 million results. Amazon alone lists more than 6,000 pet supplement products, everything from probiotics to joint care supplements, hepatic liver supplements and dog breath fresheners.

The pervasiveness of dog and cat nutritional supplements might lead you to believe you should be giving your pet one or more of these products, but does your cat or dog really need them, and are they safe? Are pet supplements a necessary part of adequately caring for your pet's health?

What Do Veterinarians Say?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), about two-thirds of dog owners and one-fifth of cat owners in the United States give their pets some type of supplement. The most common supplements are those promoting joint health, followed by those which support skin and coat health and digestive health. 

The question, however, is whether veterinarians recommend the use of pet supplements. According to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN), the answer is "it depends." Supplements can be a good idea, but only if your veterinarian agrees:

"If your pet is eating a complete and balanced diet of commercially available pet food, supplements are not recommended unless specifically prescribed by your veterinarian."

When Are Supplements a Good Idea?

This doesn't mean, however, that supplements should be ruled out in all circumstances. Some dogs and cats have special health needs for which supplements can be beneficial. Some of these are noted below.

Again, however, it's important to exercise caution, and always to use supplements in consultation with your vet. She might, for example, identify ingredients in your pets diet which already supply the supplements you plan to use, or which counteract the effect of the supplement.

That said, if your veterinarian agrees, you might consider supplements to aid your pet's health in the following circumstances:

  • Joint Health
    Supplements which contain glucosamine and chondroitin can be useful in treating arthritis in both humans and animals. If your veterinarian has diagnosed arthritis in your dog or cat, she might recommend joint health supplements as part of their treatment.
  • Skin and Coat Health
    Supplements that contain essential fatty acids add moisture to the skin and hair and can be effective healing dry or flaking skin, as well as in treating dry hair.
  • Anti-inflammatory Supplements
    Because of their antioxidant properties, Vitamins E and C can reduce inflammation and improve cognitive functioning, especially in older pets.
  • Probiotics and Prebiotics
    People eat certain foods (like yogurt and live cultures) to help maintain a healthy micro bacterial balance in the intestines, as well as soluble fiber to help with digestion. In the same way, certain pet supplements contain these ingredients to achieve similar results for your dog or cat. These can improve digestive health, boost the immune system, prevent diarrhea and reduce allergy symptoms.

Do Pet Owners Need to Exercise Caution?

There are good reasons why you shouldn't add supplements to your dog's or cat's diet without first consulting with your veterinarian. For one thing, the ingredients in some supplements could be toxic, especially if you give your pet to much of them. For another, your pet might have allergies that supplements could trigger, or pre-existing health conditions which make supplements dangerous for them. 

Can I Give My Pet Human Supplements?

Although some human supplements can be safe to use for your cat or dog, you should never use these supplements without first consulting your veterinarian. Keep in mind that in most cases, human beings weigh more than pets, and you could inadvertently give your pet much more of a given supplement than he needs. 

In addition, some ingredients in human supplements can be dangerous for pets. For example, garlic and certain roots and herbs could be harmful. If you have already given your pet supplements, human or otherwise, and notice a marked change in his behavior (such as sudden signs of lethargy or appetite loss), contact your veterinarian immediately.

"Since #supplements can have hidden hazards, it's always important to check with your #vet first." TWEET THIS

There's a reason you take your pet to the veterinarian for regular checkups: she has the education and training to know what your dog or cat needs to remain healthy and happy. By the same token, you should never begin to add supplements to your pet's diet without first checking with her to ensure that the ingredients in those supplements are safe.

At South Boston Animal Hospital, we are committed to providing you with the facts you need to make informed decisions about your pet's health. To learn more about our veterinary services, or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.