Determining which vitamins or supplements may be right for your pet doesn’t have to be a science experiment. Do a bit of research, chat with a vet, and give it a shot. Adding supplements for pets to your dog or cat’s regimen just might help your pet with a nagging ailment or prevent more time and money at the vet's office.
COMMON SUPPLEMENTS FOR PETS
The following supplements are often given to pets with the goal of keeping them well. Just like with any medication given to your cat or dog, consult with your veterinarian, as supplements can be toxic if dispensed incorrectly.
Glucosamine and chondroitin. If you or a family member suffers from arthritis or joint pain, you may have heard of the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin. These supplements, which come from the shells of shellfish and animal cartilage, may help to slow the progression of arthritis in dogs and cats. Jenna Stregowski, RVT, says, “These products will not ease acute pain, but they will work slowly to ease discomfort and slow disease progression.” She adds that, “These supplements do not pose the same risks [of side effects] to dogs as many pain medications.”
Fish oil. Fish oil supplements contain two essential fatty acids that can have several health benefits for cats and dogs. This supplement can promote skin and coat health, reduce inflammation of the joints or organs, and possibly even help prevent the rapid growth of some cancers. Puppies and kittens can benefit from the ability of fish oil to promote good development of the eyes and brain. “Diet plays a huge role in the condition of your dog's skin,” says Stregowski. “Adding fish oil can be very beneficial for animals who are suffering from itchiness.” Of course, this is as long as your pet isn't allergic to fish.
Vitamins. The diets of some pets, particularly those eating lots of table scraps, may not have all the vitamins and minerals they need. In such cases, your vet may recommend multivitamin and mineral pills, capsules, or liquids. Supplements of vitamins A and B can ensure good vision and promote healthy skin and coat. Your pet may have increased vitamin needs when they’re very young, as they get older, during pregnancy, or when recovering from illness. For pet parents not feeding their pet a commercial food, which are usually enriched with the vitamins and minerals needed, this may be a very important part of your pet's wellness.
Probiotics. Anyone who’s had a few pets will likely know that some dogs and cats have sensitive digestive tracts. Your pet may experience diarrhea, vomiting, or discomfort due to a poorly functioning stomach or intestines. Probiotics can help by supplying your pets with the live cultures they need to promote bacterial balance, better digestive function, and even a stronger immune system. Stregowski adds ideas for probiotic alternatives: “The use of Yucca schidigera for dogs, as well as Zinc acetate, and activated charcoal, are all thought to decrease the odor of gas (but not the gas itself).”
Milk thistle. The botanical supplement silymarin, or milk thistle, is often prescribed by vets to aid dogs who have experienced liver damage. Such damage can result from infection, accidental poisoning, or as the result of medications used to treat heartworm or seizure. Evidence suggests that milk thistle may aid in slowing the scarring effects of some liver diseases. Talk to your vet about appropriate doses as these can differ dramatically.
PET SUPPLEMENTS: USE CAUTION
Dogs and cats may not metabolize vitamins and other supplements in the same way, or at the same rate, as humans. A veterinarian should be consulted before you begin administering supplements. The wrong kinds of supplements in the wrong dosage can have side effects both mild and severe. Additionally, some supplements could interact badly with medications your pet is on.
In addition, even though supplements may be needed during certain critical periods in your pet’s life (young or old age, during pregnancy or illness) extra caution should be taken during these stages of life. Your pet may be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of supplements when they’re at their most sensitive.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.