Supplements and Vitamins for Cats and Dogs How do You Know What Vitamins and Supplements Your Pet Might Need?

Supplements and Vitamins for Cats and Dogs
expert or vet photo
vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Vitamins and supplements are an important way to keep your pet in tip top shape. Learn how to sort through the options here.

There are a lot of choices out there for supplements and vitamins for cats and dogs. Sometimes the variety can cause confusion, but if you educate yourself, you can learn when you should, and shouldn’t, get your pet on a vitamins and supplements.

What are Vitamins and Supplements?

Vitamins are special nutrients that your dog needs for survival. If your dog isn't getting the necessary vitamins from food, then he can get it from a pill that's packed with plenty of vitamins to make up for the deficit. Some dogs will benefit from extra vitamins if they're sick, like giving Denamarin for dogs with liver disease, or if their bodies have a hard time absorbing a particular vitamin. Supplements add a new dietary element to your dog's regimen: whether it comes in liquid, pill, or solid form, a supplement is essentially any edible ingredient that has potential health benefits. Many herbs, for example, have health benefits if taken in the appropriate amounts, and can be given to your pet in the form of a supplement.

Does my Pet Need a Vitamin or Supplement?

Supplements and vitamins were designed to fill in nutritional gaps. If your pet eats commercial pet food and doesn’t have health problems, they most likely won't need a vitamin or supplement. However, if your pet feels a little under the weather, or is not eating the amount of commercial dog food that they normally consume, a vitamin or supplement can address a deficiency in their diet and, if you find the right fit, help them recover. Pets who eat a home-cooked or raw diet absolutely need a supplement. Certain vitamins and minerals are necessary for your pet’s survival; a home cooked meal cannot guarantee all of these ingredients, so simply add a vet-approved supplement for home cooked meals to make sure your pet gets all their necessary nutrients.

Can Vitamins and Supplements Cure my Pet?

No, vitamins and supplements are not cures, but they can help support the cure if your pet is having health problems. Be wary, there are a lot of false promises in the supplement world, and not enough research to back up all of the products on the market. Stick to these ingredients to make sure your pet will actually be getting the benefits promised on the pill box:

  • Glucosamine may increase mobility in dogs and cats suffering from arthritis; some even report that it reduces their pet's pain
  • Chrondroitin is often found with Glucosamine because it helps support healthy cartilage
  • Milk Thistle Extract is often given to dogs and cats suffering from liver disease, as this plant extract helps the liver to recover from imbalances. However, the full implications of its use long-term are untested, so do not give it to healthy dogs or cats as a preventative. Instead, use it if your pet develops liver problems. Milk Thistle Extract is the main ingredient in Denamarin, a supplement meant to promote liver health in cats and dogs.
  • Probiotics can be given to a cat or dog to help improve gastrointestinal function; this is particularly helpful for pets with digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Omega-3fatty acids can be found in fish oil supplements and can support healthier skin and coats, much like other oil supplements. An additional benefit of omega-3 fatty acids is their ability to combat the inflammation that accompanies many diseases. Some veterinarians say they even promote better eye and brain function in puppies during their formative years.
  • Vitamin E reduces diabetic cats’ and dogs’ need for insulin; it also supports good immune function, healthier coats, and some report that it boosts their pet’s energy. Unlike many vitamins and supplements, you can give Vitamin E to your pets throughout their whole lives without long-term side effects
  • Mineral Oil can be given for constipation, but it should only be given mixed with food because direct application into your pet’s mouth can cause aspiration pneumonia, a serious lung infection
  • Antioxidants, though an ambiguous classification of over 5,000 different molecules, include some that are said to slow the effects of aging, ward off cancer, boost immune function, help prevent cataracts, and slow the progression of kidney disease. An alternative veterinary practitioner may be able to help you choose the appropriate ones for your pet.

Remember though, supplements should never replace formal medicinal treatment for any of these diseases or conditions. Instead they’re the extra-umph that can get the bounce back for your pet. 

Vitamin and Supplement Habits to Avoid

  • Energy Supplements often have unfulfilled promises. If you want to boost your buddy’s energy, look to the food they’re eating, or talk to your vet about an energy supplement that will deliver on the promised effects
  • Doubling up on Daily Vitamins can be very dangerous to your pets. Too much vitamin D can be toxic for your pet, and many daily vitamins will have the same ingredients. Always keep your vet involved in your pet’s vitamin and supplement routine to make sure you aren’t potentially hurting them
  • Calcium Supplements can be potentially dangerous to your pet, especially if you’re feeding them to a large breed puppy
  • The research still hasn’t determined the long term effects of many supplements. While vitamins and supplements can benefit your pet’s health short term, we often don’t know how it will affect your pet’s health if they take it over years. Always talk to your vet about when your pet will and won’t benefit from a supplement

Ultimately, vitamins and supplements are helpful when they fill where your pet's health and nutrition are lacking. A good conversation with your vet is the best way to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your pet at optimal health. Whether that means cutting out on the daily vitamins or upping your supplement care, tailoring your pet’s nutrition to their health needs is always a great way to put your best paw forward.

Read More About Your Dog's Dietary Options

Dog Nutrition 101
The Best Pet Food for Your Pet
Good Diet, Good Health: Using Nutrition to Prevent Disease in Your Dog
The Most Poisonous Foods for Dogs
Natural Dog Food: Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets
Raw Food Dog Diet
Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs
What is in My Dog Food?
Finding the Right Food for Your Dog

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.

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