I didn’t think many people gave supplements to their dogs or cats, so I was amazed to discover recently that 75 percent of people with dogs purchase vitamins or mineral supplements for them, according to a survey done by the AKC (the American Kennel Club, which runs dog shows and a registry for dogs). The reason this surprises me is that the vast majority of people feed commercial food and highly processed foods that are already supplemented with a full balance of all the officially required vitamins a dog or cat needs. (As an aside, it seems to me that one of the reasons that pets can survive on the often low-quality ingredients in an exclusively dry food diet is because they contain the officially determined amounts of nutrients to sustain them.) But if you’re adding vitamin supplements on top of that, you may be overdosing your pet on what you imagine is good for her or him.
Just as with people, excessive amounts of most vitamins are excreted by the body so they pose no threat to health-the body gets rid of what it doesn’t need through the urine and even perspiration. But some vitamins are a problem if taken in excess, whether for us or our animal companions. Too much vitamin D can lead to kidney damage, while oil-soluble vitamins like vitamin A can have a toxic effect on the liver. If your pet has kidney issues already, then high levels of phosphorus can cause problems, too. While sufficient calcium is essential to health for dogs and cats, too much calcium can lead to skeletal problems for growing dogs, especially puppies under six months of age and may possibly contribute to urinary stones or crystals. Minerals are generally excreted but can cause problems for dogs or cats with other health issues.
Some Supplements are Essential
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research is now showing that EFA’S (essential fatty acids) are lacking in all of our diets -pets and humans alike-and yet they are essential. So while I’d say go easy on any multi-vitamin preparation unless you’re home cooking, I have learned that Omega-3 fish oils are a true health tonic for dogs and cats throughout their lives. Amongst the many benefits attributed to the Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy skin and hair, cardiac wellness, and joint function. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, and it is now well known that disease processes, especially cancer, are inflammatory responses and produce free radicals, which you want to avoid, whether in your body or your pet’s. The commercial pet food industry jumped right on the Omega-3 bandwagon and many pet foods now brag on their bags that they contain these EFA’s. However, what they don’t tell you is how little of this substance is in a serving and also, that those Omega-3’s are usually from plant sources.
Many nutritionists believe that fish oil is the gold standard for EFA’s, which is why I chose Nordic Naturals for my dogs and myself. It is a small private company owned by a Norwegian, who has the same commitment to purity and freshness that his country demands of every bottle of fish oil, which is made in ecologically correct ways from very clean waters. (I should proudly note that when the company discovered I was recommending their products, they became a sponsor of my website and the public education that is my hallmark). Because fish oil can go rancid easily (light exposure ruins the EFA, as does oxygen), Nordic Naturals packs their oil in dark blue glass bottles and insists on refrigeration after opening. For convenience I recommend getting the fish oil in capsules, so you can avoid the whole issue of rancidity.
Another good product is the Wholistic Pet’s Deep Sea Salmon Oil (sold by Smartpak.com), which is from wild-caught salmon but in capsule form only (avoid the large plastic jug as plastic bottles cannot preserve the integrity of the oil and often come with pumps, which introduce air into the bottle and cause rancidity).
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
These two ingredients are essential to aid in preventing joint disease and to address the pain and loss of mobility when arthritis forms in the joints. All dogs and cats develop varying degrees of arthritis in their joints as they age (as do humans), and using a top quality glucosamine and chondroitin supplement throughout their lives can prevent painful joint problems and/or diminish the pain so your pet doesn’t have to take chemical anti-inflammatories and pain relievers, which all have dangerous side effects. Many of the glucosamine/chondroitin products have other ingredients to boost their effectiveness for dogs with more pain.
This category of supplement is in a field crowded with competitors. How to choose? First, I would not recommend getting this sort of product when made by a big drug company, often with chemically based ingredients, and sold through vets. From personal experience, and now that of listeners, I’ve chosen Platinum Performance over all the others after 30 years of using it (first for my show horses, then the canine version, and now a version for cats) and recommending it before I even wrote my books. I like the healthy origin of the ingredients, the careful research and development of new products, and the fact that this private company has a team of trained representatives on the phone for questions on dosing and which product to use. This level of dedicated and skilled customer service is also available at Smartpak, where they carry an organic, human-grade supplement called Canine Complete, which has superb ingredients, too.
While dogs and cats do not usually need vitamin supplements, there is no doubt that your pets will benefit from supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids and a glucosamine/chondroitin joint supplement.