Supplements for pets

If vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements are recommended for improved human health, such as vitamin C for immune support, shouldn’t we automatically assume that supplements are good for our pets? The answer is three-fold: no, yes, and it depends. In this article, we answer some questions from readers.

Should our pets receive vitamin and mineral supplements?

No, not as a rule of thumb. Over the last 25+ years, the pet food industry has made great strides in providing healthy, nutritionally complete and balanced foods for our pets. The average cat or dog eating a high quality, vet-recommended pet food is actually receiving all the vitamins and minerals they need because these are added to the food to ensure it is nutritionally complete. This is also why pet foods are made for different stages of a pet’s life: they provide the recommended amounts of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals required for optimal health at each stage.

If you eat healthy, exercise regularly, manage your stress well and rarely get sick, would you need to take supplements? It’s this mindset that applies to our pets: prevention is better than cure, but don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.

What’s the harm in giving pets supplements?

For pets, too much or too little of various vitamins and minerals at different life stages can cause health problems. Adding extra vitamins and minerals to an already complete diet may create toxicity and other problems like urate crystals – especially in cats. Large breed puppies who absorb too much calcium during their early growth spurt can develop skeletal problems. Older dogs also do not process and excrete vitamins and minerals as efficiently as younger dogs do, so care should be taken to only give your pets supplements recommended by your vet.

Too much of anything is bad: excess vitamin A can wreak havoc on blood vessels, cause dehydration in the body and damage the liver. Too much vitamin D can damage the bones and muscles and negatively affect a dog’s appetite.

Are there instances where healthy pets do need extra vitamin and mineral supplements?

If pets are being fed a raw food diet or are on a home-cooked diet, they may need additional supplements to ensure they get the right amount of vitamins and minerals to support their growth, organ and sensory health, digestion and other bodily and brain functions. Every dog or cat is a different individual with different dietary requirements. It’s not to say that a raw or home-cooked diet is bad for them, but their specific body composition and dietary requirements needs to be taken into consideration when deciding what to feed them. The best route to take is to work with your vet to see whether your pets’ diet is sufficient, or if they need any supplementation.

Which pets may need vitamin and mineral, or other dietary supplements?

Young, healthy cats and dogs may not automatically need a supplement, but in certain instances – influenced by genetics or environmental factors – these pets may need a little boost.

Pets with allergies

If food allergies or skin allergies are causing inflammation and dry, flaky skin, additional omega-3 fatty acids may help to alleviate these symptoms.

Pets with diseases

Digestive conditions like Crohn’s disease and colitis may leave the digestive tract inflamed and unable to absorb all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals the pet needs for optimal health. Many other diseases can also cause vitamin deficiencies. Where malabsorption is caused by digestive problems, additional supplements can be administered intravenously, which is why it’s important for you to involve a veterinarian if your pet needs supplementation.

Pets with arthritis and joint problems

Old age and orthopaedic conditions can cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can effectively improve joint health and slow the deterioration of joint cartilage (depending on how severe the symptoms are when supplementation is started). Many pet food brands offer targeted joint health formulas that already contain glucosamine and chondroitin, but depending on the pet’s specific needs and the severity of their condition, the supplementation in the food may not be enough to be therapeutically effective. In this case, a supplement powder, gel, sauce or capsule may be required.

 Pets with digestive sensitivity

Pets who suffer from digestive issues or stomach upsets caused by genetics or food allergies could benefit from a probiotic supplement to balance their gut health. A healthy gut will also improve the absorption of nutrients, vitamins and minerals from their food, and improve their health in general. Cats with sensitive tummies can benefit from digestive enzymes, which aid digestion, but are also good for general health and immunity.

Ageing pets

Ageing pets could benefit from antioxidant supplements like vitamins E and C, which support their general health, attacking free radicals and preventing mental decline. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and immune support. Ageing pets can also benefit from zinc supplements if their skin is becoming dry and bald. They need a good balance of sodium and potassium for their kidneys and hearts, but these minerals should be available in high-quality senior pet food and therefore shouldn’t need to be supplemented. Ageing pets should not randomly be given extra vitamins and minerals, as over-supplementing nutrients can cause damage.

Pets on medication

Some medication can interfere with pets’ ability to absorb certain vitamins and may deplete their available nutrients. Additional supplements like vitamin B12 and probiotics will help to improve their health while on these medications.

 

Should pets be taking supplements in preparation for winter?

There are many ways to protect our pets’ health during the winter months, but again, they only need supplementation if their diet is deficient of certain vitamins and minerals. Pets are susceptible to winter colds, just like humans are, but the best way to protect them is to ensure they are eating healthy, drinking enough water and keeping warm at night. The winter air may be cold and dry, which can cause pets’ coats to become dry and dull, and their skin dry and itchy. Only in these specific instances should their diets be supplemented with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help protect the skin and keep their coats shiny.

Wintertime is also when arthritic pets may feel their achy joints more acutely. Aside from their regular glucosamine and chondroitin supplement, they should be kept very warm and have a soft and supportive place to lie down to protect their joints.

Individual needs

Each pet’s need for vitamin and mineral supplementation will differ based on the quality of their nutrition, their age, their genetic makeup and any medical conditions they may have. The case for supplementation is made on an individual basis, so any concerns regarding symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies should be addressed with your veterinarian.

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