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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on September 28, 2018
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We have talked before about giving your dog probiotics, a supplement that helps aid the digestive process for dogs with delicate stomachs. But we’ve never done a post on supplements in general. There is a lot of controversy about giving dogs supplements. Some people say that dogs should be getting all the nutrients they need from their food. Some people, such as my veterinarian Steve, say that some dogs may need supplements due to specific health problems or issues getting enough nutrients from food. I tend to lean towards the opinion of my vet, as he’s never let me down before, but I wanted to do some research myself.
Here’s what we know about dog food: it is not all created equal. The best, highest-quality dog food companies go through a testing procedure where they formulate their food, and then monitor dogs as they eat it over a period of time to ensure that the dogs are getting all the nutrients they need from the food. They test the dogs’ nutrient levels before eating the food, during their time eating the food, and at the end of the trial, and compare – do dogs end up with a healthy nutrient level while eating this formula? If so, they know that their formula is healthy.
However, the vast majority of dog food companies don’t do this. They simply follow an old formula that may have been created many decades ago, package up the food, and put it on the shelves. Therefore, the type of food that a dog eats may mean that it is lacking in a specific nutrient, and could do with a supplement.
Are Supplements Safe?
Supplements are no more than natural components that would be found in food. For example, fatty acids are a supplement that are found in things such as sunflower oil. A fatty acid supplement is the same as your dog eating dog food made with sunflower oil. Only natural supplements should be used for a dog. If you follow your vet’s advice and the correct dosage amount, supplements are very safe for dogs.
However, it is important to realize that no government agency oversees the sale of dog supplements the way the FDA does human supplements. When purchasing supplements for a dog, you should always check to be sure the company does clinical testing, and that their results are reported accurately. You will also want to be sure that the supplement contains nothing your dog is allergic to or has an intolerance to, and that the product has been tested not just for safety, but also for how effective it really will be. Look for numbers that reveal an increase in dogs with proper nutrient levels versus the start of the trials.
One more tip: Always look for supplements with an 800 number on the packaging that is there to call with extra questions about ingredients or use. This lets you know that the company is using reputable ingredients that are from a trusted supplier.
7 Reasons to Give Your Dog Supplements
So knowing that dog food doesn’t offer all the nutrients that all dogs need, and knowing that supplements are safe to take, do you know why a dog might need supplements at all? Here are seven reasons why you may need to consider supplements for your pooch:
1. Joint Problems
This is one of the most common reasons for giving a dog supplements. For this issue, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the dream team when it comes to supplements. These supplements help support and strengthen joints in all dog breeds. You can get these as prescriptions through your vet – and I highly recommend you do so that the dose will be correct – or you can order these supplements Joint Supplement.
Arthritis goes hand in hand with joint problems, I know, but it’s worth mentioning this one separately because there are a few other supplements that are often recommended for this ailment. In addition to glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, many vets also recommend MSM, vitamins C and E, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. A combination supplement like Dog’s Arthritis Relief Supplement is a good choice.
Particularly in senior dogs, the skeletal structure can be threatened by osteoarthritis and other issues. Supplements that support bone health can help your dog stay mobile longer, and reduce pain when they climb or run.
4. Oral Health Problems
We’ve talked at length on this blog about dogs’ dental health, and there’s a big reason for that. The health of a dog’s teeth can have a huge impact on the rest of their health. From infections to heart disease, poor oral health can really do a number on a dog. So it’s vital that you take the time to brush their teeth at least once a week, keep them on crunchy dog food as long as you can, and see your dentist about regular dental cleanings.
Some pet owners also add in an oral health supplement to their dog’s diet. I haven’t needed to go this route yet, but if I did, I like the idea of a gel supplement that squirts into your dog’s mouth, rather than a pill I have to get them to swallow.
Probiotics are the name of the game when it comes to helping boost digestive enzymes. This is often recommended for dogs that aren’t having regular bowel movements, or that have nutritional deficiencies because they aren’t digesting their food correctly. While pills and chews work, one very easy way to add a supplement to your dog’s diet is with a powder that you sprinkle over their food, like Crafton’s Pet Naturals Dog Probiotics.
Unless your dog has crossed into ancient territory, there’s no reason for them to be losing their coat. Dogs don’t necessarily bald the way humans do, so hair loss is often a sign of a medical condition. It could be an allergy or skin condition, or it could be a nutritional deficiency. One thing that is often recommended is a fish oil supplement. Fish oil contains natural fatty acids that help promote healthier hair and skin.
Just like some people, some dogs are prone to getting sick more often than others. This usually means their immune system is weak, and a vet may recommend a multi-vitamin supplement to help support a healthier body. Chewable tablets once a day with their food can go a long way to helping your dog have a healthier, longer life.
There is plenty of evidence that supplements can be very helpful for dogs who struggle with these issues. Even veterinarians recommend these on a daily basis. However, it would be a total waste of money if you diagnosed your dog yourself and didn’t see your vet first. There are many illnesses in dogs that can seem to be something else. For example, losing hair could be due to allergies, or it could be due to a hormonal issue. If you don’t know which is the problem, you could easily give your dog the wrong supplement.
So despite learning what supplements could be helpful in this article, I would always caution everyone to first visit their vet and make sure their dog has a health check up before starting any new supplements.
Also be sure that your dog is eating a high quality dog food that is made to support a dog’s total health. This will hopefully eliminate the need for certain supplements by offering your dog everything they need to be healthy.
Other Supplements to Know
In the world of supplements, there are quite a lot of different things that are suggested for health. In addition to the reasons a dog lover might give their pup supplements listed above, there are some specific natural ingredients that many tout as the answer to general health concerns for dogs. These include:
Sunflower Oil: This is full of fatty acids that are important for a shiny, healthy coat, healthy skin, and overall health. Many dog owners give their dogs a teaspoon of sunflower oil mixed into their dry food every day, which they also think adds flavor that picky dogs enjoy.
Goldenseal: Goldenseal is an herb that acts as an antibiotic supplement for dogs with watery eyes. Basically, this herb prevents bacteria from hanging on to cells, which is what creates that goopy eyed look. When added as a supplement to a dog’s water, this ingredient is said to help.
Sweet Potatoes: Not a supplement? Think again! The word supplement just means something that is added to a diet to provide additional nutrients. Sweet potatoes are very high in a specific antioxidant that is good for senior dogs. It can help fight cancer and aging.
Adding Supplements When You Cook Your Dog’s Food
One thing that we’ve talked about before is cooking your dog’s food for them. Many dog owners are branching out to this method of feeding, and I’ve even done a bit of that myself. Janice and Leroy enjoy their rice and chicken dinners, and I like knowing that they aren’t eating a bunch of chemical crap. Granted, I do buy good dog food that my vet recommends, but it’s still nice sometimes to know.
However, when you feed your dog food you cook, you must be very careful to ensure they are getting the right amount of nutrients. For example, dogs need very high levels of calcium, way more than people do. A 75-pound dog requires about 1,840 milligrams of calcium per day, and that’s only if they aren’t also eating a lot of fiber (which can absorb calcium before a dog can digest it). It’s often better to feed a dog this size at least 2,000 milligrams of calcium a day. By the time you add up all of that, you’ll need to feed this dog about seven cups of yogurt a day to meet this need!
As you can see, cooking for your dog can be tricky. So many dog owners who do this will add supplements to their dog’s diet. It does require some careful balancing, though. You’ll need to build your cooked diet around the nutrient content in the supplements or multi-vitamin, and not the other way around, to ensure that your dog isn’t getting too much of one thing, not enough of another.
Another concern for dog owners who want to add supplements to a home cooked diet is the fact that dogs’ nutritional needs vary by age. Puppies need anywhere from two to five times the amount of nutrients that their adult counterparts do, depending on the breed. I’m not trying to discourage you, but you do need to know that if you intend to use supplements with a home cooked diet, you will have to do a lot of research for your dog’s specific needs, and pay attention to the math.
Supplements may be a controversial topic for some, but my research leads me to believe that there’s nothing inherently wrong about your dog getting some of their nutrients from an added chew every day. If your dog has health needs that require additional nutrients, giving it to them this way is better than nothing! No significant research has shown any negative effects that have come from giving a dog the nutrients they need through a supplement.
Also remember that choosing a supplement does not have to be a long-term commitment. You and your vet may decide to take your dog off a supplement or to change that supplement at a later time – and that’s okay! As long as your dog is being supervised by a vet during these changes, their health should not suffer.
Just be sure to visit your vet first, and to take into account your dog’s specific needs for their age, breed, and health level, and you’ll be fine.