It has become commonplace for humans to include a daily multivitamin as part of their regular diet. There are special formulations for kids, young adults, middle-aged adults, and so on. It stands to reason that just as humans can benefit from supplementing their diet with the vitamins and minerals that are not readily available in their immediate environment, so might our pets benefit from supplements that are formulated specifically for their needs. In fact, many pet owners have already discovered the benefits of supplements, whether through their own research or by a recommendation from their veterinarian.
Does Your Pet Need Supplements?
For the average dog or cat that is in good health and is being fed a complete and balanced commercial diet, there is no need for supplementation. However, if the animal has not been receiving a well-balanced diet, or has particular health needs that require additional intake of certain ingredients, it would be wise to look into supplementing your pet's diet.
A word of caution: if your pet is on a prescription pet food diet, the food may already contain the ingredients you are looking to supplement, or may have ingredients that would not work as efficiently when paired with an adverse supplement. If, on the other hand, your pet does have special health needs or is on a prescription diet, consult with your veterinarian or veterinary dietician before adding anything to your pet's diet -- including even the most benign supplements.
Choosing the Right Supplements
The most commonly used supplementary products for pets include those for strengthening the joints, protecting and conditioning the skin and hair coat, improving digestive health, and for overall well-being.
Supplements that are formulated for joint health typically include the ingredients glucosamine and chondroitin, which have been found to be useful in treating arthritis in both humans and animals. Supplements that are made for healing dry, flaking skin and dry hair coats include ingredients that add essential fatty acids to the body to increase moisture in the skin and hair. Fish oil is a typical ingredient in skin and hair supplements. Vitamins C and E, both well known for their antioxidant properties, can be used to reduce inflammation and may even help to maintain cognitive function in older animals.
And just as people eat foods such as yogurt with live cultures for its ability to keep the microbacterial balance of the intestines at healthy levels, and soluble fiber for aiding in digestion, some of these same ingredients can be used to make probiotic and prebiotic formulas for animals for the same use. Pre- and probiotic supplements are especially good for digestive health, but they also help the immune system to maintain a healthy response, reduce allergy symptoms, and prevent diarrhea.
Can Supplements Be Harmful?
Too much of anything, even something that is otherwise healthy, can be a bad thing. Some products may even have a toxic effect on your pet, despite their being labeled “all natural.” Only limited studies have been conducted on the safety and effectiveness of vitamin and herbal supplements on dogs and cats. Because of this, you should conduct your own research with a great deal of care, and consult with an expert in animal health before adding anything that is out of the ordinary to your pet’s diet.