By Julie Gallagher
About one-third of dog owners give their pets nutritional supplements, with many finding them so beneficial they’ve become part of their daily routine, according to a report from Packaged Facts’ about pet supplements in America.
The report states that 70 percent of pet owners who indicated that they’d given their pet supplements in the past 30 days, were giving those supplements at least once daily. The largest percent of pet owners who purchase these supplements spend between $20 and $29 a month on them.
But are dog vitamins and supplements truly beneficial or are they just following the trend of human hype? Let’s break down five common sources of dog vitamins and supplements to see whether they’re worth considering.
Vitamins and supplements that support joint health—particularly ones containing glucosamine—are among the top purchases when it comes to condition-specific nutritional pet supplements. Glucosamine supplements comprise over 80 percent of sales, according to researcher Packaged Facts’ Pet Supplements in the U.S. report.
They’re also the supplement most commonly recommended by Dr. Martha Cline, Diplomate ACVN (a specialist accredited by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition), who practices at the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Red Bank, N.J. She advises that dogs suffering from arthritis take glucosamine and chondroitin, which help the body repair damaged cartilage and create new cartilage, thus easing pain. These supplements often come in the form of pills and chews, she says.
But as pet owners increasingly suffer from “pill fatigue” glucosamine-containing dog food and dog treats are becoming a popular means of getting dogs to consume the supplement, according to Packaged Facts. But they’re not necessarily effective. Dr. Laurie Coger, who authors The Wholistic Vet blog and advocates a raw diet for dogs, explains that glucosamine-containing foods and treats don’t contain a therapeutic level of glucosamine, rendering many of them ineffective.
Fish oils and other fatty acid supplements, which have been found to support skin, coat, joint, kidneys, heart and immune system health, are among the top-selling pet supplement ingredients since they have some of the most animal-specific studies backing up their health, according to the Packaged Facts’ Pet Supplements in the U.S. report.
Salmon oil is the richest and best-absorbed source of omega-3 fatty acid, according to Coger. And although it’s always best to consult your veterinarian before introducing a new supplement, the Omega-3 fatty acids DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) in salmon oil contribute anti-inflammatory benefits, says Cline. She recommends a dose of 40 mg/kg EPA and 25 mg/kg of DHA per day.
It’s also important to make sure the vitamin or supplement company is screening for contaminants such as “PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] and heavy metals and investigate where they are sourcing [these supplements] from,” says Cline.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs have been shown to cause cancer and other adverse health effects in animals. The U.S. National Library of Medicine, an institute within the National Institutes of Health, also notes an association between heavy metal exposure and cancer in humans and animals.
For patients who get more than 10 percent of calories from treats and table food, Cline recommends a multivitamin supplement, but notes that such supplementation is unnecessary for dogs whose diets are healthy and balanced.
She explains that the amount of nutrients a multivitamin contains may vary. So, for instance, one multivitamin may contain more vitamin D than another. Before deciding on a particular multivitamin, Dr. Cline recommends consulting a veterinarian to avoid possible dangers.
Dr. Coger says that although most multivitamins contain standard ingredients, she sometimes worries about too many fat-soluble vitamins —like A, D, E, and K — being stored in the body since that can be dangerous. “I worry when I have owners giving a multivitamin and giving individual dog supplements, like extra vitamin E, and salmon oil that has E added,” she says. “It’s crucial to consider all products being given.”
A multivitamin supplement is not necessary for dogs whose diets are complete and balanced, agrees Coger, who emphasizes that vitamins in their natural food form are always best for absorption and utilization.
Because of their digestive health and immunity benefits, probiotics — which are good bacteria that live in the digestive tract and help to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria — are frequently used for preventative purposes and to help dogs that are sick.
“They can be really beneficial for animals but it depends on the quality of the product,” says Cline. “I want to make sure that the bacteria is alive in the product. And it has to survive being broken down in the stomach before it gets to the colon.”
Although some owners feed their dogs plain yogurt and kefir as a probiotic source, the concentration isn’t as high as what you get with a pill or powder form. Most probiotics can be sprinkled on or mixed in with a dog’s regular food.
Green tripe is the lining of a cow or lamb stomach taken at the time of slaughter while the food that the animal ingested is still present.
“It contains a variety of nutrients and amino acids not found in quantity in other meats,” says Coger. “Calcium and phosphorus are present in a 1:1 ratio, which is ideal for optimal absorption. It also contains essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes, and ‘good’ bacteria (probiotic) such as lactobacillus.”
Coger says that it is important to serve green tripe raw since cooking it will destroy the enzymes.
But not all veterinarians recommend feeding dogs green tripe. Cline says feeding dogs raw food puts them at a higher risk for salmonella poisoning. She also doesn’t recommend tripe treats. “I know many Internet sites tout lots of benefits, but I am not aware of any scientific evidence to back up these claims,” says Cline.