Pet Supplements and Vitamins

My vet was recommending supplements for my terrier, they are expensive and I'm not sure if I really need to start purchasing vitamins and such for my pet.

Pet Supplements
With an increased awareness of the benefits of supplements and vitamins in the human diet, pet owners are beginning to discover how supplements can help their pets as well.  It is estimated that around one in three dogs and cats in the U.S. now take some type of supplement or vitamin.  The most commonly given supplements are those to support arthritic joints, or fatty acids that have been shown to improve the shine of the pet’s coat while reducing shedding.  Some pet owners also give probiotics to their pet to alleviate problems of the gastro-intestinal tract.  There are even pet supplements that are touted to improve a dog’s cognitive functioning as it grows older.  The dog supplement market alone is expected to hit $1.7 billion dollars in 2012.  But are supplements good for pets? And perhaps more importantly, does your pet need supplements, and if so, are they safe?  The truth is that some supplements work, other do not, some are not necessary, and some may be harmful. 

Dogs and Vitamins
If your dog is like most, his diet is balanced, complete, and includes vitamins and minerals that are necessary for good health.  Most dogs eat commercially prepared dog food and most prepared foods have already had vitamins and minerals added to them.  If your dog is fed a homemade diet, you may need to add supplements to the dog’s diet.  If your dog is already eating a balanced diet, then giving him extra vitamins can actually be detrimental to his health.  For example, if your dog gets too much calcium, he can develop issues with his skeletal system.  Too much Vitamin A can cause joint pain, dehydration, and harm to his blood vessels.  An excess amount of Vitamin D can cause a dog to lose its appetite and develop muscle atrophy. 

Consulting Your Veterinarian
Because there is so much that can go wrong if your dog or cat is given the wrong supplement, it is essential that you check with your vet prior to beginning any type of supplement regimen.  Simply looking for a symptom in your pet and then finding a recommended supplement is not the proper way to protect your pet’s health.  For instance, if your dog has the symptoms of arthritis, he might not have arthritis, but may be suffering from a neurological problem instead.  Or his poor coat might not be an indicator that the dog needs a fatty acid supplement, but that he has a hormonal imbalance or a metabolic deficiency.  And above all, if it is not broken, don’t fix it.  Most experts agree that if the animal is eating properly, there is absolutely not need to supplement their diet at all.   When you do choose to supplement, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Choose a brand that is recommended by your vet whenever possible.  Look for a brand that has commissioned clinical studies of their products, or that specializes in one particular area. 
  • Evaluate the claims that are made about a product.  If it sounds too good to be true, chances are good that it doesn’t do what it says it will.  Be wary of claims that a supplement can cure a particular disease, or alleviate the symptoms of it, such as cancer, parvovirus, or dysplasia of the hip. 
  • Use care when giving human supplements to animals.  Many products can be dangerous for your dog or cat, such as garlic. 
  • Always heed the advice of your vet when it comes to supplements for your pet.  Only your vet can assess your particular pet’s situation and determine if supplements are a good option.