As a veterinarian, I get a lot of questions from pet owners about multivitamin supplements for their companion animals.
Many pet parents are interested in plugging up any holes there may be in their dog’s or cat’s nutrition even when they are feeding a balanced, high quality diet.
I wish I could reassure you that if you’re feeding a species-appropriate, raw, organic, human-grade diet to your pet, there’ll never be a need for a multivitamin supplement. The truth is, you do need to consider supplying a whole food multivitamin to your dog, cat or other companion animal.
Unfortunately, these days much of the soil our food is grown in is depleted of trace minerals and some vitamins. The crops grown in this deficient soil are also deficient. When animals eat these crops, they also can become deficient in many micronutrients and minerals.
So there are certainly situations in which a whole food multivitamin/mineral supplement can be a really good addition to your pet’s diet.
Super Green Foods for Pets
If you’ve read the cookbook I co-wrote, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, you know there’s a special section in the book on super green foods for pets.
One of my favorite ways to supply vitamins and minerals to my own animals as well as the patients I treat is in an all natural, wholly absorbable, biologically available super green food called spirulina.
Spirulina is freshwater, blue-green algae that is densely packed with fully absorbable protein. It contains a full spectrum of amino acids that absorb rapidly into your pet’s bloodstream.
Spirulina is about 60 percent protein in its natural form, so it contains more protein ounce-for-ounce than meat. It is also a source of fatty acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients. It is a wonderful whole food for pets.
My First Experience with Spirulina
I learned about spirulina when I was just a teenager.
When I was 16, I heard about a wildlife rehabilitator, a woman named Barbara Harvey, who had amazing success rehabbing raptors (hawks, eagles, owls and falcons). Ms. Harvey was statistically twice as successful in her rehabilitation efforts as anyone else in the country.
I called Ms. Harvey one day and introduced myself. I told her I really wanted to come visit her at her facility. She was a bit hesitant at first, but I talked her into it.
Barbara’s rehab facility was amazing, and so was her rapport with the wildlife she cared for. One of the things I learned during my visit was the nutritional powerhouse Barbara used in her rehab efforts with wounded, malnourished and generally debilitated raptors.
The leading cause of death in juvenile raptors is starvation, and Barbara took in lots of young, starving raptors. Some had been without food and water for days; others, for weeks.
The first thing Barbara did for her raptors was prepare a spirulina slurry, which is spirulina mixed with water. Spirulina is a green powder that when mixed with water can be given by syringe. As I helped her syringe-feed hungry raptors, she explained that the spirulina is perfect to begin re-nourishing starving creatures.
When an animal is starving or debilitated by a wound or disease, the gastrointestinal tract shuts down. Because spirulina is composed of wholly absorbable nutrients – vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids, antioxidants and phytonutrients – it can be passively assimilated by the GI tract. In other words, an animal’s body doesn’t have to work hard to absorb all the wonderful nutrients in spirulina.
When food is reintroduced to a starving animal, it must be done very slowly. Spirulina is perfect for this application and prevents the body from going into shock when it is starved for nutrients.
Decades Later, Spirulina Still Tops My List of Whole Food Supplements
After my experience with Barbara Harvey, I began feeding spirulina to every injured, ill and malnourished wild animal that crossed my path as a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
When I became a veterinarian, I continued to use spirulina in my practice, and I use it to this day.
Spirulina has natural anti-inflammatory properties. It is very effective in fighting inflammation in the body and ‘-itis’ conditions like dermatitis, stomatitis, colitis and arthritis.
It is the rich source of essential fatty acids in spirulina that helps manage inflammation and also promotes healthy skin and coat.
Because it’s so high in protein, it’s excellent, species-appropriate fuel for carnivorous animals. And because it’s a blue-green algae, vegetarian animals are also able to assimilate it well.
Spirulina is loaded with micronutrients and trace minerals, so it can nourish your pet’s body in the event her diet is nutrient-deficient. It is one of my all time favorite whole food supplements for pets.
Another Whole Food Supplement Favorite of Mine: Astaxanthin
Astaxanthin is the king of the carotenoid family – a naturally occurring, non-toxic source of vitamin A.
I love astaxanthin because it’s about a hundred times more potent than vitamin E, ten times more potent than beta-carotene, and about five times more potent than lutein as a functional antioxidant.
Astaxanthin fights oxidative stress and free radial damage. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and the blood-retina barrier. This means it can help reduce the potential for diseases of the central nervous system, the spinal cord, and the eye.
Astaxanthin provides antioxidants to parts of the body that don’t normally receive a lot of antioxidant benefit. It supports eye health and immune function, thanks to its high levels of beta-carotene.