Pet Parents Give More Supplements, but Please Don't Make This Mistake

pet supplement

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dietary supplements for dogs and cats continue to grow in popularity with pet parents
  • Supplements should be added to your pet’s fresh food at meal time — avoid processed diets containing added supplements
  • Pet parents are looking for supplements to address the general health of their pet, the effects of aging, obesity-related conditions and food intolerances
  • Some of the most popular pet supplements include those for joint, digestive, cognitive, skin/coat and heart health

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

The pet supplement market in the U.S. continues to grow, with sales of $580 million in 2016 according to consumer market research firm Packaged Facts. And it comes as no surprise that processed pet food and treat manufacturers are looking for a piece of the action:

“Pet supplement marketers are competing against a full court press by marketers of functional treats and foods, which are attempting to draw sales away from pet supplements as pet owners seek out ways to address their pets’ nutritional needs in more convenient and pet-pampering formats.”1

There are an increasing number of processed pet foods and treats on the market that claim to contain popular supplements baked right into the mix. My first concern is the quality of the supplements. Since the quality of many processed pet food ingredients is poor, I can’t imagine the quality of their “feed-grade” animal supplements is much better.

Secondly, it’s extremely difficult to maintain the potency and effectiveness of dietary supplements exposed to high heat processing and extrusion, in the case of kibble. That’s why I always recommend adding fresh, high-quality supplements to your pet’s healthy meals or treats as you feed them.

The Supplements Pet Parents Are Looking For

Some of the concerns pet owners — especially dog parents — are looking to address with supplements include the general health and wellness of their pet, the effects of aging on mind and body, obesity-related conditions, and food allergies. Joint and digestive health supplements top the list, but pet parents are also interested in supplements to improve cognitive health, skin/coat health and heart health.

Joint Health Supplements — Studies show that about 1 in 3 cats over the age of 8 can benefit from support for joint function and comfort. And for 1 in 5 dogs, especially large and giant breeds, support for optimal hip and joint help can be of tremendous benefit. In fact, we now know that dogs may need support long before they enter their senior years.

To enhance the comfort and function of your pet’s joints, the first thing I always recommend is to feed a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate home-prepared diet, which is naturally anti-inflammatory. It’s also critical to maintain your pet at a healthy body weight to take excess stress off her joints.

Appropriate exercise will help maintain your pet’s healthy muscle mass and joint flexibility, along with providing healthy cartilage-supporting supplements to promote and protect hip and joint function. Supplements for joint health typically contain glycosaminoglycans (GAGs).

GAGs promote the health of cartilage, which is the strong, elastic tissue lining the bone surfaces in joints. Cartilage cells naturally produce glycosaminoglycans, which when combined with water provides cushioning to help protect your pet’s skeletal structure during movement and exercise.

A very important component of an effective joint health supplement for pets is natural eggshell membrane, which is a source of elastin, collagens and glycosaminoglycans, such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine that supports the stability and flexibility of your pet's joints.

Other excellent joint support agents include cetyl myristoleate (CMO for short), collagen type II, green-lipped mussel (perna) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).

Digestive Health Supplements — Two exceptionally beneficial supplements to promote healthy digestion in pets are probiotics and digestive enzymes. Probiotics are friendly strains of bacteria that promote healthy levels of good bacteria in your pet’s GI tract and defend against pathogenic bacteria.

The digestive tract is the largest immune organ in your pet’s body. Your dog or cat has even more intestinal bacteria than you do, despite her much smaller size. The GI tracts of companion animals are designed to handle a tremendous bacterial load — bacteria that could quickly develop into a life-threatening infection if found elsewhere in your pet’s body.

A healthy population of friendly bacteria keeps your pet’s immune system in good working order. If the balance of bad-to-good intestinal bugs gets out of whack, your pet will eventually develop GI symptoms and an increased susceptibility to illness. Studies show that animals raised without friendly bacteria in the gut, or with a poor balance of good-to-bad gut bacteria, are at dramatically increased risk for disease.

When researching supplements for your pet, you’ll want to avoid human probiotics, and probiotics added to commercial pet food. Probiotic formulas used by humans were developed specifically to fortify the bacterial species found in the human GI tract. Pets have specific strains of bacteria unique to them, so they need a unique probiotic.

The bacteria in a probiotic must be live and able to reproduce in order for it to be beneficial. Tests on dog foods claiming to contain probiotic microorganisms showed the manufacturing process kills too many of the live bacteria, rendering the probiotic effect useless by the time the food is packaged and shipped.

Look for a pet probiotic that can survive the acidic environment of your dog’s or cat’s stomach, contains enough live organisms to colonize the intestines and the correct strains of bacteria beneficial for pets (not people). It should also remain stable under normal storage conditions and be easy to give to your pet.

High-quality digestive enzymes for pets should ideally contain some or all of these ingredients: betaine HCI, ox bile extract, bromelain, papain, pancreatin, protease, amylase and lipase. I believe enzymes that contain a source of pancreatin are most effective.

Cognitive Health Supplements — Nutraceuticals can significantly improve memory, and the effects are long-lasting. Studies of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) such as coconut oil show they can significantly improve cognitive function in older pets.

MCTs provide an alternative energy source for the brain in the form of ketone bodies versus glucose, which can dramatically improve brain metabolism and cellular energy within the central nervous system. Supplementing with MCTs is a great way to offer an instant fuel source for your pet's brain.

Ketone bodies cross the blood brain barrier to efficiently nourish aging brains. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon per every 10 pounds of your pet's body weight, added daily to his food. Your pet's brain is about 60 percent fat, and that fat needs to be appropriately fueled as he ages.

I also recommend providing a source of SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine). Other supplements to consider are superoxide dismutase (SOD)s and resveratrol, which is Japanese knotweed. Japanese knotweed has been proven to help reduce free radical damage and beta-amyloid deposits.

Ginkgo biloba may improve blood flow to the brain. Phosphatidylserine and ubiquinol, which is the reduced form of CoQ10, feeds your pet's mitochondria and improves cellular energy.

Skin and Coat Health Supplements — Dietary supplements for your pet’s skin and coat health typically contain essential fatty acids, often a blend of omega-3s, -6s and -9s. The problem with many of these blended supplements is that most dogs and cats today, especially those eating processed pet food, get an overabundance of omega-6s and not enough omega-3s that provide DHA and EPA.

A combination of inexpensive grain- and corn-based ingredients, vegetable oils (corn, soy, safflower, canola, most of them genetically modified), and fats from chicken and meat create pet food packed with omega-6 fats. In addition, the omega-3 fats used in most commercial pet foods come from plant or vegetable sources (so they contain very little EPA), and the manufacturing process typically destroys what value these ingredients have.

So the best essential fatty acid supplement for the vast majority of today’s dogs and cats is an omega-3 supplement made from marine oils, including krill oil or fish oil, including salmon, sardine, squid and anchovy. Marine oils can be third party validated for sustainability and purity, so they are often safer than feeding fish.

Vegetable-derived oils, including flax and olive oil, do not contain EPA and DHA, but rather the less bioavailable, inactive precursor form, ALA. Algal oil (not microalgae powder) can provide DHA but usually not sufficient levels of EPA.

Heart Health Supplement — A very important supplement for pet heart health is CoQ10, or more specifically, ubiquinol, the reduced form of CoQ10. (As pets get older their bodies have less ability to convert CoQ10 to its active form, ubiquinol.) CoQ10 is a coenzyme that nearly every one of your pet’s body functions depends on, every cell, every organ and every tissue.

CoQ10 is a compound produced naturally in the liver. It does its work deep down in the mitochondria of cells. Cells use CoQ10 to support their energy and growth. And cells with the fastest turnover, including heart cells, mouth tissue cells, intestinal mucosal cells and immune system cells, demand high levels of CoQ10.

Coenzyme Q10 also contributes to healthy circulation, promotes optimal immune function, supports the healthy presence of oxygen in tissues and supports cardiovascular health. Pets who can most benefit from a ubiquinol supplement include those who need additional cardiovascular support, all pets aged 7 and older that can benefit from mitochondrial support and competitive athletes.

Supplying additional taurine and carnitine to pets eating dry food may also be a wise idea, until researchers discover why pets eating grain-free dry food may be acquiring more heart disease.

Another Trending Supplement for Pets: Turmeric/Curcumin

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice plant also called Curcuma longa. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, found in the roots and bulbs of the plant. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). More recently, Western and holistic medicine evidence points to the benefits of turmeric in supporting healthy organ function in humans and animals due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anticancer properties.

Scientists believe curcumin may have a very significant potential effect against a variety of malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis and other chronic conditions.

You can supplement your dog's (or cat's) diet with plain turmeric, since most pets readily accept a little seasoning on their meals. My pets, including my birds, do fine with the fresh root grated over their food. Alternatively, you can make golden paste using this simple recipe.

However, if you want to dramatically increase the amount of biologically available curcumin in your pet's diet, you'll need to go with a supplement. I recommend a high-quality, organic turmeric product, given as follows:

Cats — 100 milligrams twice a day

Small to medium-sized dogs — 250 milligrams twice a day

Large to giant breeds — 500 milligrams two to three times a day

If you’re thinking about dietary supplements for your dog or cat, as always, I recommend you talk with your integrative veterinarian about what products would be most beneficial for your pet’s individual needs. I also recommend purchasing supplements that are made with human-grade raw materials in a GMP-certified facility, or that are third party tested by the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).