The shopping bag thudded onto the exam table. “These are the ones I have out on the counter. There could be a couple more I missed. I was in a hurry.” Good thing I had plenty of time to sort through the enormous mound of dog supplements, vitamins and magic pills covering the table. OK, I’m joking about the magic pills, but one label promised that it “works like magic.” Needless to say, I was skeptical. “Mrs. Kilbey, I’m thrilled you’ve taken such an immense interest in Barney’s health. I’d like to help simplify things and share with you my top five supplements I consider for every dog. I’m sure they’re in here somewhere.”
1. Omega-3 fatty acids
The first supplement I recommend for any dog, cat or person is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have been recognized as powerful brain fuels for nearly a hundred years. The best sources of DHA/EPA for dogs are oils from fish and algae. Omega-3 supplements may potentially improve learning and preserve memory and cognition, aid eyesight and the nervous system and combat harmful inflammation.
DHA/EPA is a dog supplement that’s also helpful in treating arthritis, allergies and many skin conditions. Pets fed dry commercial diets rich in omega-6 fatty acids benefit from daily omega-3 supplements. Adding DHA/EPA to your dog’s diet helps restore a healthier balance of omega-6 to omega-3. Dosage may vary widely and depends on the dog’s age, weight, diet and medical condition. I typically use pet omega-3 formulations and avoid supplements with added Vitamin D.
Dog glucosamine products are everywhere: Television advertisements boast miraculous claims, pet store shelves overflow with choices, and social media stories are abundant. But where there’s hype and hope, there’s also hoax. How can you tell the difference? I’ve been an advocate of glucosamine for decades, but I’ve become increasingly wary of some of the products.
One of the first things I look for when choosing dog supplements is the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal. NASC was established in 2002 to ensure quality and reduce risk for animal nutraceuticals. Next, is the company reputable and trustworthy? Can I speak to someone about ingredient sources, research and quality control? Finally, is there evidence to support usage? Veterinary formulations of glucosamine have been well-researched and have earned my trust. Talk with your veterinarian about the best glucosamine supplement for your dog.
I attended a special nutritional conference focused on probiotic research for humans and dogs last summer. A team of Harvard scientists impressed the audience with multiple studies proving probiotics’ positive health impacts in humans and animals. Improved digestive health, enhanced immunity and preventing many diseases were just a few of the potential benefits.
I left feeling validated and committed to promoting probiotics for my pet patients, especially those being boarded, stressed, undergoing anesthesia or with GI problems. I advise using a veterinary formulation or whole food probiotic containing at least one billion CFUs (colony forming units) daily.
Learn more about probiotics for dogs >>
SAMe, an anti-inflammatory supplement, is used primarily in dogs with liver disease, cognitive decline and arthritis. In humans, SAMe is also used to improve mood and combat depression and Alzheimer’s, and some veterinarians use it in certain behavioral conditions. I recommend SAMe for older pets with declining mental function, liver problems, toxin exposure and as part of my arthritis treatment. I only use special veterinary formulations proven to be properly absorbed. These products have a special coating that prevents stomach acid breakdown.
I’ve recommended carnitine to my canine patients for years as an aid in weight loss, heart disease and to support brain function in older pets. (I also take it.) Dosing can range from 100 milligrams to 2 grams per day, based on the dog’s individual needs. Before I prescribe it, I always check for hypothyroidism, due to carnitine’s potential to impair thyroid hormone function. When treating obesity or heart disease, I often combine with omega-3, coenzyme Q10 and taurine.
Other dog supplements to know
These are only a few of the most common dog supplements your veterinarian may recommend. I’d also add turmeric, B vitamins, medicinal mushrooms, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) … the list can grow. My best advice is to talk with your veterinarian, determine your pet’s needs, and focus on a few supplements that make the most sense for your dog. Look for the NASC seal, ask for peer-reviewed studies, and investigate the manufacturer. What you choose to feed — and supplement — is the most important health decision you make for your dog each day.
Don’t overdo it when it comes to dog supplements
While I’m an outspoken advocate for nutritional dog supplements, I also urge caution. Research the safety and validity of a nutraceutical and ask your veterinarian about dosing. Pet owners often inadvertently overdose their pet on a favorite additive due to lack of information. Your veterinarian will offer therapeutic dosages based on a pet’s weight, age, breed and medical condition. We don’t know the long-term effects of excessive doses of many common supplements on pets, so I err on the side of caution.
I also rotate many supplements. Because of potential variances in production, processing, storage and handling, I switch manufacturers every three to six months. I began this nearly 25 years ago when concerns about contaminated omega-3 fatty acid supplements originated. To help counter the accumulation of any specific contaminants or prevent inadequacies, I chose two or three trusted brands and rotated them, a practice I continue to this day.
Tell us: What dog supplements to you give to your pooch?
Thumbnail: Photography by Holly Hildreth Photography.
Dr. Ernie Ward is an internationally recognized veterinarian known for his innovations in general small-animal practice, long-term medication monitoring, special needs of senior dogs and cats and pet obesity. He has authored three books and has been a frequent guest on numerous TV programs.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!