Top Supplements for Dogs and Cats
by Shawn Messonnier
The market for pet products is awash with supplements, so it’s not surprising that it can be challenging to figure out what a dog or cat really needs. The foundation of any healthcare program for dogs and cats, regardless of age and breed, is a healthy diet, well-chosen and appropriate supplements, minimal vaccines and medications, and veterinary check-ups.
Basic helpful additions to a pet diet include a vitamin-mineral product, an enzyme and probiotic combination, and a fatty acid. For older animals, a choline supplement may delay the onset of cognitive disorder. Any tweaking of diet and supplements should follow regular testing that may diagnose a disease in its early stages. Here’s an overview of the top basic supplements every dog or cat should have.
Vitamins, Minerals and Joint Support
To provide immune and antioxidant support, and to bolster digestion, skin and coat health and overall wellness, a basic supplement should contain vitamins and minerals as well as small amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support.
Enzymes and Probiotics
Digestive enzymes are used in supplemental form to improve or increase digestion and nutrient absorption. They can be derived from pancreatic, plant or microbial sources such as bacteria or fungi. Enzymes are important especially when the animal’s digestive processes become exhausted or inefficient, such as during periods of stress or such gastrointestinal diseases as acute gastroenteritis, pancreatitis or either liver or inflammatory bowel disease. Enzymes may also be helpful for cancer, allergies and arthritis.
Probiotics are living, healthy bacteria and yeasts, many of which are a part of a dog’s or cat’s microbiome. They can assist with healing in a variety of ways, including producing healthy fatty acids; decreasing the attachment of harmful bacteria and yeasts to the intestinal walls; increasing antibody production; supporting immunity; restoring healthy GI flora; and reducing inflammation.
As a result, probiotics are useful for treating dogs and cats with a variety of medical problems, including leaky gut syndrome, acute non-specific gastroenteritis, antibiotic or other medication-induced diarrhea, allergies, stress, obesity, neurodegenerative disorders, high cholesterol levels, inflammatory and irritable bowel disorders, and GI and parasite infestations. Probiotics may also be helpful for middle-aged and older dogs and cats, because GI microbial diversity diminishes with aging.
A good fatty acid fish oil supplement is also important. There are many brands on the market; some offer the flexibility of being administered either as a liquid (pump) or gel capsule. Phytoplankton, which serves as a food source for fish, is the source of the active ingredients docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Fish oil tends to be derived from cold-water fish rich in EPA and DHA such as wild (not farmed) salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring.
This is beneficial for the treatment of heart disease and may reduce atherosclerosis, thrombosis (blood clots), coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, sudden cardiac death and stroke. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, fish oil is often used for dogs and cats for the treatment of skin problems, arthritis and cancer, along with heart, inflammatory bowel, autoimmune and kidney diseases. It may reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer patients, decrease cancer growth and metastasis, and reduce wasting in undernourished animals.
For dogs and cats 5 years old and up, a choline (phosphatidylcholine) supplement addresses aging changes that affect the brain and can lead to cognitive disorder. Choline is a component of several major phospholipids that are critical for normal cell membrane structure and function. The body uses it to maintain water balance; to control cell growth and gene expression; as a component of lung surfactant; and most importantly, to produce the major nerve transmitter acetylcholine. It may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering homocysteine levels.
Choline is used to treat high cholesterol, improve memory and protect the liver. It may prevent fatty liver syndrome (especially in diabetics), help prevent or treat cognitive disorder and support liver function. It may reduce insulin requirements in diabetics and can reduce seizure frequency.
Supplements other than these can be used as needed, based on the results of diagnostic testing and regular veterinary health exams. Under the guidance of a holistic or integrative veterinarian, supplements can add to a dog’s or cat’s health and longevity.
Shawn Messonnier, DVM, owner of Paws & Claws Animal Hospital and Holistic Pet Center, in Plano, Texas, is the author of several books on veterinary medicine.