Nutritional supplements for pets are big business. Pet owners spend hundreds of millions of dollars (really) each year on supplements; hoping that these products will help their pet be healthier or more comfortable; and have fresher breath, more energy, a shinier coat, or a brighter mind.
Broadly, there are two groups of nutritional supplements: those intended to supply nutrients that may be missing from a pet’s diet (let’s call these dietary supplements; a good example is a multivitamin supplement), and those that are supposed to give specific health benefits (let’s call these nutraceuticals; glucosamine is an example). Just like your veterinarian should know what you feed your pet, it's important to let your veterinarian know what supplements you give (or are considering giving) your pet because some supplements can make medical conditions harder to manage or require change in medication dosage.
Many essential nutrients are safe for pets to consume over a wide variety of doses. This means that even if the pet consumes much more than the required amount, it’s still safe because there is a mechanism for them to use or eliminate the excess. For some nutrients though, a dose that significantly exceeds requirements can be problematic; even toxic, especially if given long-term. If included in dietary supplements, these nutrients need to be dosed carefully, with consideration of the amount of that nutrient that also comes from the pet’s food. Commercially-available dietary supplements typically contain vitamins and minerals in amounts that are safe to give (at the labeled dose) in addition to commercially-available pet diets. This is because there is a typical range of concentrations of these nutrients in these diets, and even when the amount from the supplement is added to the amount from the diet, the total dose still falls within the window of safety.
That said, are these supplements even necessary? For many pets, the answer is no. There may be factors related to some pets or some diets though, that could make these additional nutrients worthwhile.
For nutrients with the potential for toxicity, the typical amount of these nutrients present in already-balanced commercial diets limits the amount that can be safely put in dietary supplements, so these supplements generally don’t have enough of these nutrients to restore balance to an unbalanced home-prepared diet. For that purpose, you should work with a board certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure the diet you feed truly meets your pet’s needs.
Some nutraceutical products can be effective, but many are unnecessary, and some can even be harmful. But since they all come with marketing that says they will do something good for your pet, how is one to know how to choose a product, or if a product is even necessary? In many cases, there is no scientific research that supports use of nutraceutical products, and in some cases, the research that justifies their use is of poor-quality. Even if your veterinarian has recommended a particular type of supplement, not all are created equal. For example, there are a wide variety of products providing fatty acids for pets. However, fatty acids are not all the same. Some pets may need omega-3 fatty acids, while others would get more benefit from omega-6 fatty acids, or from a mixture. Some products may have very high concentrations of important fatty acids, while others, well, not so much. Veterinary Nutrition Care can evaluate a nutraceutical product and inform you of the potential benefits (or risks) associated with its use, as well as investigate the body of relevant scientific literature to help you to make the best decisions about what to give (or not to give) your pet.
No matter what you feed your pet, or what results you may be trying to achieve with a nutritional supplement, Veterinary Nutrition Care can evaluate your pet, their lifestyle, and current diet to determine if there is a nutritional supplement that is right for them.