Our pets are part of our family, so it’s only natural for us to want to treat their aches and pains in ways that are familiar to us. Part of that trend is the use of pet vitamins and supplements for joint health, allergies and pain relief, as well as a host of other issues.
It’s easy to go overboard with pills, oils and tablets, so let’s take a look at a few of the most talked-about supplements on the market, the issues they’re meant to treat and if you should give your pet supplements.
Common Pet Supplements: What is Glucosamine?
Widely used in the treatment of osteoarthritis in pets, glucosamine can be found in many forms, from pills and liquids to food additives and treats. It’s quite often combined with other ingredients, such as MSM and chondroitin. Pet parents who are worried about giving their arthritic pets a steady diet of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories will quite often try glucosamine supplements first or in tandem with prescription medication. Hemp-based joint supplements may also be used to help symptoms of arthritis in pets.
Coconut and Fish Oil for Dogs
In addition to its role in providing relief from itchy skin and dry fur, fish oil supplements for pets are also used to increase joint mobility, ease digestion and alleviate allergies. They are available in liquid and capsule form, as well as an additive in food and treats.
Coconut oil is commonly used to alleviate allergy symptoms and is given internally as well as applied topically (to your pet’s skin and fur). Coconut oil may also clear up yeast and fungal infections, and provide digestive and nervous system support, but more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
A note about oil supplements: as soon as you open up a bottle of fish or coconut oil, oxidation begins, and the longer it’s open, the less effective (and more rancid) it becomes. If you are using liquid or liquid caps, keep them cool or refrigerate to extend the shelf life and remember that rancid oil can make your pets sick.
Do Dogs Need Pre- or Probiotics?
In theory, pre- and probiotics are used to help regulate and normalize gut function and digestion in both pets and people.
- Probiotics are friendly bacteria that maintain healthy levels of other friendly bacteria in the intestines and help keep the immune system robust and in good working order.
- Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that feed the growth of intestinal bacteria.
Probiotics are becoming more commonly used pet supplements, but they face the same sorts of issues as the human versions, namely, efficacy, delivery method and shelf life. They are very sensitive to heat and humidity, so by the time they’ve gotten to your house in regular pet food, they’ve almost certainly been killed off in the manufacturing and storage process. Probiotics have to be live and able to reproduce in the gut to be beneficial to your pets, that’s why fermented foods are a good source of useful probiotics for humans but pills or additives generally are not.
Prebiotics are the precursors to good bacteria in the gut, but there are many different strains and some may not be right for all animals or all intestinal issues. What is good bacteria for one dog is bad bacteria for another. If you foster the growth of the wrong type of bacteria with prebiotics for pets, you can end up with more problems than you started with.
What About My Dog’s Microbiome?
A promising new treatment for intestinal and related immune system problems in pets is called microbiome therapy. This treatment involves Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) via capsules that are meant to jump start the intestinal microbiome with an infusion of the right good bacteria, which then supports digestive and immune system health. You can read more about the science behind FMT here.
At the end of the day, you have to do what is right and healthy for your pet. Just because a scientific study says a pet vitamin or supplement has limited benefit in a given sample size doesn’t preclude it from working wonders for your pet in particular.
Before you start giving anything to your pet, even something as seemingly innocuous as fish oil capsules, talk to your veterinarian first to figure out appropriate dosages, administration schedules (you don’t want supplements to inadvertently impact prescription medications) and a cost analysis based on the likely benefit to your pet.