Pet Supplements and Your Pet
Sometimes it’s confusing to make sure we are doing all that we can do to keep our pets healthy. We want the best for them, but it’s hard to determine what’s really needed or what’s the latest fad or money-maker. When I visit my favorite pet supply store, the shelves are full of pet nutritional supplements – pet vitamins, enzymes, probiotics, herbs, fatty acids. I think, “Oh no, maybe Rex isn’t getting all that he needs in his diet,” and I become concerned. That’s when I decided to do some research on pet supplements and then share my findings with you. I don’t have all the answers – I’m not a nutritionist – but I think I have some valuable information to pass along that can help you in your decision making as well.
First and foremost, feeding our pets a wholesome, nutritious food is one of the most important things we can do to assure their good health. We know that deciding what to feed your pet in itself can be confusing. In Holiday Barn Pet Resorts‘ blog entitled, “How to choose a pet food”, we made some recommendations to help you pick the food that’s right for your pet. Also, make sure to look for “Complete and Balanced” on the pet food label. That designation by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) tells us that the diet contains the minimum amount of nutrients your dog or cat needs. But don’t stop there. “Minimum” is not necessarily “enough”. Not every dog has the same nutritional needs depending on their age, health, and lifestyle. That’s where supplements may help.
So what do we do? First of all, find out if your pet food contains a reasonable amount of EFA’s. Check the nutritional grid on the packaging. You may even need to consult with an expert or call the manufacturer. Most commercial foods are on the high end of Omega 6’s – containing whole grains, vegetable oils, and fat. If your food is high in 6’s and too low in 3’s, you may need to simply balance the ratio by adding foods that contain natural Omega 3, rather than to supplement. To add natural omega 3’s, add fish oil (good quality salmon oil is excellent) or flaxseed oil to their food. Secondly, take a look at your pet’s skin and coat. Is the skin dry and itchy? Does your pet suffer from allergic dermatitis? Then an increase in EFA’s could be very beneficial to them. If your pet is showing signs of joint stiffness, EFA’s provide anti-inflammatory properties that would most certainly help. EFA’s have many other benefits: improving cardiovascular health, inhibiting or retarding the development and progression of diseases, and enhancing the immune system.
I wish it were as easy as reading off a chart that tells us exactly how much Omegas our pet needs and at what ratio, but it varies so much from pet to pet.
Probiotics are kind-of gross when you think about them. They’re little organisms that live in our bodies doing stuff. Don’t give that too much thought… I’m trying not to. They’re supposed to be doing good stuff though, like keeping our skin nice and clear, keeping us from gaining weight, fighting off pathogens, keeping our digestive and gastrointestinal systems churning, bolstering our immune system, and much more. For dogs, they are also supposed to help eliminate gas and bad breath too. Wait – I see you grabbing your keys and running for the door. How will you know what kind of probiotic to get for your pet?
There are about 500 strains of probiotics, but most come from three major groups: Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces boulardii. Each grouping carries out a similar array of functions. For example, Lactobacillus help increase the absorption of nutrients and combat bad organisms in the digestive system. It is commonly used for treating diarrhea, but it’s list of uses – from baby colic to the human cold – are numerous. Bifidobacterium does many of the things that lactobacillus does, and the two are generally combined in a probiotic product. We don’t see Saccharomyces boulardii very often. It is unique because it is a yeast probiotic as compared to Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium which are bacteria probiotics. The function of Saccharomyces boulardii in the body is again similar to the other two groups.
Okay, so what does all that mean to us and our pets? Pets with sensitive stomachs could benefit by taking probiotics. As seen above, they are helpful with many digestive and gastrointestinal issues. Pets with weakened immune systems may benefit from probiotics as they are effective in the assimilation of nutrients. Sometimes a stressful life circumstance – like moving – can temporarily create an imbalance in the intestines whereas a round of probiotics could help get them back on track. And, last but not least, probiotics can help diminish the incidence of flatulence if that is a concern with your pet.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are like a probiotic’s cheerleader. They encourage or stimulate the probiotics to do their job more effectively. By cheerleading the good bacteria (the probiotics), prebiotics help in doing all the beneficial things that probiotics do, like preventing disease and improving nutrient absorption. Prebiotics are often included in probiotic supplements since there is a “synergy” between the two.
Prebiotics are plant-based, undigestible fibers. They’re not living organisms like probiotics. Because they are made up of soluble fiber, they help give some “bulk” to pets with diarrhea by absorbing water and slowing down travel through the intestines.
When properly dosed, prebiotics and probiotics are generally safe and effective in balancing intestinal flora.
What are enzymes, anyway? Enzymes are one of the most important molecules in our bodies. They are responsible for metabolism, detoxification, energy, normal cell growth and too many other critical life functions to list. The supplemental enzymes we are talking about are “digestive” enzymes. Digestive enzymes are produced by our bodies and released into our stomachs and intestines when we eat. There are four types of digestive enzymes: 1) Protease (to digest protein) 2) Lipase (to digest fats) and 3) Amylase (to digest carbohydrates), and 4) Cellulase (to digest fiber). Sometimes our bodies – and those of our pets – do not produce enough enzymes to thoroughly digest the foods we eat, leading to some sort of a digestive problem. Enzymes may be the missing part of the puzzle, but there are so many other things that could be contributing to your pet’s digestive problem.
Regardless of the importance to their wellbeing, supplementing your pet with enzymes without knowing that there is an actual deficiency is not recommended. Only your veterinary should make that call. If he/she deems it necessary to supplement with enzymes, then most-certainly heed their advice. Otherwise, you could easily disrupt a delicate balance in your pet’s digestive system, and perhaps, an irreversible dependency on the supplementation.
There are a couple of times where I can see that multivitamins are a good idea for your pet: 1) If you feed them a commercially available pet food; and 2) if you home-make your pet’s food. It sounds like I am implying that all pets should be on a multivitamin – because if you don’t buy it, you make it, right? Let me explain…
By commercial pet food, I am referring to some of what you may pick up from the grocery store or discount store shelves. I should clarify by saying that not all grocery store pet foods are bad. But many contain, as we discussed, only the minimum amount of necessary nutrients. Your pet’s individual nutritional needs may vary. And, even if the minimum is obtained, the quality of the nutrients provided therein may be insufficient for optimal health. If you are feeding your pet a commercial pet food, pet vitamins and supplements would be a good idea for “filling the nutritional gap” that the food alone may leave.
When done correctly, there is no better diet than quality, homemade food for your pet. But you really have to be sure you know what you’re doing. Do some research, and then when you’re done, do some more research. And, of course, talk to your vet. If you have any doubts whatsoever that the food you are providing could be nutritionally deficient in any way, a multivitamin is recommended.
I can’t stress enough the importance of feeding your pet the best quality pet food that you can afford. Visit a premium pet food store near you and talk to the experts about what kind of food is best for your pet.
Specific vitamins and minerals
Do you believe that you can correct a health issue by increasing the intake of a particular vitamin? I do, and I do personally use supplements. In fact, many vitamin supplements are recommended by physicians: Calcium for bone health, Iron for women, Vitamin D is a big one now-days and many others. But there are some things that I do to my own body that I would never do to my dog. Like, I have a sweet tooth, but would never give my dog a candy bar. Our pets’ bodies are so different from ours. Did you know that too much calcium can cause skeletal problems in large breed dogs? And that too much vitamin A can harm your pet’s blood vessels? I wouldn’t want to take the chance of giving my dog something that could alter his health negatively due to my lack of knowledge. I’m sure you feel the same way.
That being said, I do believe that some specific vitamin and mineral supplements can be beneficial to your pet, but only at the advice of your pet’s veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist. For example, I have read that some dogs receive an injection of B12 for improved digestion and have had great results. Vitamin A has helped many pets with vision problems. All of the antioxidants are beneficial for the inflammation of arthritis and other pain. Given the correct supplement and dosage for a particular health issue can have amazing results.
Quick – Think cats and herbs… What herb first pops into your mind? Catnip, right? Did you know that catnip is also used with dogs? Although it is stimulating for a cat, catnip has the opposite effect on dogs. It is calming for our canine friends.
Are there other herbs that can benefit our furry friends? Yes, in fact, it is believed that our pet’s ancestors instinctively knew which herbs and plants to seek-out to soothe a number of ailments. And herbs have been used for years by our own ancestors to treat and heal a wide variety of health issues. Herbs are so versatile, as they can be utilized in many different forms: tinctures, capsules, tablets, salves, and even teas. Not only are they medicinal, but they also contain important vitamins, mineral and trace elements essential for health.
The thing is, they can be just as dangerous as they are helpful to our 4-legged friends. There is a huge amount of education involved in understanding and administering herbs. It’s definitely not something we amateur pet caregivers can dispense.
The good news is that there are many area veterinarians who are advocates of holistic veterinary therapies which includes herbal medicine. With their help, we can confidently use herbs to help our pets heal from discomfort and disease.
• Never give your pet “people” supplements. Although they may be safe, certain additives could be toxic.
• If your pet is taking a health supplement while staying with us at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we are happy to provide it to them with you or your vet’s instructions.
• It’s worth repeating… Before deciding to give your pet any type of supplement intended to improve or resolve health problems, talk to your veterinarian.