Pet Talk: The importance of supplements for your pets

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

We all want our pets to live long, happy and healthy lives. To achieve this, we take them for their annual veterinary appointments, make sure they get plenty of exercise, and feed them the best pet food we can afford. Some of us even go so far as to give our pets vitamins or supplements to add an extra degree of protection. But are these supplements necessary?

“Healthy animals with complete and balanced diets should not need supplements and, therefore, they are not necessarily recommended,” said Dr. John Bauer, professor of Small Animal Medicine & Faculty of Nutrition at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Just as a healthy diet should provide people with their essential vitamins and nutrients, the same is true for our pets.

“Pet food companies use a vitamin pre-mix for the particular species to which it is marketed,” Bauer said. “For this reason, a good quality food should already meet the nutritional needs of your pet.”

If you formulate your own pet food at home, there are easy and affordable options to make sure your pet is getting these vitamins as well.

“When I formulate home diets for patients, I have the owner add a human multi-vitamin,” Bauer said. “The amount will vary based on the size and breed of your dog. So, if you are formulating your own diet, make sure to check with your veterinarian before for dosage guidelines.”

While most pets do not require an additional vitamin for general health, Bauer added that there is the rare exception.

“One example I can think of is vitamin C production in cats and dogs,” Bauer said. “Under normal conditions, both cats and dogs can produce their own vitamin C. However, under times of stress, it has been found that they may not make enough and may need to be supplemented.”

Bauer explained the problem with supplements in general is that, although we know what the minimal recommended amounts are, there is little scientific data regarding what the “optimal” level of a particular nutrient is. Therefore, it is difficult to address whether supplements beyond the recommended allowance are of additional benefit for normal, healthy animals.

“While I wouldn’t suggest throwing a lot of vitamins at healthy pets, there are a few that are commonly prescribed by veterinarians because there is some evidence that they have positive effects,” Bauer said. “These supplements, namely glucosamine, fish oil and antioxidants, may have a place in consultation with a veterinarian, but there is no proof they will be effective in preventing ailments in a healthy animal.”

Although extra vitamins may not be proven to cure or prevent disease in a healthy animal, because there is some evidence that a few may either put off or lessen the effects of some ailments in pets, there are owners who may want to give them, just in case.

“While supplements can add up monetarily, it is possible that they might save you some vet bills in the long run by slowing down the effects of some subclinical problems,” Bauer advised.

It’s important to remember, however, that there is a safe upper limit to any vitamin, so if an owner wants to supplement their pet’s diet, they need to consult with a veterinarian.

“The difference between a food and a poison is the dosage,” Bauer said. “Safety is always subjective based on the individual, so it’s imperative that you check with your veterinarian and you can even consult with the supplement manufacturer.”

As pet owners, we want what is best for our animals. And while it’s impossible to say right now if supplements will help, it’s safe to say they will not hurt if they are within the guidelines prescribed by your veterinarian. Because of this lack of absolute proof and the fact these supplements can be costly, it’s up to every pet owner to weigh the facts and decide what’s best for their furry family member.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

From the Dec. 16-22, 2009 issue

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