Reprinted with permission of Animal Wellness Magazine, © 2006, www.animalwellnessmagazine.com
Good nutrition is the foundation of good health. In their quest for wellness and longevity for their dogs and cats, more and more people are turning away from low-quality commercial pet foods and seeking diets made from clean, natural, wholesome ingredients free of harmful additives. whether they feed their companions a premium packaged or raw frozen food, or a home prepared diet made from scratch, these savvy animal lovers are also learning everything they can about the nutritional supplements that can enhance these diets, help maintain good health, and address health issues.
This article presents a handy A-Z glossary of 20 of the most common vitamins, minerals, herbs and other supplements given to dogs and cats. One word of caution the wrong dosage or combination of supplements can cause problems, so before giving anything new to your companion, consult a holistic or integrative veterinarian for guidance. He or she can help you develop the best possible supplement program for your animal’s individual needs.
1. Antioxidants encompass a spectrum of vitamins and other nutrients that neutralize cell-damaging free radicals in the body, helping to fight infection, cancer and other diseases. Vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene, lutein, CoQ10 and selenium are all antioxidants. (Learn more about this important group of supplements by reading Dr. Shawn Messonnier’s article about antioxidants on page 22.)
2. B vitamins support neurological health, reduce the risk of your animal developing cognitive disorder in later life, and help him cope with stress. Good for the liver, eyes, skin and coat, as well as the immune system, and promote cell growth and division and the development of red blood cells. B vitamins are often sold as a complex, since they work together and offer varying benefits. They include:
B5 (pantothenic acid)
B9 (folic acid)
3. Calcium is a key mineral essential for the development of strong teeth and bones. Also necessary for nerve and muscle function and for normal blood clotting, and is a factor in the metabolism of vitamin D. Growing dogs and cats deficient in calcium can develop bone deformities and lameness.
Ironically, too much calcium can also cause bone problems, especially in large breed puppies, so it’s important to work with a vet when giving this supplement to your companion.
Calcium works in conjunction with phosphorus in the storage and transfer of energy, an important consideration if you’re feeding a home prepared diet. Meat without bone is high in phosphorus but low in calcium, so you’ll need to ensure you are balancing the two minerals with added calcium.
4. Chondroitin can benefit animals with osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia and other joint issues. Usually supplied in conjunction with glucosamine, it supplies nutrients to damaged car- tilage and inhibits the inflammatory enzymes that destroy cartilage, bone, and other parts of the joint. Chondroitin reduces pain and encourages normal joint function.
5. Colostrum is the first milk all newborn animals receive from their mothers during the first few days of life. It provides the young animal with all the nutrients needed to sustain him during early development, including growth and immunity. Colostrum has been found to contain dozens of health- enhancing substances and is being used for a variety of health conditions in adult animals. Has been shown to kill bacteria and viruses, stimulate tissue repair, aid in bowel function, and optimize cellular reproduction. It can also speed the healing process by 50%, not surprising when you consider that it’s rich in growth factors, including IgF, which stimulates growth hormones to improve metabo- lism and increase muscle mass.
6. CoQ10 is an antioxidant, an anti-aging supplement that supports the immune system and helps prevent free radical damage and some cancers. It controls oxygen flow within the body’s cells and the speed at which chemical reactions take place. Also helps the body produce the energy needed for cell growth and maintenance. Deficiencies have been linked to diabetes and other problems. Helps protect the heart, and can keep gum tissue healthy, preventing pain and tooth loss. Can increase energy levels and exercise tolerance and also aids circulations.
7. Cranberries are red because they’re packed with carotenoids, antioxidants even more powerful than vitamin E. They’re also rich in vitamin C and tannins, which help prevent UTIs by keeping bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. An ounce or two of cranberry juice in your animal’s food each day can help prevent bladder stones and struvite crystals. Because the fruit has an anti-inflammatory effect, it can also be useful for allergies. Cranberry supplements and cranberry seed oil are also available.
8. Dandelions are a common backyard “weed” that despite their humble origins have impressive healing qualities and are a good immuno-stimulant and antioxidant. The leaves act as a detoxifier by supporting the liver and gallbladder and serving as a diuretic, aiding in the elimination of waste products via the urine. Also good for blood health and for allergies.
9. Echinacea is perhaps the most familiar of immune stimulating herbs. It’s also one of those supplements you have to use some care with, since it can actually have an adverse effect on immunity if used for too long. It shouldn’t be given to animals with autoimmune diseases. Otherwise, it’s a powerful and effective herb with antibacterial and antiviral properties. Work with a vet when giving your animal this supplement.
10. Enzymes are hard- working nutrients essential to life and good health. They are made up of a large number of amino acids that pro- mote good digestion. They help the gut break down food more effectively so the animal gets maximum benefit from his meals, and can be helpful for disorders such as IBD. Although enzymes occur naturally in raw food, they are mostly destroyed when food is heated, so adding a supplement to your animal’s diet is a good idea if he’s eating a cooked diet. The supplement should provide the following three vital enzymes:
Protease for digesting protein
Lipase for digesting fats
Amylase for digesting carbohydrates
11. Essential fatty acids include Omega 3, 6 and 9 oils. Fish (especially wild salmon oil), flaxseed and hemp seed oils are three excellent sources of EFAs. They have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that reduce inflammation when cells are damaged, inhibit the spread of cancerous cells, and provide protection to the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerve tissue. Also very helpful for allergies and keep skin and hair healthy. Fish oil is a particular good source of Omega 3s, while hemp has one of the highest concentrations of Omega 3, 6 and 9 EFAs.
12. Garlic has suffered from some bad press when it comes to dogs and cats, but when all the hype is cleared away, it’s actually a very healthful herb for animals. It’s antibacterial, antiparasitic and antiseptic, and has been shown to benefit animals with cancer, diabetes, liver, heart and kidney disease, staph infections and other conditions. Fleas don’t like the smell of it, so it can also serve as an effective and non-toxic pest repellent! Raw garlic fed daily may cause digestive upset or diarrhea in some animals, so consider a purified extract.
13. Glandulars are a family of supplements that incorporate whole healthy glandular tissues, typically derived from sterilized bovine sources. They are used to stabilize or enhance the function of the same glands in the dog or cat’s body. For example, pancreas glandulars can help diabetic animals, while an adrenal glandular helps an animal cope with stress. Other glandulars can be helpful for problems such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s. Use only under the guidance of a veterinarian.
14. Glucosamine, usually partnered with chondroitin, is another important joint supplement for animals with osteoarthritis and related problems. It’s a precursor for glycosaminoglycans, major components of joint cartilage. Relieves pain, inflammation and stiffness and provides damaged joints and cartilage with the building blocks necessary for connective tissue repair, thereby improving joint mobility and flexibility.
15. Grape seed extract, like garlic, also has some misconceptions surrounding it. Many people think because whole grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, grape seed extract must be as well. On the contrary, it contains healthy proanthocyandins, particularly potent anti-oxidants that act a lot like CoQ10. It’s also rich in linoleic acid and a good source of vitamin E.
16. Milk thistle is a favorite tonic for the liver. Its active ingredients, known collectively as silymarin, can help detoxify the liver and even treat liver disease. It appears to function by displacing toxins trying to bind to the liver, and by causing the liver to regenerate more quickly by stimulating the production of new cells to replace the damaged ones. Also acts as an anti-oxidant by scavenging free radicals.
17. Prebiotics work with probiotics to promote healthy digestion. These organisms help encourage the growth of healthy GI flora by providing food for the probiotics, so they can more effectively overwhelm bacteria. The most common prebiotics are fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Many probiotic supplements also include FOS and other prebiotics.
18. Probiotics can rebalance your animal’s gastrointestinal flora if he has developed diarrhea from a course of antibiotics. They kill off detrimental bacteria and restore the level of healthy microorganisms necessary for normal bowel health. Can also be used to maintain good digestive function and treat a variety of intestinal disorders, and help with the conversion of food into nutrients. Probiotic supplements usually contain a variety of organisms, including acidophilus and lactobacillus.
19. Selenium is a mineral that occurs naturally in the earth and is taken up by the plants and animals that are grown or raised on it. Because modern agricultural practices have depleted the soil of selenium in many regions, however, food no longer contains adequate levels of this mineral, which means you may need to consider a supplement. Selenium acts as an antioxidant, and can help maintain thyroid levels and protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts and rheumatoid arthritis. Should be taken in conjunction with vitamin E. Can be toxic in excess, to be sure to consult a vet about dosage.
20. Taurine is an amino acid especially essential to cats. It’s critical for normal heart function, vision and reproduction and is also needed to form the bile salts that aid digestion. Unlike most mammals, which manufacture taurine from other amino acids, cats are unable to make enough and can easily become deficient, with dire conse- quences. Most premium packaged and raw frozen diets include taurine, but it must be supplemented if you are feeding your felines a home-prepared diet.