In this country, it's likely that about one-third of dogs are given some sort of dietary supplement for everything ranging from arthritis and joint stiffness to heart health, digestion, and coat care. Although there hasn’t been enough research into the efficacy of these dog supplements to say definitively that they work, there is some encouraging evidence to support their use.
Here is a list of some of the most popular dog supplements and what they’re used for:
The most popular supplement for dogs is glucosamine. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that is found naturally in the fluid around the joints to help build cartilage. Glucosamine is taken from the shells of shellfish and can also be made in the laboratory. Many dog owners and veterinarians believe that glucosamine is effective in treating arthritis in dogs. For older dogs, it may relieve joint pain and improve mobility. Some studies have shown little to no effect. However, a 2007 study in "The Veterinary Journal" showed that a glucosamine supplement reduced pain and increased mobility after 70 days of treatment.
Available in many forms, including pills, powders, and as treats, glucosamine supplements are usually formulated with chondroitin sulfate, which occurs naturally in the connective tissues of bone and cartilage.
The second most common supplement given to dogs is fish oil. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids that are thought to improve coat quality and shine and alleviate skin allergies. There has been some research into whether fish oils are useful in treating arthritis, heart health, and joint health, but results are mixed. A study in the "American Journal of Veterinary Research" suggests that fish oils also reduce inflammation, and many pet owners use it for this purpose.
Antioxidant supplements are thought to counteract some of the effects of aging, such as memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. They’re also used as a treatment for heart disease in dogs and to reduce inflammation. Found in substances like vitamins C and E, antioxidants protect the body from free radicals, potentially harmful molecules that can damage cell membranes and even cause cell death. Coenzyme Q10 is another natural and powerful antioxidant that helps convert food into energy, as well as fighting free radicals. It's commonly used as an antioxidant supplement for dogs.
Given an increase in the use of probiotics in humans, it’s not surprising that probiotics have also become popular as supplements for dogs. Probiotics live naturally in the body in the form of yeasts and live bacteria that aid with digestion and intestinal health. As supplements, they’re used to treat diarrhea and other digestive problems. Probiotics come in several forms, including some yogurts, capsules, chews, powders, and in some dog food formulations.
Before you jump on the supplement bandwagon, there are a few important caveats:
- Always consult your vet before giving your dog supplements. Your dog may have an underlying condition that needs medical attention. And if your dog is taking medication, supplements, even herbal ones, can have a harmful effect.
- Don’t fall for claims that sound too good to be true. Supplements will not cure cancer, parvo, or other serious diseases.
- Buy a reputable brand from a respected company, preferably one that specializes in supplements, has conducted clinical studies, and/or has earned certification from an independent organization.
- Don’t assume that human supplements are good for dogs. Some, like those containing garlic, can be harmful.
Whether herbal or lab-formulated, there is some evidence to suggest that supplements can be helpful. There has been little-to-no research on long-term effects, but some studies and anecdotal evidence have shown successful results, whether in the form of a shinier coat, peppier step, better digestion, or improved cognitive function. And isn't that what we all want for our canine best friends?