ANIMAL BYTES: To Supplement or Not


By Stephanie Oba, DVM
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on April 13, 2011)


So many people take supplements nowadays, why not our pet friends? Currently, there is a boom in  this segment of the pet industry. Supplements 101 to the rescue.

What are the most common supplements?

A dietary supplement is defined as a product that is intended to supplement the diet. It contains at least one of the following ingredients: vitamin, mineral, herb or other botanical or amino acid.

By far the most common supplement on the market is for joint pain and arthritis. There are a lot of manufacturers that make glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements. Some offer other ingredients such as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) and ASU (avocado/soybean unsaponifiables). The aim is to lessen joint inflammation, ease pain and help slow down further cartilage damage.

Some pet owners see dramatic improvements in their pet’s mobility when taking these, but most only result in a moderate change. I’ve seen it in pill form, liquid, powder, as an injection and added to food and treats. The amount of active ingredients in food and treats is usually not enough unless you’re using a prescription food. There is little clinical benefit when used alone.

Allergies and hip dysplasia are controlled with fatty acids and glucosamine supplements so that Xena can comfortably hike the trails in Mammoth. (Courtesy of S. Oba)

Another common supplement is fatty acids. These consist of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. They decrease inflammation in the body and help improve skin and coat conditions. Many allergic conditions respond positively to fatty acid supplements. They can also help ease inflammation associated with arthritis and are frequently used for this condition as well. These come in the form of capsules, liquid, powder and added to food and treats.

Liver diseases may be treated in part with supplements. Free radical scavengers and antioxidants are the most common. The liver is the central role- player in detoxification that produces free radicals as a by-product. Liver supplements help protect the liver from these by-products. Pill form is the most common.

There is a perplexing amount of multivitamins available for pets. Varied as one’s imagination, most contain vitamins and minerals. Their intention is to supplement diets and hopefully prevent deficiencies. These are most helpful when feeding a lower quality diet or supplementing home cooked diets, frequently deficient in certain vitamins or minerals.

Are supplements safe?

As with anything, there is always a chance for reactions. The supplements listed above are considered fairly safe, but always check with your vet before giving anything to your pet. Some supplements are contraindicated in certain situations. Many of the joint supplements contain shellfish products that can cause allergic reactions.

When selecting a multivitamin, make sure that you’re not overdosing your pet on vitamins and minerals.

A word of caution: there is no one governing body that oversees the supplement market. A corrupt individual can make a sugar pill and slap on a label promising the world without much scrutiny. A recent report has shown that many manufacturers fail to list the label amount of active ingredients in their supplements. This is especially true in the popular joint supplement market. There is usually less than the label claims. Why? Because the active ingredients are expensive to obtain and process.

When judging a product for quality, here’s what you need to do.

1) Find out if there is any research to back up health benefits. Look for an 800 number to call and find out if there are scientific articles to back up their claim.

2) Find out if the manufacturer does any testing to ensure the supplement’s purity, efficacy and strength. Ideally, each batch should be tested. Random off-the-shelf testing is frequently done. This is a less costly compromise.

Are supplements right for your pet?

Bottom line: These are supplements, not magic pills. Your furry friend needs a balance of good nutrition and exercise to help maintain good health.  If you’re interested in supplements, talk to your vet and see if they’re right for your pet’s lifestyle and any current or predisposed health conditions.


Stephanie Oba is a contributing writer and physician for animals in  Alhambra. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.



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