Breaking Down the Pros and Cons of Pet Vitamins and Supplements.
By Dr. Jennifer Boyle

QUESTION: I always see bottles of supplements on the shelves of my neighborhood pet store. And my neighbor gives her dog a daily dose of Fish Oil. I already feed my dog a high-quality dog food, is that enough?

ANSWER:  We all want to provide the best care for our furry family members and a common question is whether supplements may help to improve a pet’s health or treat a disease.
For humans, a balanced diet of healthy whole foods is considered the best way to meet our nutritional needs. Supplements are not intended to replace whole foods such as fruits and vegetables because they can’t perfectly duplicate the nutrients found in these foods.  The same goes for our pets too! Most dogs and cats in good health do not need supplementation if they are eating a high quality pet food. Most commercially-processed pet foods already contain a well-balanced mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals specific for dogs and cats.
However, if a pet has not been receiving a well-balanced diet or has a specific health need, a supplement may be beneficial. Below is a general summary of supplements proven to help our pets. Every pet is different in regards to which supplements may benefit them the most. Please speak with your veterinarian before starting them on any supplements, to confirm the best choices for your pet’s health needs, and to establish the proper dosage. As with most things, too much of a good thing can have negative effects, so appropriate dosing is very important.

Fish Oil. The most common and possibly the most broad-spectrum supplement is fish oil. Fish oil is beneficial for almost any pet. It helps to support the heart, kidneys, skin and fur coat, joints, and is helpful in many cancer patients.

Joint Supplements. Another important class of supplements for our pets is joint supplements. Glucosamine, often times with Chondroitin Sulfate and occasionally also containing MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) can be useful for older pets. Joint supplements should also be used in younger animals that may be more prone to arthritis as they age. Previous trauma, breed, or known dysplasia of the joints would be reasons to start a joint supplement sooner rather than later.
High quality joint supplements that are proven to work can be found at your veterinarian’s office. These products are likely more beneficial for your pets and easier to administer since they are designed to be tasty treats versus over-the-counter human supplements or treats sold at a pet store. Human supplements are considered nutraceuticals and aren’t regulated well and their bioavailability in pets hasn’t been tested. Pet store treats do not typically contain the therapeutic levels of glucosamine needed to help your pet.

Liver Health. Animals with liver disease will benefit from S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) and milk thistle.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits. Vitamins A, C, and E can provide anti-oxidant benefits and may be recommended when there is a condition of chronic inflammation (cancer, joint disease, infection, liver disease, etc).
Urinary and Gastrointestinal Health. Fiber supplements may be useful for pets prone to decreased intestinal motility and constipation. Increased fiber may also help animals with an elevated blood calcium level.
Cranberry supplements have been proven to help reduce the risk of E. Coli urinary tract infections.
Probiotics are safe and can assist pets that have chronic gastrointestinal issues, chronic urinary tract infections, or pets on antibiotics.

Essential Oils. Essential oils are becoming more popular in both the human and animal world for trying to manage disease and symptoms without the use of traditional pharmaceuticals. There hasn’t been enough research done to confirm that oils are safe and effective in the veterinary world.  Anecdotal evidence and some preliminary studies do suggest that they can be a powerful tool if used correctly.  It is important to discuss the use of essential oils around and on your pets with a qualified professional—animals have very different metabolisms than humans and many things that are perfectly safe for us are toxic to our pets (similar to chocolate, raisins, Tylenol, etc). The use of essential oils in felines is generally not recommended due to data that supports serious complications can arise.
If you have questions about your pet’s specific diet, including the best food for their breed, age, and lifestyle and if supplementation is right for them, consider scheduling an appointment at our practice.  The doctors at Leesburg Veterinary Hospital will work with you to create a proper and balanced nutritional plan for your pet’s specific needs.

Jennifer Boyle is a DVM at Leesburg Veterinary Hospital, which offers both traditional medical and holistic veterinary services. To get more advice on animal-related topics, visit LVH’s blog at