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Dog Supplements: A Beginner's Guide

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As a dog owner, you want your pet to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. In addition to feeding him a well-balanced diet and giving him plenty of exercise, dog supplements may help keep your canine companion healthier and give them a longer life.

If you are new to pet supplements, here’s some important information about whether your pet needs them and which products might be best. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your animals any type of supplements. 

What’s the Difference Between Dog Supplements and Multivitamins?

Canine supplements are intended to provide your pet with important nutrients that they don't always get from their food. Multivitamins are a type of supplement, but not all supplements are multivitamins. 

Why Do People Give Pets Supplements?

There are a lot of reasons owners chose to give their pets supplements just like there are lots of reasons humans chose to take them. Some supplements are designed help with general health and mobility and some are designed to target or prevent specific health conditions like:

  • Brain (e.g., memory and cognition)
  • Teeth and gums
  • Gut
  • Heart
  • Immune system
  • Joints
  • Skin and coat

Canines can become anxious just like human beings and some supplements have even been proven to provide stress relief. 

Part of the reason that people give their dogs supplements is that they take supplements themselves and want their pets to enjoy the same benefits. Not all dogs need supplements, an animal that is young, generally healthy, and eats a well-balanced diet probably wouldn’t benefit from supplements, though this could change in the future. 

While a dog that eats a well-balanced diet may not need supplements, there is some disagreement about whether supplements added to dog food are helpful. Some vets have a greater level of confidence in supplements added to food by the manufacturer, but others point out that the dose of supplements in dog food may not be a therapeutic dose due to restrictions imposed by the laws of some states. Therefore, even if you feed your pet one of these foods, there could be an added benefit from introducing certain supplements to their diet too.

What Kinds of Dog Supplements Are There, and What Do They Do?

There are four main types of ingredients used in supplements for canines. 

1. Antioxidants 

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage the cells' outer membranes. Over time, the accumulated damage may cause cell death and this is believed to contribute to the effects of aging in people and dogs alike, such as cognitive dysfunction and memory loss, as well as heart disease, cancer, and other chronic and serious conditions. Free radicals are produced as a byproduct of the chemical reaction that occurs with the metabolism of food. Exposure to toxins or illness can also result in free radicals being produced within the body. 

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals so they can no longer do harm to the cells, Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that combats free radicals and helps convert food into energy. Antioxidants are also found in vitamins C and E. so supplementing your dog's diet with antioxidants may help to prevent the conditions that can result from damage by free radicals or at least improve the symptoms of such conditions.

2. Fish Oil

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids which are essential nutrients, meaning that dogs need them but their bodies cannot produce them on their own. Many dog foods don’t contain omega-3s, or if they do, they contain omega-6s in greater numbers. Omega-6s are essential nutrients too, but if an animal has an imbalance between omega-6s and omega-3s, it could contribute to health problems. Dog supplements with fish oil could bring the omega-3s back into balance. 

Possible benefits of omega-3s from fish oil supplements include fewer symptoms from skin allergies and better coat quality. Fish oil may also help reduce inflammation, which can cause pain and contribute to underlying veterinary issues, and potentially support heart health, improve kidney function, and help relieve arthritis pain in dogs. 

3. Glucosamine

Glucosamine is an amino sugar extracted from shellfish but it can also be synthesized in a laboratory. The joints of your dog's body are surrounded by fluid, and glucosamine is a component of the fluid that helps build up cartilage. Cartilage is the cushioning material between bones that prevents them from rubbing up against each other and causing arthritis pain. Older dogs with arthritis often benefit from receiving supplements of glucosamine, and it may also help animals recovering from an injury or surgery to get back on their paws more comfortably. 

Glucosamine is often paired with chondroitin, another substance that has been shown to improve joint health and reduce arthritis pain. The Veterinary Journal published a study in 2007 showing that arthritic dogs receiving supplements of glucosamine-chondroitin for 70 days showed increased mobility and reduced pain. 

While glucosamine may help with joint pain, it’s not always suitable for all dogs. As it is a sugar, it may be harmful to older pets or those with diabetes. It may also cause a reaction in dog owners who are allergic to shellfish, since that is the chemical's original source. 

4. Probiotics and Prebiotics

A healthy dog's gastrointestinal tract is populated by beneficial bacteria that help to break down food. If something happens to kill off some of the bacteria, it can cause the animal to have gastrointestinal complaints, such as diarrhea. Supplementing with probiotics reintroduces the beneficial bacteria into the gut, which can aid with digestion and help prevent gastrointestinal issues by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and helping the digestive system extract nutrients more effectively. 

In addition to probiotics, there are also prebiotics. These foods do not contain live cultures, but they help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria by providing food for them. 

Dog supplements may contain any of these ingredients in any combination. For example, our supplement, The One contains all the different ingredients to improve multiple aspects of your dog's life. 

Can You Give Your Dogs Supplements Made for Humans?

You may have noticed that many of the different types of supplements on this list are also taken by humans, you may even take some yourself. Anyone thinking of giving their pet animal supplements always asks if they can just use the same supplements they take themselves - after all, if it’s all natural, isn’t it doing the same thing? 

You should never give your pet a supplement that has been made for humans. Not all of the supplements that humans take, such as garlic, are safe for dogs. Furthermore, even if the supplement seems to be the same, it may contain ingredients, such as Xylitol, that are safe for humans but toxic for animals. You should only ever give your dog a supplement made for canines so you know it doesn't contain any potentially harmful ingredients.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Supplements for Dogs?

If your vet’s advised that your pet would benefit from supplements, always shop from a reputable source, and give them to your animal in the recommended dosage based on his weight, and the risk of supplements having adverse effects is very low. 

However, if your dog consumes more than the recommended dose, there is a risk that they could become ill. Even too much of a good thing can be harmful, and the same holds true for supplements. 

There is also a risk of giving supplements to your dog if they take other medications. Supplements could react with other drugs, so if your pet is on any medications, ask your veterinarian about supplementing their diet to make sure there are no contraindications. 

Here at Front Of The Pack, we are as open and honest as possible not only about what ingredients we use, but also where we get them from and why they’re important. We also have an amazing team of scientists, vets and animal nutritionists who are real people that you can check up on and they’ve helped us formulate a range of products we’re really proud of. 

The pet market is booming these days and unfortunately, that means lots of unscrupulous brands are cropping up to exploit concerned pet parents. The single most important thing to be aware of if you’re looking for a pet supplement is to find a reputable brand you know you can trust. Unfortunately, the quality of supplements for animals is often much lower than those made for humans, and 25% of the products on the market do not meet the claims made on the label. At best, these products are a waste of money, and at worst, they may actually harm your pet.

Who Is Responsible for Regulating Dog Supplements?

The Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency responsible for overseeing supplements for dogs and other animals. It may not verify the claims made on supplement packages, however, but merely ensures that the supplements are not toxic to your pet. 

The National Animal Supplement Council is a professional organization of animal health supplement manufacturers with the goal of improving the integrity of their products to promote the health and well-being of animals that receive them. In 2010, the organization set new manufacturing standards and required its members to adopt them. NASC members account for about 90% of the animal health supplement industry. In addition, the NASC also sets labeling guidelines and requires reporting of adverse events observed in animals taking the supplements. Steps such as these have helped to improve the overall quality of supplements for dogs and other animals. 

How Can You Tell Whether Dog Supplements Are High Quality?

You should only give high-quality supplements to your pet. Even if a low-quality supplement doesn't harm them, it won't do them any good. Here are some tips for finding and identifying a high-quality dog supplement. 

Ask Your Veterinarian

Your vet may be able to recommend a particular type of supplement that could benefit your dog based on the issues observed in your pet. 

Be Wary of Wild Claims

Some supplements claim miraculous results such as a complete cure for cancer, hip dysplasia, or parvovirus in dogs. Supplements are not meant to cure any diseases, merely to help prevent them or manage them more effectively. Therefore, keep in mind that claims sounding too good to be true usually are. 

Read the Label Carefully

Know the name of the ingredient you are looking for so you can verify that the supplement contains it. Also, look for evidence that the contents have been verified by an independent testing organization. There will probably be some sort of certification or seal on the label if this is the case. 

Look for a Lot Number

If the package has a lot number, it’s more likely that the company has checked out the product in the interest of quality control. 

Ask About Testing

Most dog supplements don’t go through clinical testing but a supplement that has gone through this process is more trustworthy than one that hasn’t. 

Do Your Homework

If a supplement has undergone clinical studies, the results should be published somewhere. You don't have to do a deep dive into scholarly journals, but you should check that the results of the studies have been published in reputable publications. 

Contact the Manufacturer

As a concerned dog owner who wants to be sure your pet is receiving a high-quality product, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to contact the company that makes the supplement and ask any questions that you have about it. You may want to know how long the company has been in business, who formulated the product, what kind of testing it has gone through, etc. A reputable manufacturer should have friendly and helpful customer service representatives available to take your call and answer your questions and offer several different ways to get in touch. 

Get the Right Supplements To Support Your Dog's Wellness

We started Front of the Pack to raise the standards for dog supplements. Check out our selection of clinically tested products to help your pet stay healthy.