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Supplements and Preventative care

There are so many supplements available, for ourselves and our pets, that it can be overwhelming to sort through which ones are the most beneficial. Ideally, we should use many of these before any signs of illness set in to maintain health and well-being.

Above all else, of course, is good nutrition and physical exercise. Whole foods contain many of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy oils that our bodies need to function optimally. Many pet foods are supplemented with these nutrients, though often not in sufficient amounts, and these nutrients, especially the antioxidants and oils, degrade quickly with storage. Whether you homecook for your pets or feed a good quality commercial diet, there are some dietary supplements that can help your animals achieve optimum health.

The following is a list of the primary supplements that I feel can be beneficial to our pets. As it can be difficult to find quality products, I do keep these supplements on hand from companies that are trusted resources.

Essential Fatty Acids:

Fish oil is a good source of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which which are present in healthy cell membranes allowing for proper permeability and function. Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which must be converted into EPA and DHA before it can be used by the cells of the body. Some animals (and people), especially when sick or aging, do not have the enzymes needed to make this conversion.

Omega 6 fatty acids tend to occur in higher amounts in foods and can actually cause inflammation. It is important that omega 3 fatty acids be present in higher amounts as they decrease inflammation in many different types of cells.

Omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) have been found to support many organs and body systems including:

  • Skin and coat
  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Eyes (retina)
  • Immune system
  • Brain and nervous system
  • Musculoskeletal system /joints

They have also been shown to be useful in treating overweight and diabetic animals.

Fish oil sources should be certified free of mercury and other toxins.

Some pet foods are supplemented with flaxseed or fish oil, but usually not at a significant dose and the fatty acids tend to break down during storage of commercial foods. Care should be taken not to supplement excessively, however, as large doses can cause diarrhea and bleeding problems.

Most animals would benefit from fish oil supplementation, especially those with skin or joint disease. Supplementing throughout life can better maintain the health of the cells of the body and prevent or at least decrease the occurrence of many inflammatory and degenerative conditions.

Glucosamine/ Chondroitin:

Osteoarthritis is very common in aging dogs and cats. Supplements that can decrease joint inflammation and pain, while regenerating cartilage and joint fluid, can be very useful.

Some animals and people can benefit from supplementation with glucosamine and chondroitin, which are natural components of healthy joints. They provide the building blocks for cartilage and joint fluid. These substances are often supplied together along with MSM (methylsulfonylmethane, a dietary form of sulfur) which decreases inflammation, as well as muscle and joint pain.

I use a combination of glucosamine/chondroitin, fish oil and herbal supplements to improve the well-being of my geriatric patients. This can often reduce or eliminate the need for other pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory and pain medications. These supplements are best started earlier in life, before arthritic disease develops, helping the joints to recover from minor injuries as they happen rather than waiting for signs of full arthritic pain.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria used to re-populate the gastrointestinal system when the normal bacterial flora has been reduced by antibiotics, NSAIDs, steroids, other drugs, or stress in general. These stressors can include seasonal changes we are all exposed to, as well as conditions in the home, which some animals can be more sensitive to than others.

Prebiotics are often included in probiotic supplements and these are nutrients for the beneficial bacteria that help them to establish themselves in the gut.

The periodic use of probiotic and prebiotic supplements can be very helpful in maintaining general health – a healthy intestinal tract allows for better absorption of vital nutrients and protects us from unhealthy bacteria and other invaders. This can lead to healthier skin, fewer allergies, and reduce episodes of vomiting or diarrhea that are due to stress. Yogurt is a nice source of probiotics, though the bacteria are not present in a high enough concentration for acute needs. Be sure to use plain, low sugar yogurt in small amounts (1tsp for smaller animals, up to 1 TBSP for larger dogs.)

Vitamin and Mineral supplements:

Vitamin and mineral supplements should not be needed with a well-balanced diet. Here is the question and controversy as to what is a well-balanced diet and do our current commercial foods provide that. I don't have a fix-all answer for this one, but talk more about it in the 'Healthy Diet' section. Most homemade diets need vitamin and mineral supplementation to maintain healthy body function over time.


Antioxidants are extremely important in helping our body to fend off disease, especially cancers, by binding "free radicals" or "oxidants" that can damage cells. Our body is constantly doing this job and adding antioxidants to the diet can help. As with any supplement, too much, however, can cause it's own array of problems. Antioxidants are best found in the food we eat, and it is generally hard to over do it with food. Blueberries, and other red/purple fruits are high in antioxidants. Dogs can benefit from adding fresh fruit and vegetables to their diet. To maintain nutritional balance, do not exceed 20% of the diet if feeding a commercially balanced food, and avoid foods that have known toxicities in animals in higher quantities, including onions, garlic and grapes.

Cats are obligate carnivores and require very little vegetable in their diet, though supplementing them by growing “cat grass” (wheat or oat grass grown in a pot for them to nibble on) can give them that small amount they crave, and provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Herbal supplements:

Many benefits can be provided by herbs, including antioxidant, nutritive, supportive and anti-inflammatory effects. Herbs should be chosen based on the needs of the individual, and can differ by age, constitution, season and specific conditions the animal may have. I offer consultations to determine what herbal support may be of benefit to your animal in their life stage. As with other supplements, quality processing and proper identification is very important with herbs. I use only trusted, professional quality herbs in my formulas.