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Dog Vitamins and Supplements: Get the Facts

WebMD teams up with veterinarians to talk about vitamin safety, dangers, and what to look for.
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3. Should I check with my vet before supplementing?

Absolutely, vets say. Symptoms that look like arthritis, such as a dog with a weak rear end, could instead be a neurological problem. A poor coat could indicate skin, metabolic or hormonal problems.

“Don’t forego traditional therapies, especially if it’s a life- or organ-threatening illness for your pet,” says Dawn M. Boothe, DVM, MS, PhD, director of the clinical pharmacology lab at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Make sure you stick with a standard of care and use the supplements as they were intended, as supplements.”

Ingredients in some supplements, such as herbals, may interact with other medicine an animal is taking. Your vet can also assess whether your pet needs a supplement.

“If they’re eating a complete and balanced diet and they’re healthy and have no problems, they don’t actually need supplementation,” Wynn says. She recommends fruits and vegetables to pet owners who want to give extra nutrients. Other than that, she limits her recommendations if a dog is healthy.

“We want to use things that are safe long-term,” Wynn says. “Probiotics fit that bill. That’s probably all I would recommend.”

4. Do dog supplements work?

It depends on what the supplement is used for and how it is manufactured, veterinarians say. Clinical trials are rare. “It’s hard finding quality evidence for the efficacy, much less the need for these products,” Boothe says.

Glucosamine-chondroitin supplements, commonly given to dogs with osteoarthritis, have shown mixed results in testing in humans and animals. A 2007 study published in The Veterinary Journal concluded that dogs treated with glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate showed less pain and more mobility after 70 days of treatment.

But a 2006 study for the National Institutes of Health Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial concluded that the supplements weren't effective in humans with mild pain. Those with moderate to severe pain may have seen some benefit, but because of the small size of this group the researchers called for more studies.

Fatty acids can help coats look better. Fish oil supplements also can reduce inflammation, according to a study published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E also reduce inflammation and help aging dogs with memory problems, Wynn says. But she’s cautious about recommending supplements, especially for young animals that might be on nutritional supplements for many years. “Almost none of them have been tested for long-term safety in dogs,” Wynn says.

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