Do Dog Supplements Really Work?

As an employee of a dog supply and nutraceutical company, I am often asked by friends if dog supplements really work or if they are just a gimmick.  And, while I want to shout out loudly, “Yes, of course”,  I am forced to shake my head and say – “it depends”.  

Pet supplements are under the same attack as many human supplements with outrageous, unproven claims of benefits from “trace levels” of ingredients you can’t pronounce.   In addition, the pet supplement business is not regulated by the FDA, which means that many supplements do not contain the adequate levels of ingredients they state on the label and/or the quality of those ingredients are subpar.  And, it seems there are individual supplements for every organ and tissue in a dog’s body.  Seriously, have you been to a pet store, lately?  The aisle is confusing, at best.   Here is the truth: many of these supplements are not needed in a dog’s body.  Dog’s have an incredible ability to heal themselves.  So, unfortunately, it is true that many supplements are more hype than anything.

So, you’ve got unproven claims, an unregulated market, and a confusing array of products from which to choose (most, of which are not necessary).  Oh yeah, and a dog that would rather have his anal glands cleaned than swallow one of those horse-sized pills.  It’s enough to make you want to want to stop reading and let Fido’s body do its own thing, right? 

Don’t!

Despite all of the negatives surrounding pet supplements, I have seen some absolutely amazing results for dogs who take quality pet supplements for specific reasons.  In fact, it is the main reason I decided to get into the business.  If your dog is in need of certain nutrients and you can provide him with a high quality supplement, it could change both your life and his.  You just need to be armed with a good understanding of when and why to use a product. 

Here are some points to help you get started:

1. Know the points in your dog’s life when he/she is most vulnerable – Like people, there are a few times in a dog’s life when supplements are more important – growing puppies, pregnant females, injured, and senior dogs.  In my research, I have found that supplements can make the most noticeable differences for dogs suffering with inflammation and pain – typically injured, aging, or arthritic dogs.

2. As in most cases, “you get what you pay for” – Many companies believe that there is a cap on the amount of money an owner is willing to spend on his/her dog.  This belief, coupled with an unregulated market, has led to poor quality supplements that are at such low standards they likely add no benefit at all. 

3. Do not be fooled by big brands and manufacturers –  A recent human vitamin study found that over 80% of vitamins sold in mass market retailers were inadequate.  I have not seen a study for pet supplements, but my guess would be that this number could be even higher.  So, whether you are faced with a major brand or a small independent manufacturer, your risks are similar.  Stay away from the cheap products and look for companies who put an emphasis on quality – not price.  If you use a quality, more expensive supplement, you will likely save money in the long run because it should result in fewer vet visits or more costly pharmaceutical drugs.

4. Look for supplements with proven ingredients for your dog’s particular problem – Some companies, in an attempt to have a more robust ingredient list, will add cheaper ingredients that add no value for the specific problem the product is supposed to address.  The internet is a powerful tool in this arena.  Ingredients that have been proven to work for a particular condition rise to the top.  I will share what I know on ingredients proven to help with joint issues at the end of this article.

5. Ensure the product has been manufactured in a GMP-certified, FDA approved manufacturing facility.  – “GMP-certified” means that the manufacturer has passed a third party audit to ensure their products have the purest ingredients in the proper amounts.  FDA-approved does not mean that the products themselves are FDA approved (this is an unregulated industry).  However, it can give you piece of mind that the facility is meeting FDA standards.  Manufacturers that meet these requirements are often very proud and will list this on their website and/or the package.

6. Look for powder or liquid supplements – Obviously, if your dog does not take pills, there is a huge benefit to this because the powder/liquid can be mixed in dog food.  However, there is a more important reason for this.  Research has proven that powders and liquids are absorbed faster into the body than tablets.  So, that means the benefits are typically seen faster.  For dogs taking supplements with anti-inflammatory benefits, this can lead to faster pain relief.

7. Talk to your Vet – If your dog has any allergies or suffers from any other medical issues you should share the ingredients with your vet to ensure that there will be no adverse reactions. 

So, there you have it.  I hope this provides some insight on how and when to give your dog supplements. 

I wish you and your dog the best.

Denise Redke is a researcher for Cavida Canine Science (http://www.caninespinehipjoint.com) where she specializes in development of SHJ Platinum Dog Joint Supplements.

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