In some cases, your dog may require supplements because his regular dog food isn’t providing complete nutrition. This happens because:
- nutrient value in food decreases with storage time
- the warmth in warehouses can degrade nutrient quality
- excessive processing of food may deplete nutrients.
What Can Supplements Do?
Your vet might recommend supplementing your dog’s diet for various reasons.
Help with medical conditions. Although much of this evidence is still anecdotal, some skin problems, arthritic joints and a number of chronic metabolic or organ dysfunctions have been shown to benefit from supplementation with specific nutrients.
Improve coat quality. Supplying increased amounts of quality amino acids (protein) and fatty acids can produce a noticeable difference in the overall appearance of many dogs’ coats.
Selecting a Helpful Dog Food Supplement
Since many supplements are surrounded by a great deal of hype and glowing testimonials, buy each product from a trusted source. Your veterinarian can be a valuable source of information.
Before supplementing your dog’s diet, ask:
- What are you hoping to provide?
- Is your dog a show or sport dog? Does he engage in regular activity?
- What is your dog’s current diet?
- Does your dog have any medical conditions? If so, discuss any changes in diet with your veterinarian.
Generally, supplements come in three forms: chewable, liquid or powder. Choose a form based on what your dog would tolerate best.
Questions to Ask About Specific Supplements
To ensure quality supplementation, find out the answers to these questions:
- What company makes the supplements?
- Who formulated the product?
- What’s in the supplement? Be sure the supplement you’ve chosen addresses the needs of your dog.
- What’s the price per feeding?
- What’s the guarantee?
- Is it palatable? In other words, will Rover actually eat it?
Be wary of claims other than “balanced general vitamins.” Special kelp from the Aegean Sea may sound impressive, but do you have proof that it’s beneficial for your dog?
Avoid calcium and phosphorous supplements. Your dog doesn’t need an excess of these minerals and they can be very harmful to his health.
Myths About Supplements
Beware of the misconceptions about canine diets.
Myth #1: Kelp/Seaweed
If you’re considering giving your dog kelp or seaweed as a supplement to his diet, you can easily find articles detailing its benefits. Although these articles are numerous and very positive, little scientific information exists concerning kelp as a supplement. Scientifically speaking, no one knows exactly what kelp or seaweed does for dogs, and whether or not it possesses any harmful side effects. Consider this when deciding to add it to your pooch’s diet.
Myth #2: Shark Cartilage
Shark cartilage is another supplement that has been widely publicized in the past few years. Glowing testimonials explaining how this supplement gives dogs energy and adds shine to their coats are easy to find. Again, little or no scientific research about shark cartilage as a nutritional supplement for dogs exists. This is not to say that it is dangerous or “bad;” but there are no known benefits to such a supplement.
Myth #3: Mineral Oil for Pregnant Bitches
Many breeders and dog owners believe that giving a few drops of mineral oil to a pregnant bitch helps prevent constipation. This may seem like a good idea, but giving mineral oil to your pregnant bitch may cause diarrhea.
Myth #4: Home-Cooked Diets
If you choose to cook for your dog, follow a proven recipe that outlines what supplementation, if any, should be added. Home cooked food can be expensive and proper preparation can be time-consuming. Major dog food manufacturers have spent years testing their products and finding ways to ensure that they include all of the nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy.
Basic Nutritional Requirements
Each of the six basic nutrients required for life provides a specific purpose.
Water: Of the six vital nutrients, water is the most important. If an animal loses just fifteen percent of his total body water, he will die. Always have fresh, clean water available for your dog.
Carbohydrates: While essential for energy, too much consumption of carbohydrates can cause obesity in your dog.
Fats: In addition to carbohydrates and proteins, fats are an important source of energy, and they’re required to supply essential fatty acids.
Proteins: Protein is necessary for tissue development, including bones and muscles. They’re vital for the luster of the animal’s hair, skin, and coat. Protein is also an energy source.
Minerals: Minerals help maintain the pH balance, fluid balance, and cellular operations and, of course, comprise the general skeletal structure of the animal’s body.
Vitamins: Vitamins aid in the maintenance of the body’s physiological processes.
If you choose to supplement your dog’s diet, remember: more is not always better. The National Research Council has established guidelines for minimum ingestion that should be followed somewhat closely, since we don’t know the consequences of excesses in many cases.
Dangers of Supplements
Although administering the correct dosage of vitamins and minerals to your dog can be beneficial to his health, supplying certain nutrients in excess could actually pose a health risk. This is typically a problem if someone is giving “mega doses” of a specific nutrient in the mistaken belief that the massive dose is preventing or treating some ailment.
Excessive amounts of these vitamins and minerals can cause the problems listed here:
- vitamin A: weight loss, bone decalcification, hyperesthesia
- vitamin E: weight loss
- iodine: hypothyroidism, goiter, alopecia, fetal resorption, cretinism, drowsiness, shyness, myxedema, lethargy
- calcium: slows growth, bloat, decreased thyroid function; can cause phosphorus, iron, copper, and zinc deficiencies, as well as bone growth problems
- phosphorus: renal damage, calcium deficiency, bone growth problems.
Always check with your vet before making changes to your dog’s diet.