How Do I Know If My Dog Needs Supplements? Experts Tell All

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It happened one day while I was walking my Siberian husky, Dakota. With a sweet temperament and stunning blue eyes, just about everyone in the neighborhood wants to come over and pet her (to her delight and mine, too!). This particular day, a neighbor we hadn’t seen before asked me how old she was. “Oh, she’s eight,” I replied. “Eight?! She’s got the energy of a puppy! Do you give her supplements?” my neighbor asked me.

I answered him that I didn’t, I just chalked it up to cooking for her myself. But it was in that moment I thought that maybe she was missing something. Growing up, my parents were pretty forceful about vitamins. Maybe my happy pup needed some more vitamins to be living her best life. So, to make sure the furry love of my life lives as long as she can and stays in the best health possible, I asked a few experts about when, how, and why dogs may need supplements.

Related: Does Your Dog Really Need to Eat Organic Food?

What Exactly Is a Supplement?

According to Rebecca Krimins, DVM, MS Director, Veterinary Clinical Trials Network Johns Hopkins University, a supplement is, in general, a product that is intended to supplement the diet and contains one or more of the following ingredients: A vitamin, mineral, herb, or amino acid. “The field of veterinary supplements covers a tremendous range of products and is constantly expanding with new products being developed and older products being removed,” she explains to POPSUGAR. Dr. Krimins notes that pet owners need to be up-to-speed on the laws and regulations regarding supplements, especially if they are thinking that their dog may benefit from one.

What Should I Know About Pet Supplements?

Dr. Krimins says that there is much to know about supplements before deciding to give your dog one. She says that in addition to supplements, there are also nutraceuticals, a non-toxic food component, that many feel may benefit their furry friend. With promises of healthier skin, coat, nails, and even anti-anxiety, it may be tempting to grab one of these goodies and start giving them to your dog without a second thought. However, that shouldn’t be the case.

“First, pet owners should know that just because a supplement says that it is ‘natural’ does not mean that the supplement is safe. Second, a supplement that is safe for people does not automatically make it safe for pets. Third, pet owners need to research whether the product is safe for the disease process that the pet may have, and whether or not the product can be given with concurrent medications,” says Dr. Krimins.

Is My Dog Already Getting Enough Nutrients?

According to Jerry Klein, DVM, an emergency and critical care veterinarian based in Chicago, IL, the answer to that is yes. “Many healthy dogs and cats don’t need extra supplements because they are getting them in their food,” he says to POPSUGAR. He notes that food that is labeled “complete and balanced” have gone through rigorous testing to ensure they are packed with the all of the nutrients dogs need.

“Owners just need to check the label and look for this designation. If your food has it, you can feel comfortable knowing that your pet is getting everything it needs from its food,” he says.

What If I Don’t Feed Them Dog Food?

“If you cook for your dog, they may need supplements,” explains Dr. Klein. He says that while most dog foods are full of all the vitamins and minerals your dog needs, cooking for them may leave holes in their diet. Working with your vet on a program that may – or may not – involve supplements will help keep their diet balanced.

Should I Be Giving Supplements to My Puppy?

According to Dr. Klein, the answer here is a resounding no. “Giving supplements to younger dogs is much more dangerous than giving them to older ones. Puppies need to grow appropriately for their age, and supplements can hinder that,” he says.

Dr. Krimins echoed this sentiment. “A healthy puppy receiving a complete and balanced diet for growth from a reputable pet food company that is being fed to maintain a healthy body condition score does not need supplements,” she says.

Related: Using Essential Oils With a Dog Isn’t Necessarily Harmful, but There Are a Few Things to Know

Should I Be Giving Supplements to My Older Dog?

Supplements are not all bad. As dog age, they are susceptible to skin and seasonal allergies, obesity, and other ailments that supplements may be able to help with. “Many people are giving their older dog supplements. Usually fatty acids to improve coat shine or inflammation from osteoarthritis. Some give their dogs antioxidants or probiotics, especially as they get older or have to be put on special diets,” says Dr. Klein.

Dr. Krimins, too, says that supplements can be helpful for an older dog if an owner senses it may help rejuvenate a pup or put an extra pep in their step as they age. “Although I often warn owners about the dangers of feeding supplements, there are beneficial supplements for pets. I feed my own pet supplements. To answer this question correctly, you should have a discussion with your veterinarian as each pet should be evaluated individually,” she says.

Are There Signs My Dog May Need Supplements?

“Some dogs are prone to suffering mild or occasional health concerns that can affect their quality of life such as digestive upsets, food sensitivities, allergies, joint concerns, and weight issues. In all these cases the nutrition that you choose to feed your dog can play a role in their wellbeing alongside other important factors such as medications, topical treatments, lifestyle factors and veterinary care,” Danielle Bernal, BVSc, MRCVS, a veterinarian and global vet nutrition director for Wellness Pet Food, say to POPSUGAR.

However, she explains the best and safest way to understand the health and wellbeing of your dog is to work with your veterinarian. “They can best assess the health of your dog as well as understand the implications of adding anything to your dog’s diet so that it is not given in excess and nor does it cause an imbalance with another part of your dog’s wellbeing,” she says.

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