Should Dogs Take Supplements?

Posted by Nicole Wanner, D.V.M. on

Should Dogs Take Supplements?

As a loving dog owner, you want to do everything possible to ensure your furry friend has a happy and healthy life. Many of us ask ourselves the question, "should I give my dog supplements?"

During your online research, you've probably come across various dietary supplements marketed for dogs. But do dogs need supplements in the first place? If so, which ones?

While the answers will vary depending on your dog's specific needs, there are some important things to remember when considering supplements for your dog.

In this article, our goal is to help you decide whether your dog should take supplements. Read on to learn about popular supplements for dogs, the potential risks of dog vitamins, and more.

So, should dogs take supplements? Let's find out. 

Types of Supplements for Dogs

Dog looking at supplements


First, let's define what we mean by "dietary supplement."

Generally, a supplement is a product given in addition to your dog's primary diet and medication routine. Importantly, supplements do not replace a healthy diet or disease-treating prescription medication.

We can divide dog supplements into two sub-categories:

1. Vitamin Supplements

The first sub-category of dog supplements includes essential vitamins and minerals known as "micronutrients." This group also includes certain omega-3 fatty acids.

Dog vitamins provide essential nutrients (1). The body can't manufacture these nutrients; they must come from the diet instead. You may worry that your dog is at risk of malnutrition if they don't take supplements. 

Fortunately, there's usually no need for concern. By law, commercial dog foods are required to be complete and balanced. In other words, your dog's kibble contains all the essential vitamins and minerals their body needs. 

Keep an eye out for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to ensure your dog's food will meet their nutritional requirements (2).

2. Wellness Supplements

Unlike micronutrients, wellness supplements aren't required by the body. 

Instead, we give these supplements in hopes of providing extra support for the health of our dogs. Wellness supplements come from a wide variety of sources.

For example, CBD, Valerian Root, Turmeric, and Chamomile supplements are all made from plants. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), glucosamine, and chondroitin are found in certain foods.

The wellness supplement category also includes probiotics. Probiotics contain "good bacteria."

Instead of making your dog sick, they support healthy digestion by influencing your dog's gut microbiome. 

Does My Dog Need Supplements?

Fortunately, most dogs don't need supplements to stay healthy. 

Store-bought dog food is nutritionally complete by law and contains all the vitamins your pup needs. However, your dog may need vitamins if you feed them a homemade diet. 

Homemade diets can help if your dog has food allergies or a sensitive stomach. Other pet parents simply prefer to feed a custom diet. 

Either way, you'll need to work with your dog's veterinarian to ensure the homemade diet provides adequate macronutrients and micronutrients. Vitamin and mineral supplements can help a homemade diet meet your dog's micronutrient requirements.

There are other cases where your dog may need extra vitamins and minerals, like if they are losing weight rapidly due to cancer. If you are concerned that your dog may be nutrient deficient for any reason, reach out to your veterinarian.

Risks Associated With Supplements

Old dog next to supplements

 

Since they're available on store shelves, it's easy to assume that dietary supplements are safe for all dogs.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Unfortunately, overdoing it with supplements can harm your dog instead of helping them. First, it's a bad idea to give dogs supplements designed for humans.

Human supplements often have higher concentrations than products meant for dogs, making side effects more likely. They can also contain compounds that are toxic to dogs, like the artificial sweetener xylitol.

It's best to use caution even if using a dietary supplement formulated for dogs. 

Why? Vitamins and minerals are called "micronutrients" for a reason. Too little is harmful, but too much can be just as bad.

For example, too much calcium, phosphorous, or vitamin D can lead to lifelong joint issues in large-breed puppies (3).

Too Good to be True

Low-quality products are another source of danger in the realm of dietary supplements for dogs. Dietary supplements are not as strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as dog food. 

As a result, low-quality wellness supplements are prevalent, especially online. These products can contain the wrong dose or include dangerous contaminants.

To spot a high-quality wellness supplement, look for independent product testing. Avoid claims that sound too good to be true. 

Lastly, look for the National Animal Supplement Quality Council (NASC) seal of approval on the package (4). 

Supplements in Dog Food

Warning about dog supplements

 

Nutritionally complete commercial dog foods contain the correct ratio of vitamins and minerals for your dog. However, a few dog foods also contain wellness supplements. 

Commercial Dog Food

The most common supplements included in dog food are glucosamine and chondroitin, which may support joint health.

The laws that control food additives for pets are stricter than the ones regulating dietary supplements. If a supplement has been pre-added to commercial dog food, you can trust that it's high quality.

However, only a few wellness supplements have been approved for use in commercial dog foods for far (5). Safety standards are high, and the approval process is lengthy.

In general, it's a great idea to find a commercial dog food that suits your dog's age and health status. 

Puppies, aging dogs, large-breed dogs, and pregnant females all have different nutritional needs. Clinically tested prescription dog foods are available for dogs with allergies, kidney disease, skin and coat issues, and other concerns.

Nutrition for Your Dog at Home

Small dog eating from a bowl

 

If you want to give your pup some extra nutrients at home, consider feeding pet-safe fruits and vegetables as a treat (6). Fruits and veggies are low in calories, making them the perfect reward for a snack-loving pup.

Safe fruits and vegetables for your dog include:

  • Apple slices (avoid the core and seeds)
  • Banana pieces (avoid the peel)
  • Orange slices (avoid the peel)
  • Chopped or baby carrots
  • Peas
  • Store-bought mushrooms

Avoid giving your dog onions, garlic, chives, currants, grapes, and raisins. These foods contain toxins that could make your dog sick. Also avoid corn cobs, peach pits, and avocado pits.

They can get stuck in your dog's mouth, throat, or stomach and require expensive emergency surgery to remove.

What Supplements Does My Dog Need?

In the end, most dogs don't require dietary supplements to be happy and healthy. That's great news! 

Still, every dog's situation is unique.

If your dog eats a homemade diet, vitamin and mineral supplements can help you make sure it provides essential nutrients. Other supplements like CBD aren't nutritionally required. However, they can support your dog's overall wellness. 

In any case, always work with a veterinarian when adding supplements to your dog's diet. Choosing the right supplement for your dog depends on age, breed, health status, and other factors.

Ask your vet about specific dietary supplements for your dog to keep them happy, healthy, and active at any age.

 

References

  1. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/vitamins-dogs-need-healthy-lifestyle/
  2. https://www.aafco.org/consumers/understanding-pet-food/
  3. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/best-large-breed-dog-food/
  4. https://www.nasc.cc/nasc-seal/?disclaimer=1
  5. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-food-feeds/ingredients-additives
  6. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/do-dogs-need-veggies

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Author

Dr. Nicole Wanner graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018. Currently, she is an academic research veterinarian studying CBD and DNA. Her research has been published in trusted international research journals. Dr. Wanner is passionate about pet wellness and has professional interests in genetics, behavior, and healthy aging. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and reading sci-fi novels. She shares her home with her husband Evan and their two mischievous rescue cats, Sylvie and Nemo.