Does Your Dog Need Vitamins?

Commercial pet foods are supposed to be formulated to meet all the nutrient requirements of a dog, but that isn’t always true.

In fact, when it comes down to it, the actual definition of nutritionally complete and balanced is very vague from a standpoint of practical interpretation and application to a pet’s needs, according to Dr. Patrick Mahaney, VMD, owner of the California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW) clinic and an advocate of holistic medicine and supplements. “Nutritionally complete means that a food can be fed to a pet as its sole ration,” Mahaney says. “But in the absence of a degree in animal nutrition or veterinary medicine, owners seemingly must rely upon a label’s claims that a particular food is nutritionally complete and balanced.”

Where Multivitamins Come In

Depending on their overall state of health and the types of foods and treats they consume, some dogs need multivitamins, according to Mahaney. “Generally, I recommend multivitamins for pets eating home-prepared diets that may not have a vitamin/mineral blend added to each portion,” Mahaney says. “Additionally, growing puppies (and kittens), highly active, and working dogs have a higher need for calcium and phosphorous (among other minerals), so they can benefit from supplementation.”

Multivitamins might also be a good choice for any dog battling illness or recuperating from an injury. This is because most multivitamins contain some antioxidant blend that can help to minimize damage to tissues occurring as a result of disease, stress, or other life circumstances, explains Mahaney.

One word of caution: always seek the recommendation of a veterinarian to determine what’s is the most appropriate product for your pets. “Pets having issues such as urinary tract crystals or stones may not be the best candidate for a multivitamin, as excretion of mineral precursors to crystals and stones can increase the likelihood of their formation, Mahaney explains.

Protecting Your Dog’s Joints

According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, supplements to support arthritic joints are one of the most commonly recommended supplements for dogs—and with good reason. “Supplements aimed at augmenting joint health are considered nutraceuticals, which are food-derived substances having medicinal benefits,” explains Mahaney. “More specifically, joint supplements are called chondroprotectants, which contain ingredients that help support the health of cartilage.“

According to Mahaney, commonly used supplements include veterinary prescribed or over the counter oral supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, MSM, phycocyanin, and others. “My top recommended chondroprotectant for dogs is ActivPhy, which contains a glucosamine, MSM, a potent antioxidant blend and a green algae-extract (phycocyanin) that inhibits an enzyme associated with canine arthritis to promote improved joint comfort and mobility,” says Mahaney.

Preventing Tummy Trouble

Probiotics are supplements commonly used to help dogs dealing with various forms of digestive tract upset like vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite, according to Mahaney. “Additionally, veterinary prescription medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and chemotherapeutics can potentially cause digestive tract upset, so probiotic therapy can help restore normal bacterial balance and gut function.”

Mahaney adds that he often recommends patients take probiotics to achieve a particular effect then reduce the frequency to a maintenance or discontinue the product to see if improved digestive tract and immune system function can be maintained. “It’s important that pet owners seek advice from veterinarians experienced in the use of probiotic therapy before starting on a regimen.”

What About Fish Oil?

According to Mahaney, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids can benefit many body systems, including the skin, nerve/brain, joints, immune system, internal organs, and others. “Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is one of my top strategies (along with chondroprotectant medications and supplements) to reduce my patients’ reliance on anti-inflammatory and opiate-based medications to help control arthritis and other musculoskeletal pain,” says Mahaney.

The best way to introduce fish oil in your pet’s diet is to use either capsules or liquid oil. “I don’t recommend relying on omega fatty acids in dry dog or cat food or treats, as there’s a higher potential for rancidity that makes the fatty acids less-flavorful, potentially less-effective, and could foster the growth of bacterial organisms that can cause vomit, diarrhea, and other digestive upset,” Mahaney explains.

Fish oil supplements could exacerbate soft stools or diarrhea, so it’s important that you use them with caution. “I’m cautious in giving omega fatty acid supplements to dogs having digestive tract upset, such as vomiting or diarrhea,” says Mahaney. “Generally, once the digestive tract upset has resolved owners can safely resume omega fatty acid supplementation.”

Meet the Author: Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at

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