In the human world, dietary supplements are a popular way to improve our health. So, shouldn’t we also be considering them to improve the health of our canine friends?
Supplements are readily available from pet stores, veterinary clinics and online, and many ingredients cross over between the human and canine market, so it is important to know what to look out for when purchasing a new product.
In this article, we will look at 18 different supplements for dogs to help you learn the best way to keep your dog in top condition.
What Are Supplements?
Even though you can purchase supplements without the need for a prescription, they are not completely safe since they contain active ingredients that affect the body.
Most people believe that supplements are always safe because they are natural, however, like medications, the active ingredients can have side effects too. After all, most medications originated from natural products.
You need to discuss any supplements with your veterinarian before offering them to your dog.
Some supplements may cross-react when taken with certain medications or other supplements, and therefore seeking a professional opinion will minimize this risk.
Also, many supplements are added to dog food, and so an additional supplement may end up with your dog being overdosed.
Are Dog and Human Supplements the Same?
Nearly all active ingredients in dog supplements are the same as human supplements, and therefore some people wonder if they can give their dog the human versions.
There are some important things to be aware of in this regard.
Supplements are not usually entirely made up of the active ingredient. They will contain other ingredients which, in the case of a treat or liquid, will bind it together. Or, in the case of a tablet or capsule, add an enteric coating to it.
Dogs also have a shorter digestive tract than humans, and therefore some human supplements may pass straight through a dog’s digestive tract without being absorbed, due to the coating or other ingredients.
While this is not harmful to your dog, it won’t help in any way.
More seriously, though, some human supplements contain a sweetener called xylitol. This can cause the blood sugar levels of your dog to drop to dangerously low levels and should be avoided at all costs.
So, if you wish to consider human supplements for your dog, you should double-check it with your vet first, to make sure it will work and is not harmful.
How Can Supplements Help Your Dog?
It can be surprising how many different aspects of a dog’s health can be helped by supplements. As a result, it can be overwhelming deciding which supplements to choose.
As a rule of thumb, healthy dogs on a good-quality, nutritionally-balanced diet don’t need supplements. However, if your dog is struggling with some aspect of their health, they may be very beneficial.
Here’s a quick visual of all the ones we’re going to cover in this article.
Skin and Coat
The skin is a vital part of your dog’s immune defense. It stops bacteria, yeasts, and the environment from getting into the body and causing harm.
It also provides a waterproof layer that controls water loss, regulates temperature and provides sensations such as pressure, touch, and heat.
As a result, it needs to be in good condition.
Skin is a complex structure, covered in nerve endings, blood vessels, and in the case of our furry-friends, lots of hair follicles. Therefore, any supplement that improves the skin, will also improve the health of the coat.
Dogs can be prone to conditions that affect the health of the skin and coat; the most common of which is atopic dermatitis.
This is when the skin becomes inflamed and itchy due to food or environmental allergens.
Supplements can help to improve the skin’s barrier defense to these allergens, as well as decrease inflammation and improve the glossiness of the coat.
Supplements for Your Dog’s Skin & Coat
If you are feeding your dog a good-quality, nutritionally-balanced diet, he should not experience too many gastrointestinal issues. However, some dogs simply have sensitive guts.
This might be due to allergies, infection or a recent course of antibiotics.
It is important that your dog’s guts are working well, as otherwise, they may not be absorbing enough nutrients from their food.
This can lead to weight loss and poor health conditions.
Also, the good bacteria which line the guts (known as intestinal flora or probiotics) might be being replaced with bad bacteria, which produce more methane gas. This can lead to a bloated feeling and flatulence.
There are lots of supplements that can help balance the intestinal flora, as well as improve digestion, allowing your dog to feel comfortable and nourished.
Supplements for Your Dog’s Gut Health
There are many joints in the body, some which move and some which don’t. Your dog won’t notice the ones which don’t move, but when there is something wrong with a moving joint, such as arthritis, it can lead to extreme discomfort.
The moving joints comprise of six components; the joint capsule, the cartilage, the subchondral bone (under the cartilage), the ligaments & tendons, the nerves & blood vessels, and the synovial fluid filling the joint.
All six components are involved in arthritis.
The joint capsule is made up of two layers. The outer layer is dense and fibrous, and its purpose is to protect the inner layer.
The inner layer membrane produces a substance called hyaluronic acid which makes up the synovial fluid. It is richly supplied with blood vessels and has plenty of nerve endings. This means it detects pain very well.
The cartilage is composed of cells called chondrocytes, molecules called glycosaminoglycans, and collagen fibers. It hasn’t got many blood vessels or nerves, and therefore its nutrients come from the synovial fluid and subchondral bone. Its function is as a shock absorber for the joint, due to the great amount of water it holds. It also provides a smooth surface to allow the joint to glide.
Unfortunately, cartilage cannot regenerate well when it becomes damaged.
The synovial fluid is a transparent or pale-yellow protein-rich fluid, comprising of hyaluronic acid. The functions of the synovial fluid are to allow for constant load-bearing, efficient heat conductivity, and lubrication.
Joint supplements usually focus on a few different targets; improving cartilage health, decreasing inflammation, and improving synovial fluid viscosity and therefore lubrication.
Supplements for Your Dog’s Joint
Dogs can be very emotional creatures. You’ll probably find certain situations that might cause your dog to be stressed.
Just as in humans, excessive stress in dogs is not healthy, as it increases the blood pressure and cortisol levels, which in turn can have adverse effects on major organs such as the heart and the kidneys.
With that being said, all dogs which are exhibiting high levels of stress should seek the advice of a behaviorist, in conjunction with the use of supplements.
Supplements for Stress & Anxiety in Dogs
The heart, liver, and kidneys are major organs that are essential to life. Unfortunately, these are the organs that are most susceptible to damage over the lifetime of your dog.
This might be through chronic medication, a non-ideal diet, obesity, or untreated medical conditions. It goes without saying, that if any of these organs are damaged, they can lead to serious consequences for the health of your dog, and therefore they should be supported in every way possible.
The heart is the center of life. It pumps oxygenated blood and nutrients around the body to allow the cells to function. Without the heart functioning properly, the blood cannot be transported efficiently to where it needs to go.
This causes a back-up of blood coming into the heart, which can lead to high blood pressure and fluid leaking through the blood vessel walls into the lungs or abdominal cavity.
The kidneys are the main regulators of blood pressure, and if they become damaged, pressure can dramatically rise. They are also vital for removing waste products from the system. If they are not working to their full capacity, a buildup of waste products can make your dog feel very ill.
Finally, the liver is also vital for removing waste and toxins from the body. It also plays a role in the processing of medications, and if there is an underlying liver condition, certain medications can become dangerous even at normal therapeutic doses.
Supplements for Your Dog’s Major Organs
The immune system fights harmful pathogens that have made their way into the body. These can include bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, and foreign objects.
It is made up of white blood cells, which seek out and destroy anything harmful. They also remain in the body after the attack to ensure that if faced with that pathogen again, they can respond quickly.
The immune system can be boosted with dietary supplements to ensure that the body can respond quickly to anything which is attacking it, but nutrition and general health also play a role in maintaining a good immune system, and so these all go hand in hand.
Supplements for Your Dog’s Immune System
Most Helpful Supplements For Dogs
Next, let’s go over each one in greater detail, shall we?
Glucosamine is a supplement that most people have heard of as it is extremely common to feed it to pets. It is an amino sugar, which is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans (GAGs).
Joint disease is directly related to a decrease in GAG concentration (1), so to increase the concentration of GAGs will slow down the progression of joint disease.
Joint fluid viscosity is also improved by glucosamine (2). The synoviocytes are stimulated by glucosamine to produce hyaluronic acid, which is the component of joint fluid which increases viscosity and volume.
As a result, the joint can glide much easier.
How to Give Glucosamine to Your Dog
Glucosamine is usually sold in combination with other joint supplements such as MSM, chondroitin and green-lipped mussel. These joint supplements are mainly marketed towards dogs with osteoarthritis but are also very beneficial for any old, active or large breed dogs which might not have perfect joints.
Glucosamine supplements are easy to take.
They are usually sold as treats for your dog, but they also come in the form of tablets, capsules, powder or syrup.
The active component can either be glucosamine hydrochloride or glucosamine sulfate. It is best to look for glucosamine hydrochloride, as it is more effective than the sulfate.
Glucosamine usually requires a loading dose of double or triple the normal dose for a few weeks to build it up in the system.
When considering whether to put your dog on glucosamine, pause for a moment if your dog has diabetes.
Glucosamine is technically a sugar, and diabetics struggle with their blood sugar levels. Nevertheless, there have been no scientific studies that have confirmed whether glucosamine increases blood sugar levels or affects insulin resistance.
In fact, most have concluded that glucosamine is safe for diabetics, however glucose levels should still be closely monitored, and the supplement should be given at the time an insulin injection is also given.
Omega oils can be found in oils like flaxseed, linseed, and hempseed, as well as green-lipped mussel and oily fish. They are also known as fatty acids and are vital for keeping the skin, joints, brain, eyes, and heart, healthy.
There are several types of omega oils, but the most important are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You might also see omega-3 broken down further to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA and DHA are found in the brain in synaptic membranes between nerves, and in the retina of the eye (3). There has been a series of animal studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids are protective of the brain and can improve learning ability (4).
Another fantastic benefit of omega oils is its anti-inflammatory properties.
A hormone called prostaglandin-E2 (PGE2) is responsible for inflammation. This causes pain, heat, and swelling, which is very unpleasant.
Most anti-inflammatories focus on stopping the production of PGE2, but omega oils instead stimulate the production of PGE3. This is less inflammatory and is particularly beneficial in cases of inflamed allergic skin or sore arthritic joints.
Finally, a supplement with omega-6 can significantly improve the quality of the coat, increasing the glossiness. This is because it reduces the trans-epidermal water loss from the skin (5).
How to Give Omega Oil to Your Dog
Omega oil supplements usually come in liquid form which can be dispensed onto your dog’s food, but they can also be administered as capsules or powdered seeds.
Dosing should be followed carefully, as overdosing can cause your dog to put on weight easily.
When looking for a quality omega oil supplement, make sure to look for one which has a ratio of 1:6 omega-3:omega-6. This is the most effective ratio to provide anti-inflammatory effects.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Most dog foods are now manufactured to exceptionally high standards to ensure your dog’s entire multivitamin requirements are met in their diet.
However, if your dog is on a home-cooked or raw food-based diet, they may be lacking some multivitamins and minerals. Your veterinarian will be able to advise how to ensure these diets can be made nutritionally complete if this is a road you would like to follow for your dog.
But just because you are providing your dog with the vitamins they need, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every dog is able to absorb everything.
A prime example is seen in dogs with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).
EPI is where the pancreas does not produce sufficient digestive enzymes to process their food properly, and so their food moves through them undigested and causes diarrhea and weight loss.
Dogs with EPI are prone to becoming deficient in cobalamin because it cannot be absorbed properly.
The pancreas produces a substance called intrinsic factor which aids the absorption of the vitamin into the blood. As a result, over half of dogs with EPI have vitamin cobalamin deficiency (6).
Symptoms of a deficiency include weight loss, lethargy, and even confusion, as it influences both intestinal and brain health.
How to Give Vitamin B12 To Your Dog
Cobalamin supplements will help improve your dog’s health in the face of cobalamin deficiency.
Unlike other supplements that are administered orally, the problem is that the guts cannot absorb the cobalamin. Therefore, cobalamin supplementation is administered by injection.
Doses are given in incremental intervals and can be monitored by blood tests.
If your dog needs cobalamin supplementation, ask your vet to teach you how to inject your dog. The injections only need to go under the skin and therefore are is easy to learn how to administer it.
This will save your dog from becoming stressed by frequent vet visits.
If you feed a brand of dog food which prides itself in natural, quality ingredients, you might have noticed an ingredient in it with a funny name; Yucca Schidigera.
Yucca is gaining popularity in the dog food market and is an herb that used to be used in Native American herbal medicine.
Yucca supplements can come in a variety of forms.
It may be a chopped yucca root or dried and ground herb leaves. You can even purchase it as a tincture.
It is highly therapeutic because of the saponin compounds in it. These aid digestion, because they foam when they meet water. This enhances the ability of the minerals and vitamins to become absorbed through the intestinal walls.
Another reason why Yucca is a popular supplement is that it reduces the odor of urine and feces by up to 26% (7). This is because it inhibits anhydrous ammonia production, which is what makes urine and feces smell so bad.
It is worth noting though, Yucca is not a replacement for feeding a good quality diet. The most common reason why feces smells is because of low-quality food, and this should be addressed first.
How to Give Yucca to Your Dog
Yucca should always be given orally as directed, but start slow and gradually work up to the recommended amount. This is because some dogs find that it irritates their stomach and can cause vomiting if too much is given too quickly.
Sarsasapogenin and Smilagenin are saponins in Yucca which are precursors to corticosteroids. As a result, Yucca may even help your dog if he has areas of inflammation such as the skin or joints.
However, if he suffers from Cushing’s disease or liver conditions, always check with your vet before giving it to your dog.
Fiber is a natural component of dog food, so most dogs do not need any extra. However, some dogs struggle with frequently impacted anal glands.
Increasing fiber in the diet will help their symptoms.
The anal glands are two sacs on either side of the anus. They have no purpose and can cause your dog discomfort when full. This tends to happen when either he has recently suffered from diarrhea, or his anal glands are in an abnormal position.
You may notice symptoms such as licking at his bottom, scooting or rubbing his bottom on the floor, and a foul smell.
Fiber supplements can help promote digestion, to reduce the chances of loose stools, as well as bulk out the stools so that the anal glands get sufficiently squeezed when your dog does his business.
This might be the solution to your dog’s discomfort if he has recurrent anal gland issues, without the need for surgery.
How to Give Fiber to Your Dog
Fiber supplements usually come in the form of delicious treats. Each brand will have a specific number needed per dog. However, regardless of the dose stated you should slowly introduce additional dietary fiber to ensure your dog doesn’t get constipation.
If you notice that your dog is scooting or chewing his bottom, is not advisable to wait to see if the fiber is going to help.
Leaving impacted anal glands untreated can lead to nasty anal gland abscesses which can require aggressive treatment.
L-tryptophan is now a popular supplement to give dogs to help alleviate behavior problems. It is not an easy fix for problems, and you should still work with an animal behaviorist if your dog is showing undesirable behaviors, however, L-tryptophan is an excellent adjunctive supplement to aid in controlling the situation.
L-tryptophan increases the uptake of serotonin into the brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that helps your dog to experience happy feelings, thereby decreasing negative emotions.
This, in turn, can help reduce behavior such as biting, barking and destructive behaviors.
How to Give L-Tryptophan to Your Dog
L-tryptophan can be found in dog foods and calming supplements, which are available as tablets, capsules or treats.
When giving your dog L-tryptophan, you should not expect it to solve all the issues. It can improve the behaviors of your dog, but won’t solve the problem, which is why supplementation should go hand in hand with seeking professional behavior training for your dog.
Like L-tryptophan, casein helps to manage unwanted stress-related behaviors when going to kennels, traveling and in situation changes such as a new pet or baby in the household.
It is a natural ingredient that is derived from a milk protein. It creates the feeling of relaxation which puppies feel when they are nursing from their mother.
Casein can take time to build up in the system, and should be given for at least three days prior to the stressful event, and throughout it.
It should also be combined with coping techniques for your dog such as creating a den, giving him distractions such as toys to chew, and ignoring unusual behavior to ensure it is not encouraged.
How to Give Casein to Your Dog
Casein is another supplement that is usually available in capsules or treats.
If you’re thinking it may be suitable for your dog, a tip is to find a product that combines casein with L-tryptophan. Unfortunately, like L-tryptophan, it is rarely very effective alone, and there are no detrimental effects in giving multiple different calming supplements to your dog.
Probiotics are very common supplements that are widely available for our canine friends. They have many uses and are very versatile.
Probiotics are live strains of good bacteria that help line the gut. They aid the digestive system to stay healthy and functional. A common strain used is Enterococcus faecium.
Your dog can benefit in many ways from probiotics.
For example, if they have recently been prescribed antibiotics for any reason. Unfortunately, antibiotics are non-selective and kill off all bacteria. This means they wipe out the good bacteria in the gut too.
Probiotics can help to restore them quickly to ensure your dog doesn’t develop any gastrointestinal upsets.
Likewise, if your dog has got an intestinal upset, it is often the case that the bad bacteria have out-competed all the good bacteria, and there is no longer a healthy balance in the guts.
Probiotics can help normalize this.
Another common reason why probiotics are used is to reduce flatulence and bloating. Bad bacteria form more methane than the normal good bacteria in the guts, and therefore probiotics can be used to normalize the composition of the bacteria and reduce gas production.
How to Give Probiotics to Your Dog
All in all, probiotics are simply microorganisms that regulate the environment of the guts and can aid greatly if the digestive system is not functioning to its full effect (10).
You might think that since they are microorganisms, they must come in an unusual form to administer, but they are usually some of the easiest supplements on the market to feed your dog.
Probiotics often come as a powder to sprinkle on the food, but you can also buy them in the form of a paste in a syringe, which you squirt into your dog’s mouth once per day.
When looking for a probiotic, make sure to buy one which also mixes the probiotics with prebiotics.
Examples of prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharide, gum arabic, mannan-oligosaccharide (MOS) and beta-glucan. These are food sources for probiotics and help them to be even more efficient.
Milk thistle is one of the few herbal supplements which is now considered part of conventional veterinary medicine, rather than alternative or complementary.
The active component in it is a compound called silymarin, which: interferes with inflammatory chemicals in the body, is an antioxidant, and prevents some chemicals being converted into toxic compounds in the liver.
This is the reason why it is primarily used for dogs with liver issues, so if your dog has liver disease, this might be the supplement for him. It can prevent further liver damage from toxins and infections, and it has also been shown to have a role in protecting the kidneys from toxins too (11).
Its main use, however, is in supporting the liver, which has been demonstrated in a series of research studies, looking at dogs that have been given a toxic mushroom and then given silymarin.
Milk thistle doesn’t come without risks though.
Common side effects include nausea and diarrhea, and it can also interfere with the mechanism of some drugs, as well as estrogen production.
How to Give Milk Thistle to Your Dog
The supplement is usually available as a capsule or tablet but, you should speak to your vet before giving your dog milk thistle. They can even provide you with the product.
They will be able to advise whether there might be any interaction with other medications or health issues and be able to determine if milk thistle is right for your dog.
SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) is another supplement, which is often combined with milk thistle, to prevent the liver from damage from toxins. But it also has other powerful effects.
SAM-e can also be used for improving arthritis and cognitive dysfunction.
In a study looking at age-related mental impairment in dogs, SAM-e showed a greater improvement in activity and awareness in comparison to the control group (14). But even though this therapeutic indication shows real promise, the main reason why it is used is for supporting the liver from toxins, despite little scientific evidence other than some case studies (15).
How to Give SAM-e to Your Dog
SAM-e is usually administered as a tablet and bought directly from your vet.
When buying SAM-e supplements, you need to look for high-quality ones. SAM-e can oxidize if not packaged correctly, which stops it from being biologically active, and if it is not enterically coated, it can also degrade in the stomach before it is absorbed into the system.
Less Common Dog Supplements
From time to time, you might see other supplements for dogs on the market. They are far less common than the 10 above, but still, have excellent uses for improving our dogs’ health.
Methylsulfonylmethane, more commonly known as MSM, is a chemical compound that is often found in joint supplements. There have been very few studies defining how it works, however, it is believed to reduce pain through lessening the nerve impulses that transmit pain to the brain.
One study, in particular, suggested that it worked synergistically with glucosamine (16), which is why both of these products are usually in joint supplements together to help dogs with osteoarthritis.
Chondroitin sulfate is another substance that is commonly found in joint supplements. It is a natural product and is otherwise known as a proteoglycan. This is when proteins and glycosaminoglycans are combined.
Glycosaminoglycans are a major component of joint cartilage, and therefore chondroitin provides the building blocks for cartilage. It also helps the cartilage to retain water, which in turn leads to better ability to manage concussive forces.
Chondroitin is a popular supplement to give dogs with osteoarthritis, however, given alone, it only provides an 8-10% improvement at best and takes up to three months to work (17).
Biotin is a type of vitamin B, essential for the synthesis of fatty acids, which contributes to having healthy skin, coat, and nails.
It is particularly useful for dogs that have a dull coat, dry skin, brittle nails or hair loss.
A study conducted on 119 dogs, found that 91% of them improved or were cured of their skin conditions with the addition of biotin to the diet (18).
Biotin is commonly added to skin supplements along with omega oils; however, it can also be found in shampoos and topical treatments too.
Green Lipped Mussel
Green lipped mussel supplements come from powdered New Zealand green-lipped mussel, Perna canaliculus.
It is particularly beneficial to dogs with joint and skin issues because it is a source of a variety of beneficial nutrients such as chondroitin sulfate, omega-3, glutamine (a glycosaminoglycan precursor), vitamins C and E, and antioxidant minerals such as zinc, copper, and selenium.
As discussed before, many of these provide benefits for joints, and the vitamins and minerals are excellent at boosting the immune system.
A dog that is receiving a balanced, commercially manufactured diet, will be consuming all the vitamins that they need. However, if a dog is being fed a home-cooked diet or a raw food diet, adding in multivitamins may be beneficial.
There is very poor evidence in the human field that multivitamins are useful as an ‘insurance’ to an imperfect diet, and almost no research on multivitamins in the animal field (18). So, the jury is still out as to whether they are worth giving your dog at all.
In fact, in some cases, it can be harmful to give additional multivitamins, such as feeding additional calcium to large breed puppies, and so consulting your veterinarian before adding in multivitamins is a wise idea.
Coenzyme Q10 is a much less common supplement than many of the others listed, but it may be added to supplements being marketed to older dogs, for example, joint supplements and multivitamins.
Coenzyme Q10 is an essential component of mitochondria, the energy-producing parts of the cell. Therefore, increasing coenzyme Q10 in high energy organs, which may be subjected to age-related degeneration, such as the heart or brain, can improve their function.
Devil’s claw can certainly be used for your dog, although it is not commonly used in many pet supplements.
It is a bitter plant, which is not particularly versatile, however, it is good at one thing; being an anti-inflammatory. As a result, it is mostly used for arthritic joints and sore muscles.
You must be careful if your dog potentially has a stomach ulcer, or is taking heart medications or anti-coagulants, as there can be some serious side effects if combined with Devil’s claw.
Bach Flowers are a controversial supplement. There is very little evidence that they work, however they are still very popular.
They are produced by infusing spring water with specific wildflowers, through sun-steeping or boiling methods. They can help animals that are feeling negative emotions, such as fear, depression, anger, and jealousy.
Bach flowers are usually provided in a bottle, with a dropper. A drop can be rubbed on the gums or ears of your pet, or two drops added to the drinking water.
So, if you’ve now decided that a certain dietary supplement may benefit your dog, and your veterinarian agrees, here are some top tips to remember:
- Don’t offer your dog dietary supplements as a replacement to prescribed medications. You should always follow the direction of your veterinarian when it comes to both supplements and medications to ensure your dog benefits from both. Speak to your vet before you give any supplements to your dog.
- Just because a supplement may be more ‘natural’ than a medication, it doesn’t mean it is safe. Always read the label to ensure accurate dosing for your dog, and double-check that your dog’s food doesn’t already have it added.
- Even though a lot of supplements overlap in the human and animal world, it is always a good idea to purchase supplements that are intended for animal use instead of human use. That way you can ensure there are no additives that may harm your dog.
- Do your research before purchasing a supplement. Supplements are not tightly regulated, and many do not have any scientific evidence to back them up. You should always buy supplements from a company that has invested in clinical trials to prove their effectiveness. Product reviews and testimonials are also excellent sources of information when researching the product.
So now you should be able to determine if any supplement will be beneficial for your dog’s ailments, and if you decide to give one a go, you will be able to see how it can boost your dog’s life without the need for prescription medications.
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Joanna.
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Contents of this Article
- What Are Supplements?
- Are Dog and Human Supplements the Same?
- How Can Supplements Help Your Dog?
- Most Helpful Supplements For Dogs
- Less Common Dog Supplements
- Take-Home Message