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Sorting out Supplements

Has Fido’s coat lost its youthful luster? Or is he having trouble negotiating the step up to the couch because his back is stiff? For many of us, our dogs are cherished members of our family and, as such, we strive to give them the best life possible.

By: Laura Scott and Elizabeth Pask

Last Updated:

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Illustration by Tia Mihalj

Has Fido’s coat lost its youthful luster? Or is he having trouble negotiating the step up to the couch because his back is stiff? For many of us, our dogs are cherished members of our family and, as such, we strive to give them the best life possible. We provide walks, love and affection, regular health care, and good nutrition to our four-legged family members. But what happens when all of these don’t appear to be enough? The answer may lie in some common supplements available for our dogs.

Skin and Coat Supplements

Dry flaky skin or excessive hair loss is a common complaint for many dogs. For most breeds, a healthy dog should have soft fur that is neither greasy nor dry. It is important to note that dogs with normally fine fur (such as Poodles) will not have an excessive shine to their coat the same way dogs with coarser fur (such as Labrador Retrievers) do.

In order to maintain a healthy skin and coat, our dogs require omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats are also called essential fatty acids (EFAs) and they may be included in your dog’s normal diet. However, when your dog does not get enough of these or they are not in the right balance, the skin and coat begin to suffer. Essential fatty acids are required by the body to maintain the integrity of the cell membrane. Skin cells have a high rate of turnover and they may require more of these fats than other parts of the body.

The optimal dose and ratio of fatty acids are still being researched, but the current recommendation is a ratio of 2-5 times more omega-6 than omega-3. Canola oil and soybean oil are good sources of a balanced omega fatty acid supplement. However, since omega-6 fatty acids are fairly common in your dog’s normal diet, you may wish to just supplement omega-3 fatty acids. In that case, flaxseed oil or wild salmon oil are good choices.

The recommended level of omega-3 supplementation is 175 mg/kg body weight. If you figure in that soybean oil is 7 percent omega-3 fatty acid, you would need to feed 2.5 mL of oil per kg of body weight. So, for a 20-kg dog, you would feed 50 mL of oil per day.

While this is only a starting dose which you may need to increase for your dog, there are some possible hazards in oversupplementing omega-3 fatty acids, such as a decreased ability for blood to clot, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and hives. Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids should not exceed 4 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake, or 500mg/kg body weight or 4 tablespoons oil/cup of food. Remember, too, these fats are high in calories, so you may need to adjust the rest of your dog’s diet to keep him or her from putting on extra pounds.

Joint Supplements

Stiffness, especially upon waking, is one of the main clues that your dog may have arthritic activity in his joints. Fortunately, there are a number of supplements available to help improve the health of the joint and cartilage. Supplements for joint health take time to work, so it is always best to start early. If you have a highly active dog, a dog with known joint problems, or a breed prone to joint issues, you may want to begin supplements while your dog is young and before they show any signs of problems.

Most joint supplements contain glucosamine HCL (note: glucosamine sulfate is less digestible), MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), and chondroiton. These are naturally occurring nutrients that the body produces and which can be added to the diet. As dogs age, or if they experience physical stress (such as injury), the need for these nutrients may exceed the body’s ability to supply them. There may also be other ingredients in the supplement which may or may not be beneficial, but they are unlikely to cause harm.

The recommended dose will depend on your dog, but a good estimate is 1000 – 1500mg/day glucosamine HCL, 1000mg/day for MSM, and 800 – 200mg/day chondroiton for dogs between 25 – 50kg. For dogs between 10 – 25 kg, give half the dose mentioned above and for dogs less than 10 kg, quarter it.

Anti-Anxiety Supplements

Just like us, sometimes dogs experience stress. Whether this is the stress of moving to a new home, welcoming a new family member, thunder storms, or car rides, for some dogs this stress appears overwhelming. Though many anxious or excessively nervous dogs respond well to behaviour modification alone, sometimes behaviour modification can be helped with some anti-anxiety supplements. We are not suggesting that anxiety supplements should replace therapy of this kind.

Calming supplements often contain herbal sedatives such as valerian or chamomile. Because these supplements are sedatives, it is important that you do not give more than necessary. The dose of valerian is 2 mg/kg body weight and for chamomile, it is 4mg/kg body weight. Other supplements contain L theanine, which is one of the active components of tea and thought to be a calming agent. The dose of theanine is 1mg/kg body weight.

A Note of Caution

Remember that not all human supplements are safe for dogs. In a retrospective study, it was reported that 47 dogs had accidentally ingested a supplement containing guarana and ma huang, herbal supplements that are natural sources of caffeine and ephedrine (commonly referred to as speed). The outcome of this was disastrous: 17 percent of the dogs died or were euthanized, and all of the dogs displayed clinical signs of toxicosis.

When choosing a supplement for your dog, it is best to consult your vet to ensure it is safe and is not going to interact with any medications your dog may currently be taking. If your dog is going to have an adverse reaction, it will usually occur within 72 hours after the introduction of the supplement. So monitor your pet closely when you are giving a new supplement.

With most supplements it will take about 6 – 8 weeks to see a change in your dog’s condition, so be patient and wait to see a result.

Feeding supplements can be a valuable tool to enhance your dog’s diet and help him or her maintain optimal health. The best way to keep your dog as healthy as possible is to provide high-quality nutrition with supplements as necessary, long walks, playing time, and snuggling on the couch.


Last Updated:

By: Laura Scott and Elizabeth Pask
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