I’m concerned that my pet’s diet may be deficient in vitamins and omega-3s. Can I give her supplements?

High-quality nutrition

We know that people who eat healthily and have an active lifestyle have a longer life expectancy than those who do not. The same is true for our pets. If you want your furry friend to live a longer, healthier life, it’s crucial that you feed them a high-quality, veterinary-approved diet. These diets have been scientifically formulated and balanced to meet each type of pet’s specific needs. Choose the right diet for your dog’s breed, size, age and activity levels to give them optimal nutrition. Cats need feline-specific nutrition designed to meet their needs based on age, breed, activity levels and other explicit conditions (obesity, sensitive tummy, dental health, hairball-prone, etc.). When purchasing pet food, you get what you pay for. There is no degree of nutritional supplementation that can compensate for feeding a cheap, poor-quality diet.

Supplements are available for various conditions

Nutritional supplements are vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are added to your pet’s diet to balance and enhance it. Various nutrients serve specific functions in the body, and these may be incorporated directly into the food or may be given as tablets, powders or liquids.

General health and condition supplements

If you are feeding your pet a high-quality commercially produced diet that is appropriate for their condition, you should not need to add any supplements, provided that your pet is healthy. Home-cooked diets may be provided with the best intentions towards your pet’s health, but they can, however, be deficient in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for overall good health. These diets may need to be supplemented, in which case it’s very important to use a species-specific supplement to avoid deficiencies or toxicities.

Joint supplements

These supplements are prescribed for pets that are predisposed to and/or suffering from osteoarthritis (a chronic inflammatory condition of the joints, which causes pain and loss of mobility). Joint supplements contain ingredients that have anti-inflammatory effects in the joint, protect cells from free radical damage, and provide building blocks for cartilage and joint fluid. Important ingredients to look out for in joint supplements are glucosamine, chondroitin, EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamins E and C, and green-lipped mussel extract.

Skin supplements

Skin supplements are typically prescribed for pets with skin allergies or dry, flaky, itchy skin. These supplements are designed to provide nutrients essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Important ingredients include omega-3 and 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, evening primrose and marine fish oils), vitamins A, C and E, biotin, nicotinamide and zinc. Humans and animals have different requirements for omega-3 and 6 fatty acids; therefore, you should not use a human supplement for your pets.

Geriatric supplements

As our pets age they may start to experience deteriorating eyesight, a decline in cognitive function, decreased mobility and a deterioration in general body condition. They can also become deficient in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as they tend to eat less due to their decreasing appetite. Supplements for geriatric animals contain ingredients that aid brain function, provide joint support and help maintain lean muscle mass. Important ingredients include omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, carotenoids and flavonoids, vitamin E, L-carnitine, antioxidants and taurine.

Calming supplements

Anxiety in dogs and cats can manifest as behavioural problems as well as medical conditions. Some dogs are prone to stress-induced tummy upsets, where cats are prone to urinary tract problems. Ingredients in calming aids that are useful include theanine, tryptophan, vitamins B1, B3, B6 and B12, and milk hydrolysates such as alpha casozepine.

Liver supplements

Liver supplements are used for liver failure, hepatitis and damage to the liver as result of toxin exposure. They contain ingredients that support liver function, decrease inflammation and provide nutrients that the liver may struggle to produce if it’s under strain. Important ingredients are milk thistle, thioctic acid, pangamic acid, L-carnitine, vitamins E and K, and B-complex vitamins.

Kidney supplements

Kidney supplements are used for pets at risk of and/or suffering from chronic kidney failure. They contain ingredients that bind phosphate in the intestine (as excess phosphate levels worsen kidney failure) and have protective effects on the kidneys (anti-inflammatories and antioxidants). Ingredients to look out for are omega-3 fatty acids, co-enzyme Q10, chitosan, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins and vitamin E. Interestingly, the addition of omega-6 fatty acids to the diet has been shown to be detrimental to patients suffering from kidney disease. Be very careful when selecting any supplements for patients with kidney failure as they have very specific nutrient requirements and restrictions. Giving an inappropriate supplement may negatively affect your pet.

Digestive supplements

Most digestive supplements are given to patients suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Important ingredients are prebiotics, probiotics, glutamine, gastrointestinal adsorbents, vitamins and minerals. Probiotics are live healthy bacteria, whereas prebiotics are special fibres that feed those healthy bacteria. Glutamine is an amino acid that is used by the intestinal lining cells to regenerate. Kaolin, pectin and diosmectite are intestinal adsorbents that help to mop up toxins from the intestine (such as those produced by bacteria during infections). Vitamins and minerals are added to replace those lost during vomiting or diarrhoea.

Calcium supplements

Calcium supplements are to be used with extreme caution and only under instruction from the veterinarian. They may be prescribed to lactating bitches and queens showing symptoms of inadequate calcium levels. However, if these supplements are fed to animals that do not have a calcium deficiency, the body’s natural processes that balance calcium are disrupted, which may lead to more severe signs of hypocalcaemia (low calcium levels) when the body’s need is at its highest. Supplementing calcium in especially large breed puppies can lead to growth abnormalities.

Quality and safety of supplements

There is no legal requirement for the quality control of supplements. Studies have shown that a large proportion of supplements do not contain the ingredients they claim to on the packaging. Some products have even been found to contain toxic substances. This is why you should always only use products that have been recommended by the veterinarian.


Good nutrition is a cornerstone of your pet’s health. Speak to the veterinary team about which diets they would recommend for your individual pet’s needs. The veterinarian can recommend any additional supplements that they feel are necessary for your pet’s wellbeing. Only use products from reputable companies and never use human supplements for your pets.

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