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How to get the most out of your pet's supplements

Dr Joanna Woodnutt
Article written by Dr Joanna Woodnutt

Date published 26 June 2024

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If you're going to give your pet supplements, you might as well do it properly. The best pet supplements aren't cheap, but they are worthwhile and can make a difference to your pet's health and comfort. Here's how to maximise the benefits.

🕒 6 min read

Why use pet supplements?

Supplements (sometimes called 'nutraceuticals') are non-essential dietary ingredients that are thought to improve health. They are usually made to have one or more ingredients that target a particular health area.

For example, joint supplements for dogs or cats generally contain several ingredients that are thought to support normal joint function.

Although supplements can't cure diseases or stop pain, they can make sure the body isn't deficient in anything it might need to function and repair properly.

If supplements are there to correct a deficiency, does this mean there is a problem with pet diets? Generally, no. For most dogs, for example, a normal diet will have sufficient ingredients for healthy skin or healthy joints.

But in some pets, higher needs or lower uptake might mean that supplements correct a minor deficiency or provide building blocks they just aren't getting elsewhere.

Which pets benefit from supplements?

The extent to which a pet will benefit from supplements depends on several factors.

The most important is their health. If a dog has a joint problem, there's a good chance you'll notice a benefit with good dog joint supplements. If a cat has a skin allergy, there's a good chance that skin supplements will help them.

If they have poor digestion, it's likely digestion supplements will provide them with some support. This is because these pets are already struggling with these areas, so extra support is beneficial.

If your pet is getting older, they're also more likely to get benefits from their supplements. This is because they may have mild joint disease or other problems, and are less able to absorb the nutrients they need from their diet.

If your pet is a young adult with no health conditions, chances are you won't notice much of a difference with supplements. This isn't to say that your pet isn't getting any benefit, but the improvements might be too subtle to notice.

This means it's often impossible to say whether there are any benefits to young, symptomless dogs and cats taking supplements, but many people choose to give them anyway as they are unlikely to do any harm.

This is especially true if your pet is at increased risk of developing a problem: for example, if they're a very active dog and are therefore prone to arthritis.

Although you may not notice much benefit from giving joint supplements to dogs with no symptoms, I always remind people that supplements help cells to repair themselves – and as a result, supplements can be more effective when disease is advanced and there are fewer healthy cells capable of repair.

In other words, all pets can benefit from supplements, but you'll be more likely to notice an improvement if your pet has symptoms of a problem.

Beagle sitting on grass scratching

If your dog already has symptoms such as joint pain or scratching, you're more likely to notice an improvement from supplements.

How to use pet supplements to their best effect

We all want to maximise the benefits when using supplements. Here are my top tips.

1. Give supplements time to work

Supplements support normal cell function by providing specific types of nutrition to the cells that need it. But, unlike medications, supplements need to build up in the body to work. They work through a slow process that builds a pet's natural defences and repair strategies.

As a result, don't expect overnight results – in fact, most supplements need to be given for 6-8 weeks before a decision can be made on whether they're helping. Others need to be given for 12 weeks or more.

2. Be consistent with the supplement

It takes a while for a supplement to reach a steady state and start exerting its effects, so it's essential that you're consistent with your pet's supplements. Stopping for a week will drain the body of the nutrient, and it'll take longer to build back up. Be consistent, and if you're prone to running out or forgetting to re-order, try Subscribe & Save. It will save you money too.

3. Combine products with synergistic effects

Some supplements have complementary ingredients. Glucosamine is beneficial to pet joint health, for example, while one of the best supplements for joint disease in dogs is omega 3 fish oils. So, if you combine a product like Glossy Coat Omega with Pet Joint Supplements, you can get the best of both worlds.

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4. Give supplements at the right time of day

Just like medications, some supplement ingredients are best given on an empty stomach, while others are best given with a meal. This can affect nutrient absorption.

Check your pet's supplement packet for more information. If nothing is specified, I'd normally suggest giving with food to reduce the chance of stomach upset.

In most cases, if your supplement needs two or more tablets daily, spreading them out throughout the day might mean that more of the supplement is absorbed and utilised by the body. However, the most important thing is that you remember to give the supplements in the first place. Choose a system that works for you and stick with it.

5. Provide medications if your dog has symptoms

Supplements are not a replacement for medications. By avoiding medications, you may actually be making your pet's symptoms worse; pain wind-up, gut cell destruction, and the itch-scratch cycle mean that in the case of joint disease, digestive problems, and skin allergies, the symptoms themselves lead to worsening symptoms.

Supplements are much more likely to have an effect if your dog's symptoms are partly or completely under control when the supplements are started. Unfortunately they can't work if your dog has had weeks of pain, diarrhoea, or itching, so medical relief is essential.

In some cases, you may be able to wean your pet off the medicines at a later date, when the supplements have had a chance to work.

Choosing supplements: how to find the best pet supplement

There are many different pet supplements on the market – how do you choose one over another?

First, look for a supplement with evidence-based ingredients. Some common ingredients don't have any scientific evidence that they work, so using these may be a waste of time and money.

Next, look for high-quality, traceable ingredients. Brands should be able to explain where their ingredients have come from, and how they've been processed to ensure they remain nutritious. They should have testing facilities that ensure their products meet standards and contain what they claim.

Finally, opt for a well-known brand with a good reputation. It's best if the brand has some sort of clinical trial data available, but as the law around testing and proving supplements work are tricky to navigate, not all brands will have this. If this is the case, look for trust from vets: if we cynical vets can be persuaded these things work, the brand or ingredients must be worthwhile!

Summary

In short, supplements can be beneficial in pets with joint disease, digestive disease, and skin allergies. They're also great for pets who are currently symptomless, but at high risk of future problems.

To get the most bang for your buck, choose evidence-based supplement ingredients from a trusted brand, and feed them consistently for 6-8 weeks before making a decision about their effectiveness for your pet.

Remember to always discuss your pet's supplements with your veterinarian, especially when your pet is also taking prescribed drugs, as some supplements can interfere with drug absorption.

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  • Glossy mane and reduced moulting
  • Supports joint, brain and heart health
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Dr Joanna Woodnutt

About Dr Joanna Woodnutt

After graduating from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands, where she developed an interest in chronic diseases and client care. Since moving home to the Channel Islands, Dr Woodnutt has worked as a freelance veterinary writer and locum relief vet across the islands.

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