Six out of every 10 Americans consume vitamins or supplements on a daily basis, and spend anywhere from $11 billion to $20 billion annually. Vitamins are big business, and you may be surprised to learn that according to the APPA’s 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, Americans also spend more than $600 million a year on vitamins and supplements for their four-legged family members.
Many of our pets’ diets may be lacking in essential nutrients—usually a result of the negative impact pesticides, insecticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, over-processing, etc. have on their food supply. Nutritional deficiencies can often be remedied by adding vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics into your companion animal’s regimen. Supplement labels can be confusing and overwhelming to read, but if you know what to look for, they don’t have to be.
Read and Understand Labels
Vitamin packages contain nutritional panels on the backs of their boxes or bottles that list the percentages of each ingredient contained in that tablet or capsule. Some list these percentages per single tablet while others calculate the percentage for the whole recommended daily dosage, which could be multiple tablets. Some even list the active ingredients for the whole package, making it extremely difficult to determine what’s in a single serving. Make sure you are clear on what the dosage is before giving any supplement to your pet.
Check the Ingredients
Look for natural or organic designations. You would be amazed to learn what manufacturers can legally put into supplements in terms of additives and fillers, without having to list them on the label. Many of them utilize raw materials containing lactose, sodium benzoate, BHA, BHT, or hydrogenated oils as fillers and preservatives. Also, be aware that some tablets contain binders and glues, which may contain artificial coloring agents. These additives can cause allergic reactions, and may even impair your pet’s health.
Like most products we buy, we tend to get what we pay for. High quality ingredients at optimal potency levels—properly manufactured and packaged—are going to be more expensive. Be a smart shopper–a particular brand may look like a good value, but once you read the label you may discover that a bottle of vitamins that looks like it will last three months will actually be gone in one.
Specific conditions relating to skin and coat, digestion, behavior, and hip and joint, for example, can be addressed with supplementation. According to a 2007 study published in The Veterinary Journal, dogs with osteoarthritis who were treated with glucosamine-chondroitin supplements showed less pain and more mobility after 70 days of treatment. Although there are no absolutes, the potency of ingredients does matter with respect to the efficacy of the supplement. Therefore, be sure to look at the potency levels of ingredients and follow dosing directions. Be aware of your pet’s needs: For example, older dogs tend to absorb fewer vitamins through their intestinal tract and lose a bulk of the vitamins through the urinary tract. Some dogs eat less food and are therefore unable to meet their daily vitamin requirement through food alone. Speak with your vet about your pet’s specific needs.
Look for the Seal
The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) is a non-profit industry group dedicated to protecting and enhancing the health of companion animals and horses throughout the United States. The seal allows consumers to know that the product they are purchasing is from a reputable company that has successfully completed a comprehensive facility audit, adheres to strict operating and labeling procedures, and maintains a comprehensive event reporting system.
Finally, be aware of health or curative claims that seem to be too good to be true. Because undoubtedly—just like anything in life—they probably are.
*Before starting your pet on any over-the-counter vitamins, supplements, or medications, please consult with your veterinarian.