Top Nutritional Supplements for Dogs and Cats
Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for dogs and cats, meaning that their bodies cannot make these particular fatty acids; they must be obtained in the diet. Our modern American diet typically contains way too many pro-inflammatory Omega-6s. Since most commercial pet food is made from the 'leftovers' of human food processing, pets too get a ton of Omega-6s in their food, but little if any Omega-3s.
"The most important Omega-3 fatty acids for our pets are EPA and DHA"
EPA is found in every cell membrane and helps these vital membranes stay fluid and flexible; EPA is also a potent anti-inflammatory. DHA is important in the development and maintainence of the eyes, the brain, and the entirenervous system.
Some companies add flaxseed or other vegetable sources of Omega-3s to their pet food, but the truth is that dogs and cats are unable to convert plant-based oils into EPA and DHA. The ideal sources of Omega-3 fatty acids for pets are marine oils (such as wild salmon or sardine oil) that can be directly used by the body. Select a product made from fish that live in clean waters, are harvested sustainably, and are tested for freshness, purity, and absence of toxins and pollutants such as mercury, PCBs, and dioxins.
2. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes enable our pets to properly and completely break down food, so that the nutrients can be efficiently absorbed and utilized by the body. Incomplete digestion can allow certain food particles may trigger inflammation and the many chronic health problems associated with it. Cooking and processing destroys food's native enzymes, so it's crucial to add them to your pet's food. Plant- or fungal-source enzymes are able to work in the widest range of internal conditions.
"The product you select should contain at least four basic enzymes: protease (to break down protein), amylase (to break down starch), lipase (to break down fat), and cellulase (to break down plant cell walls so nutrients can be accessed)."
Probiotics, such as L. acidophilus, Bifidobacteria spp., beneficial strains of Streptococcus, and other 'friendly' beneficial bacteria, are important for maintaining a balanced, healthy gut; and to prevent harmful bacteria likes Salmonella from gaining a foothold. A diverse, healthy intestinal bacteria population also supports and modulates the immune system, and manufactures essential B vitamins and Vitamin K.
For pets with digestive issues, such as chronic vomiting or diarrhea, constipation, hairballs, or similar issues, probiotic supplements are extremely helpful. For pets who are, or have been, taking antibiotics, which kill friendly bacteria as well as invaders, probiotics are absolutely required. It's best to give probiotics while the pet is on antibiotics (2 hours apart from the medication), as well as for at least 2 weeks afterwards to hele re-establish a normal population.
Antioxidants are specialized molecules that scavenge and neutralize 'free radicals' in the body. Normal amounts of free radicals are made by the body and used by the immune system as weapons against viruses, fungi, and bacteria. However, excess free radicals can damage normal cells and create chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation and free radical accumulation (oxidative stress) are major factors in aging. Excess free radicals are produced in response to many features of modern life, including vaccination; radiation from electronic devices, cell phone towers, and even sunlight; and stress.
"All pets can benefit from supplemental antioxidants to cope with the stresses of modern life."
All pets can benefit from supplemental antioxidants to cope with all these stresses. For pets who eat processed pet food, adding antioxidants is especially important. Antioxidants work together synergistically, so it's best to select a product that has a range of antioxidants in it, such as Vitamin E, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and lycopene), and flavonoids (such as Vitamin C and quercitin).