Supplementary Benefits


28 February 2022
Supplements — are they needed? And do they work? Dr Jacqueline Boyd advises on what to consider before picking one for your dog.

If you thought choosing dog food was difficult, have you considered adding supplements to your dog’s diet, and then tried to choose which would be best for your pet?

Canine nutritional supplements are increasingly popular. It is now possible to choose from a vast range of substances to add to your dog’s diet. You can even buy treats and snacks for your dog that offer nutritional supplementation. These products often suggest that their use might help certain conditions such as joint health. Unfortunately, knowing their real value for your dog can be tricky. 

How can you tell if adding a supplement will be beneficial, and what about supplement safety? When might feeding your dog a supplement be useful, and what things should you consider when choosing one? 

Let’s examine supplements: what they are, whether they are needed, and the essential things to think about before you pick and use one.

What are supplements? 

Supplements are common in human nutrition, and we have seen their use increase in the pet world. They are usually intended to supply nutrients to balance an otherwise unbalanced diet; alternatively, they can complement an otherwise nutritionally complete diet, usually by including functional ingredients possibly beneficial for health. 

Whether as pills, powders, or potions, supplements come in a dazzling array of forms. However, the term ‘supplement’ has no clear definition and generally refers to products added to your dog’s daily diet or to be fed as treats. 

They are typically marketed as supporting specific aspects of your dog’s health and well-being, including joints, digestion, or skin and coat condition. Others are more general in their offerings, such as vitamin and mineral supplements.

Content continues after advertisements

Do your homework before supplementing your dog’s diet.

What supplements are available?

Common supplements include vitamins, minerals, and substances such as oils and herbs. Functional ingredients often found in supplements include probiotics and prebiotics for digestive health and function. Others will be ingredients that might support joint health and mobility, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussels, and omega 3 fatty acids. 

Some supplements are intended to aid behaviour concerns and help manage conditions such as anxiety. These often include B vitamins and herbs, such
as lemon balm, which are thought to
help. Others will contain ingredients to support the health of older dogs by including nutrients such as taurine and carnitine, which are associated with heart health.

The fact that supplements come in many different forms (from powders to pellets, pills, and liquids) is something to be aware of when considering their use — will your dog accept and eat them? Not all dogs like powders added to their food, and plenty are experts at avoiding pills!

It’s important to take care that the nutrition of a growing puppy is not unbalanced by the use of inappropriate supplementation.

Does my dog need a supplement?

An important question to ask is simply whether you need to use a supplement. Sometimes supplements are used when a diet requires the addition of certain nutrients to ensure all are provided at the required levels; this is common for home-prepared diets, which can be deficient in some nutrients. Occasionally, specific health conditions can benefit from the addition of certain vitamins or minerals. In these situations, professional help from your vet or nutritionist is recommended, to ensure there is the correct nutrient provision at safe and proper levels.

However, supplements are not necessarily needed. Indeed the scientific evidence for their effectiveness is often extremely limited and many dogs live long, healthy lives without them. 

Some supplements are poorly formulated. This means that ingredients may not be bioavailable to your dog. The amount of ingredients added could be too low to have any real impact. Poor formulation can also mean the levels of some ingredients are too high. This is especially relevant for many vitamins and minerals that have a narrow margin of safety and can be toxic if fed in excess.

Read the rest of the feature in the April 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.

Prefer the print edition? Subscribe today for just 99p and get a free gift!