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Nutraceuticals For My Pet? – Dr. Karen Whala

Animal nutritional supplements  isolated on white

Dog Pills Diet
Like many, I too subscribe to the concept of taking greater initiative of my own and my pets health by turning to neutraceuticals. Both as a veterinarian and pet owner, I want to maximize my elderly pet’s quality and length of life and feel the best way to achieve this is through regular physical exams and blood work, routine preventive care and neutraceuticals where appropriate. Which are products that are not quite a food and not quite a drug, but lie somewhere in between – offering greater health benefits and fewer artificial components. There are hundreds of nutraceuticals just for animals including categories for antioxidants, omega fatty acids, joint health, probiotics and herbs. Unfortunately, many are surprised to hear that nutraceuticals are very poorly regulated by the FDA, and considered to be of ‘low regulatory significance’ as it pertains to our pets and thus one should use caution with product claims regarding purity, effectiveness and safety. Although many nutraceuticals have shown potential to help many conditions, there is very little by way of scientific evidence available to answer these same questions regarding efficacy and safety. Furthermore, efficacy claims can be vague and/or make promises for which there are no proven research to support. This however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the use of nutraceuticals. Below are a few of the more commonly used and prescribed nutraceuticals for which there is anecdotal and some extrapolated evidence for effectiveness AND proven lack of harm:

  • Joint Supplements – At Pet Medical Center, we routinely prescribe a combination ‘pill’ that contains avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplementation for our osteoarthritic patients and those patients that are prone to developing symptoms of arthritis. Patients of known risk of developing arthritis include elderly pets, dogs/cats with conformational abnormalities or history of orthopedic surgery or trauma. I have started my own elderly dog on this dog-safe version for the anticipated benefits of reduced cartilage break down and pain associated with arthritis that many dogs experience later on. I also recommend it in conjunction with anti-inflammatories to reduce the need and amount of pain medications.
  • Liver Protection – For those patients with liver associated diseases, it is not uncommon to see nutraceuticals prescribed that contain Milk thistle (silymarin) and SAMe as part of a whole liver health and support program. Both supplements are known for their liver protectant and antioxidant properties in humans, though little is known of its efficacy in dogs or cats.
  • Cranberry Extract – Thought to be associated with prevention of UTI’s for about 100 years in women and has been ‘extrapolated’ to our dog species as helpful in interfering with adhesion of E.Coli bacteria to a patient’s bladder wall, thus reducing infection. A single study was performed in beagles, however, it was only performed on a single product and it is not known whether other cranberry forms would be helpful in recurring E.coli bacterial infections. It is also unknown whether it would be helpful in preventing/treating infections associated with other types of bacteria.
  • Omega Fatty Acids – This product, as an antioxidant, has many purported benefits and one we use very commonly includes its benefits for allergic dermatitis, specifically, environmental allergies. The ratios of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids and fat intake affect its response and must be carefully balanced when introduced into the diet.

There are many safe and anecdotally efficacious products available as prescription for our pet owners. Including those listed above. So when considering what neutraceutical to place your pet on, it is a good idea to consult with a nutritionist or your veterinarian and he/she should discuss the best option for your pets unique health needs. In addition, the FDA has many useful resources available online:

Listserv for FDA MedWatch including product recalls, information, changes, et al:

Update on animal dietary supplements:

FDA consumer updates for animal & veterinary, human drugs, dietary supplements, et al.:

FDA 101: Dietary supplements:

Instructions for reporting an adverse drug event for veterinary drugs:

FDA veterinary adverse drug experience reports:

Pet food complaints: