There’s no question that your four-legged companion is a full-fledged family member, but did you know that many of your nutrient needs also apply to your dog? Increasingly, pet owners are seeking out vitamins and minerals that provide their animals the same nutrition insurance they rely on; in fact, according to Nutrition Business Journal, U.S. sales of pet supplements reached an astonishing $1.4 billion in 2008, growing 7.4 percent over the previous year—faster than the sale of human supplements (which grew 6.3 percent). “Even if you’re making your own pet food and trying to do your best, there’s often not enough nutrition in food due to processing and nonorganic farming practices,” says Nancy Scanlan, DVM, former president of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and president of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association. Here are five good-health options to help keep your pet’s systems humming.
“Based on my clinical experience and study of animal nutrition, I believe the high use of [conventional] tick and flea products, antibiotics, and harmful chemicals and pesticides in commercial dog food, plus air and water pollution, causes many animals eventually [to develop] liver, kidney, and heart disease. Antioxidants help protect and repair the body from the DNA damage that leads to these conditions,” says Ihor Basko, DVM, CVA, an international lecturer in holistic veterinary medicine. Scanlan suggests antioxidant vitamins E and C, taken together, to reduce disease-promoting inflammation. “They’re helpful for joints, skin, and the heart, and they both have some anticancer effect,” she says. For big dogs (60 pounds or more), Scanlan recommends 400 IU of vitamin E once a day and 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day for general health. Specific problems may merit larger doses; check with your vet.
Another anti-inflammatory, fish oil is a safe all-purpose supplement. “It helps with a number of things, especially itchy skin or allergic dermatitis, or just to keep skin healthy even if the animal doesn’t have a problem,” Scanlan says. “There is also some suggestion that especially for dogs that may be prone to arthritis, fish oil supplements may help delay onset.” Be sure to look for a supplement that contains EPA and DHA; for general health, Scanlan suggests 150 mg combined EPA and DHA daily for a small dog (15 pounds or less), double that dose for a medium dog, and triple for a large dog. “That’s a general dose; you want to use a lot more for cancer, joint problems, or other severe issues,” she notes.
“Large-breed puppies are prone to mineral imbalances that cause developmental problems in the growth and strength of bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons,” he says. A building block for cartilage and ligaments, glucosamine makes joint fluid slick and effective as a lubricant, says Scanlan. For a large dog, she suggests 1,000 mg daily or 500 mg twice daily, reducing the amount proportionally to the dog’s size. Be sure to give glucosamine in conjunction with fish oil, says Basko.
“For elderly dogs, Scanlan suggests Co-Q10. “It’s sort of a forgotten supplement as far as animals go,” she says, “but animals are the same as we are: As we age, our bodies are making less [co-Q10]. I’ve seen it help with the same types of things in dogs as it does in people: for heart health, for tear production for animals with dry eye, and for general overall health.” No pet-specific co-Q10 supplement currently exists, so use a human supplement in oil form; a large dog should take 30–60 mg twice a day, says Scanlan; reduce the amount proportionally to the dog’s size.
In his practice, Basko prescribes unique herbal formulations, along with other nutritional supports and acupuncture, to target a desired result, such as kidney detoxification, cancer prevention, or urinary tract health. “People often come to me with very sick animals for a second opinion; that’s about 60 percent of my practice,” he says. “Many times the vets have given up or told these people that their pet would die soon. I had one 14-year-old dog come in with a large splenic tumor—the vet said the dog would die in a few weeks without an operation, but the owner didn’t want to put her dog through risky surgery. I gave her recipes to cook fresh meat, fish with lots of vegetables, and little or no carbs, and the dog took antioxidants, fish oil, coenzyme Q-10, and Chinese herbs, which the owner administered religiously. The dog died in her arms without pain, at home, one year later.” Some common and effective Chinese herbs for pets include ginseng, Tang Kuei (Angelica sinensis), astragalus, lycium berries, and Ling zhi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum). Consult with a holistic vet to determine whether your dog could benefit from a specific choice or combination.