Daily Supplements for Healthy Companions
by Dr. Larry Siegler from Only Natural Pet Store
Diet is the foundation of health – nothing can replace a healthy diet of the freshest food you can provide for your cat or dog when it comes to promoting health and warding off both acute and chronic disease. But what can you do in addition to a healthy diet, or to improve the mostly processed food diet that most dogs and cats eat? In my practice I recommend regular daily supplements depending on the individual’s specific diet and lifestyle, but there are some essentials that almost every cat and dog can benefit from. Here’s what I recommend for a healthy dog or cat for general health maintenance and “health insurance” – insuring your pet has everything he needs to best ward off immune stressors and disease.
When food is not properly broken down before reaching the large intestine, particles that are too large for the body to process are absorbed into the bloodstream, setting off an immune response that can lead to inflammation, allergies and chronic health problems. Nature’s way of preventing this was to endow every vegetable, fruit and animal food source with enzymes that help break it down. These enzymes are destroyed, however, by heat and processing. Every dog or cat that is eating a processed food (anything other than raw or lightly cooked) diet should receive digestive enzymes with every meal. This will not only improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, but it will also help protect against the development of allergies and immune disorders such as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) which can be caused by poor digestion.
Improving digestion and utilization of nutrients can help to prevent and eliminate a host of diet related problems such as eating stools, body odor, excessive shedding, flatulence and itchy skin. Digestive Enzymes are a crucial part of improving digestion and gastrointestinal health.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are required in the diet – they cannot be produced by the body (hence the “essential” in the name). The two fatty acids required in the diet are omega 3 (linoleic acid) and omega 6 (alpha-linoleic acid). Most animals and people’s diets are higher in omega 6 than omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids are necessary for proper formation of cell membranes, are precursors for prostaglandins (hormones involved in pain regulation among other things), aid in proper cardiovascular function and nourish the skin and coat as well as the lining of the digestive tract. In addition, omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA act to reduce inflammatory processes in the body.
Essential fatty acid supplements are not all created equal. Some are strictly fish oil, such as salmon or cod liver oil, which provide readily available omega 3 fatty acids. Some are fish and plant blends including borage, flax and other oils that provide both omega 3 and omega 6 oils. Some of these blended oils are formulated for a ratio of 4:1 or higher omega 3 oils to omega 6 as the omega 3’s are most lacking in typical diets. Some oils are all plant based such as pure flax oil, or may be a blend of flax and other plant oils. The best source of omega 3 fatty acids for animals is cold water fish oils like salmon oil or cod liver oil. Animals do not efficiently convert the fatty acids in plant oils such as flax to the form most readily utilized by the animal’s system.
Many of us take a daily multivitamin to insure we receive a base amount of important vitamins and minerals. The typical American diet does not provide a well-balanced source of these nutrients for most people, so we take supplements as “insurance”. Much of the vitamins and minerals in packaged dog and cat foods are destroyed during the processing of both dry and canned food. Even when added back in after the cooking or extruding processes, the vitamins and minerals break down rapidly when exposed to light and air. The first bowl of kibble from a bag may contain most of what the label claims, but each time the bag or container is opened, the nutrients are affected. It is difficult to know how much, if any of the vitamins are left by the last portions from the bag.
Even the best diet for our dogs and cats of fresh raw foods can be lacking in some essential vitamins and minerals. Many whole food sources no longer contain the high vitamin content they have in the past due to depleted soils and modern farming practices. This is why a basic vitamin and mineral supplement is a good investment for most of our companions. Think of it as health insurance – making sure the body has everything it needs for proper cell function and health maintenance will keep your companion healthier, possibly reducing your veterinarian visits and costs in the long run.
As with any other supplement, all multi-vitamins are not created equal. And not every dog or cat needs the full dosage suggested on the label. While supplementing for “insurance” is helpful, too much of a good thing can be harmful. If you are feeding a fresh food that is professionally formulated, then your companion does not likely need the full dose of a daily vitamin; half would likely suffice. If you are feeding home-made food (which I enthusiastically support), then a full dose of a multivitamin supplement is a good idea. Also, when feeding homemade food or raw food, pay close attention to the calcium content of the food and be sure to supplement if need be. Raw diets tend to be higher in phosphorus, and calcium must be supplemented to insure a proper balance. Raw bones are an EXCELLENT way to do this – especially raw chicken and turkey necks. (No, they do not splinter when raw, only when cooked).
Ideally, vitamin supplements should be rotated. Just like rotation and variety in the diet is important for complete and balanced nutrition, rotating vitamin supplements can provide greater balance through a wider assortment of vitamin and mineral “sources”. You can rotate from one bottle to the next or even from one day to the next. I sometimes use a multivitamin one day and a “greens” supplement another day. I like adding Wysong’s Call of the Wild to raw food, especially if it’s not a professionally formulated “dinner” or complete diet. At any given time I keep 3 or 4 different vitamin and mineral and greens or whole-food supplements on hand to rotate in our companions’ diets. There is no hard and fast rule.
You know your dog or cat best, so watch them closely and notice when they seem livelier or more sluggish, or their eyes are brighter or their coat a bit more shiny or dull, and adjust your supplement regime to meet their needs. Also consider your companion’s health issues; for animals with allergies of any type I recommend Thorne Research vitamin supplements as they are hypoallergenic and contain no fillers.
Amino acids deserve a special mention here. Some amino acids are required in the diet, while some are produced by the body. A healthy, well-rounded diet will provide all the essential amino acids required from food, except for the amino acid taurine required by cats. Commercial cat foods are almost all supplemented with this essential amino acid, but if you are making part or all of your feline friend’s meals at home, then be sure to add taurine to their diet. This can be accomplished with a good multi-vitamin made for cats or by including mackerel, clams or raw hearts (beef, lamb, chicken or turkey) in the diet. Taurine is destroyed by heat, however, so be sure these are fed raw or the supplement is added to food after it has been cooked.
If you are unsure or overwhelmed by the process of choosing supplements, a consult with a holistic veterinarian can set you and your companion on course with a healthy diet and supplement regime that meets your lifestyle and your companion’s health needs.
Extra Support for Puppies and Kittens
Puppies and kittens are more vulnerable than mature animals to parasites and disease because their immune systems are still developing. In addition, they are under a good deal of stress as they leave the safety and familiarity of their mothers and try to learn the ways of living with a human family. I highly recommend that all puppies and kittens diets be supplemented with colostrum to help boost their immature immune system for at least a month or two after weaning.
As animals age they need extra support to stay healthy and maintain the best quality of life well into their senior years. I often recommend starting dogs on extra support for joint health at the age of 8-9 years old, and cats at the first signs of stiffness. A good joint supplement including glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as MSM is helpful in reducing the symptoms of arthritis and joint degeneration. Supplements such as bromelain, boswellia and Chinese herbal formulas can be added for additional joint support as needed.
A senior vitamin or extra antioxidants added to their vitamin regime can help fight the damage caused by free radicals and give their immune system a little extra help in keeping illness at bay. CoEnzyme Q10 is another nutritional supplement I often recommend for older animals to help protect the heart and support gum health.
For senior animals beginning to show cognitive decline, supplements such as Thorne’s Memoractiv can be very helpful. There are some Chinese herbal formulas that can be helpful as well. Adaptogenic herbs can be supportive for the aging animal. Again, working with a holistic veterinarian is the best way to insure you choose the right support for your companion.
Author: Dr. Larry Siegler from Only Natural Pet Store
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