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Safe Nutritional Supplements for Pets

By Colleen Williams
September 25, 2017 • 3 min. read
Golden retriever dog eating food

Pet parents often find themselves bombarded with recommendations on how to take care of their pets, leaving them with many questions and not too many answers. One question vets have encountered from curious pet parents is: What are the best supplements pet owners can give to their healthy pets? To find the answer, you need to start by asking a question in return: What are you feeding your pet?

Supplements should be just that – supplemental to the diet. Whenever possible, your pet’s diet should contain all of the basic nutrition he or she needs, and the most effective way to do this is to feed pets a fresh, whole food diet. For both dogs and cats, this can be homemade food using a balanced recipe, store-bought frozen raw food, freeze-dried fresh food, or dehydrated fresh food. Kibble and cans cannot meet the standard of “optimal” nutrition due to the high temperature and pressures required in their production.

Pets eating a balanced fresh, whole food diet should not require any vitamin or mineral supplementation unless a specific medical condition makes it necessary. For other supplemental needs, such as for joint movement or eye health, talk to your vet.

For additional nutritional support, there are two supplements that can be added to most pet’s diets that are also popular among humans:


Probiotics are supplements containing beneficial bacteria to support gastrointestinal tract health for cats and dogs. A good probiotic supplement can improve digestion and helps limit GI upset if the pet eats something they shouldn’t. Most importantly, since the GI tract houses 70% of the immune cells in the body, probiotics support overall immune system function, which translates to better health in the global sense.

When looking for a good probiotic supplement, ask your vet about specific brands and purchase a supplement that is specifically made for pets. A good quality probiotic will show colony forming units (CFU) on the label; CFUs per dose should be in the billions, (not millions). Also, many probiotics contain prebiotics, which provide food for the beneficial bacteria; for example the ingredients might say inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS).

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

EFAs are fats that may be necessary because either they are not made within the body, or they’re made in very small quantities. Unlike humans, dogs and cats are not able to make good use of fatty acids from flax or other plant-based oils, so EFAs for our pets must come from fish oil or other marine sources like mussel oil, krill oil, etc.

EFA supplements are very supportive of healthy digestion, skin and hair coat, and overall immune function. When given at higher doses, EFAs can also act as a natural anti-inflammatory.

When looking for a high-quality EFA supplement, look for brands that show independent lab testing for purity – all marine sourced oils do have the potential to contain contaminants (such as heavy metals). Marine oils contain two specific fatty acids, EPA and DHA, and the approximate daily dose for dogs and cats is 150 mg of combined EPA and DHA per 10 pounds of body weight. Again, try to find supplements made exclusively for pet consumption to avoid toxic additives.

While neither probiotics nor EFA supplements are known to have detrimental side effects, anything new has the potential to cause tummy upset, so check with your vet first to rule out any possible allergens or complications that could arise in your pet. For example, if your pet has a sensitivity to fish, EFA supplements should be used with caution.

Content provided by Dr. Gary Richter, MS, DVM, a holistic veterinarian and scientist. Dr. Richter helps dog and cat owners to navigate treatment options and separate the fact from the fiction, approaching veterinary science as integrative health care. Find out more on his website,, or check out his book, The Ultimate Pet Health Guide: Breakthrough Nutrition and Integrative Care for Dogs and Cats.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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