The Use of Supplements in Holistic Pet Care
Just as RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) guidelines have been developed for humans, AAFCO (Association of Animal Feed Control Officials) provides nutritional guidelines for pets and animals. However, these guidelines only represent the minimum requirements necessary to avoid deficiency and not the ideal amounts needed to reach and maintain optimum health, nor do they address the specific needs of the individual animal.
Holistic veterinarians have adopted a different approach to nutritional requirements known as ODA, or Optimum Daily Amounts, instead of relying on minimum daily needs. Of course, holistic practitioners also recognize that this is not a one-size-fits-all plan and make recommendations accordingly based on the current health and history specific to each patient.
Are Supplements Really Necessary for My Pet?
There are several things to consider to adequately answer this question. The first is the quality of your pet’s diet. If you regularly feed dog or cat an average commercially manufactured pet food, then you may wish to discuss the feasibility of supplementing your pet’s diet with a quality multivitamin with your veterinarian. Processed pet food may only be marginally nutritional sound and may also contain chemicals that can interfere with nutrient absorption.
There are also certain conditions present that may suggest that your pet can particularly benefit from supplements, such as:
- Injury or illness, including recovery from surgery
- Medications that may deplete certain nutrients
- Extreme physical activity, such as working and service dogs may experience
- Exposure to environmental toxins
Other benefits to using supplements as a part of a holistic pet care regimen include:
- To aid digestion
- Support immunity
- Reduce stress
- Improve the condition of coat and skin
- Reduce the risk of illness and disease
- Eliminate allergies
- Increased vitality
The ABCs of Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins can be classified into one of two categories, either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water soluble-vitamins are not stored in the body, but are readily eliminated through urination. Examples of water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and B-complex. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, are stored in the liver and adipose (fatty) tissue. Both types of vitamins are necessary to utilize energy from foods and to regulate metabolism.
Minerals, required to maintain healthy blood, bone, muscle and nerve functioning, are comprised of two basic groups—macrominerals and trace minerals. Further, minerals are present in one of four forms—inorganic, organic, colloidal or crystalloidal. The difference between them in terms of optimal nutrition is defined by its bioavailability.
Inorganic minerals must undergo a conversion into an organic state in order to be used by the body. In fact, up to 20 times the amount of inorganic minerals are needed to get the same benefit from consuming organic minerals. Since the majority of minerals present in processed pet food are in an inorganic form, this is the primary reason that holistic veterinarians recommend mineral supplements.
Natural Balance is Key
Vitamins and minerals work together interdependently when introduced in a balanced diet. In a holistic pet care routine, supplementation does not seek to simply replace a deficient nutrient or increase another, either of which can lead to a state of toxicity or dysfunction. For instance, it is known that high doses of B-complex can deplete other B vitamins, while too much vitamin D or calcium can lead to skeletal disorders.
There is also a significant difference between natural vitamins found in whole foods and synthetic vitamins. Synthetic vitamins simply lack certain components that allow them to work synergistically in nature, such as photochemicals and complex compounds. The attempt to isolate components from an entire vitamin complex (i.e., ascorbic acid vs. vitamin C-complex) can even harmful to the body. For instance, it is well known that high doses of vitamin A increases the risk of birth defects in pregnant women. Yet, women consuming the same amounts of vitamin A from natural food sources do not experience the same risk. In addition, natural and synthetic vitamins react differently to minerals in the body. For example, ascorbic acid depletes copper, while natural vitamin C does not.
For these reasons, holistic veterinarians prefer vitamins to be obtained from a natural diet and supplemental nutrients to be formulated from natural foods and plant sources.
The Therapeutic Use of Supplements
Under certain circumstances, your veterinarian may suggest the use of dietary supplements for your pet, such as:
- Illness or disease
- Poor immune response
- Lack of energy
It is also common for a veterinarian to recommend the short-term use of dietary supplements if the animal has not previously benefited from balanced nutrition. In fact, poor nutrition is the leading cause of most of the above conditions.
There are also times when supplements are applied as orthomolecular medicine, also known as ‘mega-vitamin therapy.’ Orthomolecular medicine targets certain diseases through the use of high doses of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. The premise behind this form of therapy is to acknowledge that all living beings are biologically unique and require individual nutritional diagnosis and treatment, and its goal is to bring all of the systems of the body into proper balance.
In holistic pet care, orthomolecular medicine has been used successfully to treat:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
- Feline leukemia
- Canine hip dysplasia
- Allergic dermatitis
- Feline gingivitis
Supplements Commonly Used in Holistic Pet Care
There are many different dietary supplements that a holistic veterinarian may recommend, either in single or combination formulas, depending on the overall health and history of your dog or cat.
If your pet is currently taking any form of therapy—drugs, herbs or supplements—be sure to tell your veterinarian. Also, keep in mind that the vast majority of clinical studies on the effectiveness and safety of dietary supplements pertain to their impact in humans, not animals. Therefore, supplementation therapy for a pet should only be administered by an experienced veterinarian.
Coenzyme Q10, or COQ10, is produced naturally by the body and used by virtually every cell in the delivery of oxygen, to utilize energy from food, and to provide protection from free radicals. However, levels of this fat-soluble antioxidant trend to drop off in both people and pets as they grow older. Supplementation with COQ10 is used in holistic veterinary medicine to treat:
- Heart disease, particularly in dogs
- Periodontal disease
- Cancer (as a secondary treatment to prevent damage to the heart due to chemotherapy)
Omega-3 is one of a chain of polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from coldwater fish and rich in eicosapentaenic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that has been shown to be an excellent anti-inflammatory. The mechanism of this action is complex, but in simple terms, omega-3 supplementation promotes the production of non-inflammatory compounds after injury occurs to cellular membranes. Without sufficient omega-3 being available, these damaged membranes would otherwise produce an abundance of chemicals known as eicosanoids, which suppress the immune system, encourage platelets to aggregate and clot, and result in inflammation. The overproduction of eicosanoids is related to many inflammatory conditions, including arthritis.
Omega-3 supplementation is helpful in treating:
- Heart disease
- Allergic dermatitis
- Kidney disease
Glucosamine is an amino sugar produced naturally in the body and an important component in building strong joint cartilage. Being nearly impossible to obtain from the diet, glucosamine is the number one recommended supplement in the treatment of osteoarthritis in pets. In supplement form, it is available as glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, or N-acetylglucosamine.
All three forms of glucosamine are readily utilized by cartilage cells to promote the production of lubricating synovial fluid, thereby relieving pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.
Enzymes are a popular supplement for pets, primarily in the aid of digestion and to enhance nutrient absorption. While enzymes are naturally produced by the pancreas, additional dietary enzymes increase the efficiency of nutrient absorption from food. Unfortunately, most processed pet foods lack sufficient amounts of enzymes due to some ingredients being exposed to either freezing temperatures or temperatures in excess of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Even animals being fed an all-natural or raw diet can benefit from supplemental enzymes.
There are also certain circumstances that can decrease the efficiency of digestive enzymes in a pet, including:
- Use of antibiotics
There are three basic classes of supplemental enzymes—pancreatic, microbial or vegetable enzymes. Pancreatic enzymes are often prescribed for pets that have reduced pancreatic function and decreased enzyme production. In a normal functioning pancreas, amylase is secreted to digest carbohydrates, lipase to digest fats, and proteases to break down proteins. The most common sources of natural enzymes are bromelain (derived from the stems of pineapples) and papaya.
Enzyme therapy is used in holistic veterinary medicine to treat:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Dull skin and coat
- Coprophagia (ingestion of feces)
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency