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Pet Education

Supplements for the Older Pet

What are pet supplements?

Pet supplements are defined as either dietary or therapeutic supplements. Dietary supplements (also called dietary nutrients) are substances added to pet foods to make them nutritionally complete and balanced. Therapeutic supplements (called nutraceuticals) are foods or food nutrients that are taken orally to provide a health benefit, either for prevention or treatment of disease. To have this therapeutic effect, a nutraceutical is usually taken in a larger dose than the daily requirement of that same food when used as a nutrient.

What are the benefits of giving pet supplements to an older dog or cat?

Pet supplements are used to help counter the aging process. Aging pets experience degenerative organ changes that occur over time and lead to a pet that may be unable to meet the challenges of its environment. Degenerative changes commonly affect the musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones and ligaments), gastrointestinal tract (including teeth), skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, nervous system and the specialized organs of sense (especially hearing and sight). It may be possible to slow these degenerative changes by the appropriate use of supplements in an older pet.

Older pets have a reduced ability to digest nutrients due to altered metabolism and their dietary requirements change during the geriatric years. It is important to feed an older pet a high quality natural pet food to maximize the availability of nutrients. The best supplements for an older pet are those that help address age-related organ changes. These supplements, together with a natural pet food, may improve longevity and quality of life in an older animal.

What are some of the most commonly recommended supplements for older pets?

Vitamin B complex (including Vitamin B1, B2, B6 and B12) is often recommended as a pet supplement to help counter fatigue and improve appetite. The risk of toxicity is very low as B vitamins are water-soluble and excess amounts will be excreted in the urine.

Vitamin C is recommended for its antioxidant effects, its potential to reduce inflammation through antihistamine (anti-allergic) effects, and its possible role in enhancing immune function.

Vitamin E is recommended as an antioxidant and for its positive effects in inflammatory skin disorders.

Coenzyme Q-10, Alpha Lipoic Acid, DMG (dimethylglycine) and L-carnitine may all similarly improve overall physical performance or reduce the incidence and severity of age-related illness. Coenzyme Q-10 and carnitine help improve the strength of heart muscle while DMG is often recommended as an immune stimulant or anti-inflammatory for the joints. Alpha Lipoic Acid may be recommended to promote eye health and to help slow degenerative neurological conditions.

Increased fatty acid intake, especially omega fatty acids, and increased zinc intake helps maintain healthy skin and coat and may decrease inflammatory reactions.

Digestive enzymes and probiotics may enhance the availability and absorption of dietary nutrients.

What about other pet supplements for specific disease conditions?

Supplements that may be of use in geriatric pets with specific disease conditions include glandular therapy or whole tissue supplements for degenerative processes; digestive enzymes or probiotics for gastrointestinal disease; cartilage-protecting agents (such as glucosamine) to improve mobility and delay progression of degenerative joint disease (dog arthritis); milk thistle for chronic liver problems; and fatty acids to decrease the inflammation associated with certain kidney diseases and allergic skin conditions. If you are giving pet supplements, inform your veterinarian, so that other required treatments can be effectively integrated.

How is the effectiveness of a pet supplement determined?

Very few pet supplements have been subjected to scientific trials to determine their efficacy. Most of the information about pet supplements comes from anecdotal or testimonial evidence (someone tells you about their personal experience or about another patient who showed some benefit when taking the product). Supplements are also often used in pets because of their effects in humans or laboratory research. Although this information may be helpful, it is incomplete, and may not give a realistic indication of potential benefits to a pet.

With respect to older pets, enhanced appearance (especially of the skin and coat), improvement in mobility, and increased activity levels are all common outcomes observed through the use of pet supplements. There may even be an observable dose-related response, where improvements are noticed when a supplement is given, and declines noticed when it is not. In these situations, the benefits of the pet supplement become obvious to both owner and veterinarian.

Are all pet supplements safe to use?

The best source of information about the safety of pet supplements is your veterinarian. Some veterinarians may not have an advanced knowledge of alternative treatments, in which case a referral to another practitioner with a reputation for knowledge of pet supplements may be recommended.

Quality of pet supplements can vary depending on the source and the manufacturer. Reputable manufacturers will provide detailed information about the product on the label or in a package insert. Veterinarians are often a good source of information about quality issues for individual products.

Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist who has practiced at the Animal Medical Center in New York City and other leading institutions. She is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Donna has written and lectured extensively on topics including nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney failure and respiratory disease. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets, her TV appearances with Ellen DeGeneres and her widely-quoted pet health advice in print and on radio.  Dr. Donna performs medical, nutrition and weight loss consultations for dogs and cats through her web-based veterinary consulting service, www.SpectorDVM.com.
 
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