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 (also 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 special nutritional requirements do puppies and kittens have?
Puppies and kittens grow and develop rapidly. Certain stressors, including weaning; separation from their littermates and mother; and introduction into new environments, tend to increase their nutritional needs. They have higher calorie requirements than adults, and require increased levels of fats and proteins in their diet in order to support basic growth and development of a healthy immune system. An excellent natural pet food, together with appropriate pet supplements, is essential for providing optimal nutrition during this time.
Puppies and kittens require more calcium and phosphorus than adults, and these minerals need to be supplied in the correct ratio. Both over- and under-supplementation can be harmful to growth and bone problems.
Should puppies or kittens be given additional calcium or mineral supplements?
Calcium excess in puppies has been associated with the development of significant skeletal abnormalities. Although not reported as a problem in kittens, calcium supplementation should always be done cautiously and under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.
Calcium deficiency is a common problem in kittens and puppies fed all meat or home-prepared diets without appropriate supplementation. In general, young puppies have an impaired ability to regulate their calcium absorption. This ability to regulate calcium absorption does not develop until the puppy reaches at least ten months of age. Smaller breeds of dogs appear to be less sensitive to slight imbalances in calcium level than large and giant breeds of dogs. Calcium excess may be associated with the development of orthopedic problems (including canine hip dysplasia) in susceptible breeds.
Because of the risks associated with both calcium excess and calcium deficiency, supplementation should only be given under the guidance of a veterinarian. Consult a veterinarian for advice about amounts and optimal sources. As a general rule, calcium citrate is generally considered superior to calcium carbonate.
Are there pet supplements that may provide health benefits to puppies or kittens?
It is recommended that puppies and kittens get a daily pet vitamin supplement as the stresses associated with growth and development may lead to increased requirements, especially for B vitamins. Vitamin C may support joint health and minimize the development of hip dysplasia in some breeds. Digestive enzymes and probiotics may enhance the availability and absorption of essential nutrients.
How is the effectiveness of a pet supplement determined?
Very few supplements have been subjected to scientific trials to determine their efficacy. Most of the information about the use of 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). A great deal of information has also been obtained from the use of supplements in human medicine or from laboratory research. Although this information may be helpful, it may be incomplete, or it may not represent what effects the supplement could have on a young pet.
With respect to young growing pets, enhanced appearance, especially of the skin and coat, normal rates of development of bones and teeth, and growth rates that are consistent with your pet’s breed and age may suggest the effectiveness of a pet supplement. Since puppies and kittens mature at a rapid rate, it is advisable to have regular assessments of the pet’s progress by a veterinary professional in order to detect problems or concerns in a timely manner.
Are all pet supplements safe for puppies and kittens?
The best source of information about the safety of pet supplements is a veterinarian trained in, and receptive to, their use. Other practitioners may not be aware of some of the safety issues surrounding specific products or their use in various conditions.
The quality of 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.