Dogs and cats need certain nutrients for optimum health, and they don't always get enough from their diets, so pet supplements are a growing trend. Holistic veterinarian Jean Hofve, DVM, author of The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook, cites four particular supplements as essential for good pet health.1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Dr. Hofve says that Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential for dogs and cats. She explains, "Their bodies cannot make these particular fatty acids, so they must be obtained in the diet. It's best if they are consumed in their natural ratio of between 1:1 and 5:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3, but the typical American diet is very unbalanced, with a ratio of 20:1 or worse.
"Because pet food is made from the 'leftovers' of human food processing, dogs and cats receive plenty of Omega-6s (from vegetable oils and animal fats) through their food, but very little Omega-3s".
Dr. Hofve cites EPA and DHA as the most important Omega-3s for pets. She explains, "EPA is a crucial part of every cell membrane, and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. DHA helps develop and maintain the eyes and brain. In addition, these essential fatty acids act to reduce inflammatory processes in the body, lessening the effects of arthritis and many other problems associated with inflammation."
Dogs and cats cannot convert plant-based oils into EPA and DHA, so Dr. Hofve says, "The best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids for pets are marine oils (such as fish oil and cod liver oil) containing EPA and DHA, which can be used directly by the body. Select a product made from wild (not farm-raised) fish that is harvested sustainably and independently tested for freshness as well as toxins such as mercury and dioxin, which are widespread in the world's oceans."2. Digestive Enzymes
According to Dr. Hofve, "Digestive enzymes are needed to break down foods so they can be absorbed and used by the body. When food is not properly broken down, some particles may set off an immune response that can lead to inflammation, allergies, and other chronic health problems."
Digestive enzymes are a particular concern for senior pets. "The pancreas makes its own digestive enzymes, although production slows as animals age," Dr. Hofve explains. "Raw foods also contain enzymes. However, cooking destroys enzymes, so most pets (especially those eating processed commercial pet food) need extra help from an enzyme supplement. Plant-based enzymes work in the widest range of pH and temperature. Make sure that the product you select contains at least protease, amylase, lipase, and cellulase."3. Probiotics
Many humans are discovering probiotic benefits, and these products are beneficial for pets too. "Probiotics, which include acidophilus as well as a number of other 'friendly,' beneficial bacteria, help keep the normal gut bacteria balanced and healthy, and prevent “bad” bacteria from gaining a foothold," Dr. Hofve explains. "Healthy intestinal bacteria are needed to manufacture several B vitamins and Vitamin K."
If your cat struggles with vomiting, probiotic supplements may be especially helpful. According to Dr. Hofve, "Probiotics are of special importance in cats with any type of digestive problem, including vomiting, hairballs, diarrhea, and constipation. They are very helpful for animals who are, or have been, taking antibiotics; use for at least 2 weeks afterwards. Probiotics are often used for allergies, including atopy (inhalant allergies), food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease."
"Look for a supplement containing at least Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria," Dr. Hofve advises. "Many products combine digestive enzymes with probiotics, and these are good, cost-effective choice."4. Antioxidants
Antioxidants scavenge and neutralize 'oxygen free radicals' in the body. Controlled amounts of free radicals are made by the body as weapons against viruses and bacteria, but Dr. Hofve warns that excess free radicals can damage normal cells and create chronic inflammation.
People often get enough natural antioxidants from a diet high high in fresh fruits and vegetables may contain adequate natural antioxidants, but according to Dr. Hofve, "Pets are eating processed pet food, which is typically high in Omega-6 fatty acids that promote inflammation, so supplementing with antioxidants is very important. Antioxidants work synergistically together, so choose a product that has several good antioxidants in it, such as Vitamin E, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and lycopene), and flavonoids (such as Vitamin C and quercitin)."