Diet is the foundation of health. Nothing can replace a healthy diet for promoting optimal health, and in warding off both acute and chronic disease. A healthy diet for dogs and cats includes as much fresh food as possible – and food of the highest quality you can provide, (see the articles about food & diet in our Holistic Healthcare Library). Yet, even the best quality diet will not provide optimal wellness if your dog or cat is not digesting it properly. And even the freshest homemade diet can often be missing key nutrients. We recommend regular daily supplements depending on the individual’s specific diet and lifestyle, but there are some essentials that almost every cat and dog can benefit from. Here is what we recommend for a healthy companion animal for general health maintenance and “health insurance” – insuring your pet has everything he needs to best ward off immune stressors and disease:
When food is not properly broken down before reaching the large intestine, particles that are too large for the body to process are absorbed into the bloodstream setting off an immune response that can lead to inflammation, allergies and chronic health problems. Nature’s way of preventing this was to endow every vegetable, fruit and animal food source with enzymes that help break it down. These enzymes are destroyed, however, by heat and processing. Every dog or cat that is eating processed food (anything other than raw or lightly cooked) should receive digestive enzymes with every meal. This will not only improve digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, but it will also help protect against the development of allergies and immune disorders such as IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) which can be caused by poor digestion. Improving digestion and utilization of nutrients can help to prevent and eliminate a host of diet-related problems such as eating stools, body odor, excessive shedding, flatulence and itchy skin. Digestive Enzymes are a crucial part of improving digestion and gastrointestinal health.
Click here to view digestive enzymes for dog & cats.
The first line of defense for your dog’s or cat’s immune system is the digestive tract, and helping to maintain the right balance between among the various strains of organisms there can play a critical role in supporting your pet’s overall health. The so-called “bad” bacteria are a normal part of the intestinal environment but they can easily over-multiply when “friendly” bacteria are depleted due to stress, diet change, illness, and with the use of medications, particularly antibiotics. Probiotics are often used to help occasional diarrhea, flatulence and foul smelling stools, and are absolutely essential for any animal receiving antibiotics or any other prescription drugs that deplete intestinal microflora. A daily dose of probiotics can help your pet’s GI tract maintain the right ratio of bacterial strains and keep this key part of your pet’s immune system functioning optimally.
Click here to see probiotic products for your pet.
Essential Fatty Acids
Dogs and cats require both Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids in their diet for optimal health, and there is no more natural place to get them than fish oils. Usually, pets receive plenty of Omega-6 fatty acids (found in oils from soy, sunflower, grape, corn and poultry fat) through their food, but that is not true for the Omega-3 fatty acids. The positive effects of Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily due to two fatty acids called EPA and DHA. EPA is a precursor for the formation of prostaglandins that have beneficial effects on the liver, immune and cardiovascular systems. DHA is important for the development and maintenance of neural structures such as the retina 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.
Rotating or alternating the source of essential fatty acids for your companion is beneficial, especially for those sensitive animals that may be prone to allergies. Sardine or salmon oil in summer and cod liver oil in winter is a common rotation. The higher vitamin D content in cod liver oil is a valuable asset during the colder, darker winter months. Some oils blend both plant and fish oils to provide a wider range of essential fatty acid sources.
Supplementing with natural fish oil facilitates your companion’s optimal health in many ways:
- Nourishes the skin & coat; reducing itching and hot spots
- Supports the immune system
- Supports the health of the digestive and reproductive systems
- Supports healthy cardiovascular function and heart health
- Helps reduce inflammation and maintain joint health
- Supports proper brain and eye development in growing kittens and puppies
Click here to view Essential Fatty Acid Supplements.
Many of us take a daily multi-vitamin to insure we receive an elemental amount of important vitamins and minerals. The typical American diet does not provide a well-balanced source of these nutrients for most people, so we take supplements as “insurance.” Our companions can benefit from a daily multi-vitamin as well. Much of the vitamin and mineral content in packaged dog and cat foods is destroyed during processing. Even when added back in after the cooking or extruding processes, the vitamins and minerals break down rapidly when exposed to light and air. The first bowl of kibble from a bag may contain most of what the label claims, but each time the bag or container is opened, the nutrients are affected. It is difficult to know how much, if any of the vitamins are left in the last portions from the bag. Even the best diet for our dogs and cats of fresh raw foods can be lacking in some essential vitamins and minerals. Many whole food sources no longer contain the high vitamin content they have in the past due to depleted soils and modern farming practices. This is why a basic vitamin and mineral supplement is a good investment for most of our companions. Think of it as health insurance – making sure the body has everything it needs for proper cell function and health maintenance will keep your companion healthier, possibly reducing your veterinarian visits and costs in the long run.
As with any other supplement, all multi-vitamins are not created equal, and not every dog or cat needs the full dosage suggested on the label. While supplementing for “insurance” is helpful, too much of a good thing can be harmful. If you are feeding a fresh food that is professionally formulated, then your companion does not likely need the full dose of a daily vitamin; half would likely suffice. If you are feeding homemade food, then a full dose of a multi-vitamin supplement is a good idea. Also, when feeding homemade food or raw food, pay close attention to the calcium content of the food and be sure to supplement if need be. Raw diets tend to be higher in phosphorus, and calcium must be supplemented to insure a proper balance. Raw bones are an EXCELLENT way to do this – especially raw chicken and turkey necks. (They do not splinter when raw, only when cooked).
Ideally, vitamin supplements should be rotated. Just as rotation and variety in the diet is important for complete and balanced nutrition, rotating vitamin supplements can provide greater balance through a wider assortment of vitamin and mineral sources. You can rotate from one bottle to the next or even from one day to the next.
At any given time you can keep 3 or 4 different vitamin/mineral and greens or whole-food supplements on hand to rotate in your companion’s diets. There is no hard and fast rule about adding nutrient supplements. An easy way to add vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes are the ONP Super Daily Vitamin and Enzymes powders. The skin and coat version even includes flax for essential fatty acids, and the senior version includes both flax and joint support.
You know your dog or cat best, so watch them closely and notice when they seem livelier or more sluggish, when their eyes are brighter or their coat a bit more shiny or dull, and adjust your supplement regimen to meet their needs. Amino acids deserve a special mention here. Some amino acids are required in the diet, while some are produced by the body. A healthy, well-rounded diet will provide all the essential amino acids required from food, except for the amino acid taurine required by cats. Commercial cat foods are almost all supplemented with this essential amino acid, but if you are making part or all of your feline friend’s meals at home, then be sure to add taurine to their diet. This can be accomplished with a good multi-vitamin made for cats or by including mackerel, clams or raw hearts (beef, lamb, chicken or turkey) in the diet. Taurine is destroyed by heat, however, so be sure these are fed raw or the supplement is added to food after it has been cooked. If you are unsure or overwhelmed by the process of choosing supplements, consulting with a holistic veterinarian can set you and your companion on course with a healthy diet and supplement regimen that meets your lifestyle and your companion’s health needs.
Extra Support for Puppies and Kittens
Puppies and kittens are more vulnerable to parasites and disease than mature animals because their immune systems are still developing. In addition, they are under a great deal of stress as they leave the safety and familiarity of their mothers and try to learn the ways of living with a human family. We highly recommend that all puppies and kittens diets be supplemented with colostrum to help boost their immature immune system for at least a month or two after weaning.
As animals age they need extra support to stay healthy and maintain the best quality of life well into their senior years. Holistic vets often recommend starting dogs on extra support for joint health at the age of 8-9 years old, and cats at the first signs of stiffness. A good joint supplement including glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as MSM is helpful in reducing the symptoms of arthritis and joint degeneration. Supplements with ingredients like bromelain and boswellia, and Chinese herbal formulas can be added for additional joint support as needed.
Click here to view a variety of joint support supplements. A senior vitamin or extra antioxidants added to their vitamin regimen can help fight the damage caused by free radicals and give their immune system a little extra help in keeping illness at bay. CoEnzyme Q10 is another nutritional supplement holistic vets often recommend for older animals to help protect the heart and support gum health. For senior animals beginning to show cognitive decline, supplements such as Clear Thoughts by Nutri-Vet can be very helpful. Some Chinese herbal formulas containing tonic or adaptogenic herbs can be quite supportive for the aging animal. Again, working with a holistic veterinarian is the best way to insure you choose the right support for your companion.