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The Reality of Dog Vitamins and Supplements

dog vitaminsThis article originally appeared on as The Reality of Dog Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamins and supplements are part of the daily rituals for millions of people, but should dogs take them?

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), in 2013 Americans spent $13.14 billion dollars in the supplies/Over-the-Counter category. The category includes food, medicines, vitamins, supplements, and more. The category is expected to topple $13.72 billion in 2014. We are spending on nutritional supplements and vitamins for our precious pooches, but what is exactly needed, what’s considered “too much,” and do our dogs really need the extra stuff?

We went to one of the top sources for holistic care of pets in this country, Dr. Patrick Mahaney. Mahaney is a veterinarian and President at California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW). I have known Mahaney for years and consider him to be an excellent resource who keeps pace with current trends and is an industry expert.  Mahaney’s terrier, Cardiff, is living (and thriving) despite his diagnoses of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia and more recently, cancer. Here’s the scoop on vitamins and supplements for dogs:

cute dogs

Is a vitamin necessary for dogs and if so, what should a dog parent look for in a high quality vitamin?

In the veterinary community, there are many differing opinions about if a vitamin is necessary for the health and longevity of our canine companions.  As most commercial dog food is supplemented with vitamins and minerals to meet after basic AAFCO nutritional requirements, usually a dog’s needs would appear to be sufficed by what’s in their food.  Yet, most pets eat processed commercial diets made with added vitamins that are synthetic instead of whole food based vitamins derived from minimally processed fruits, vegetables, and other food sources.

Judith Decava’s book Good Foods/Bad Foods: A Little Book of Common Sense Nutrition gives an insightful explanation of why natural/whole food-based vitamins are better absorbed by the body then their synthetic counterparts. So, for my patients I recommend nutraceuticals that contain vitamins that are whole food based, such as the line of canine and feline products from Standard Process.

We are giving our dog coconut oil. This has come up a lot lately in the news. What are its benefits?

Adding coconut oil to a dog’s diet can help to increase polyunsaturated fatty acid levels in the body which provides many health benefits.  Coconut oil is rich in a natural anti-inflammatory compound called lauric acid and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) that benefit the nervous system, skin, and joints (among other body systems).

As dogs are omnivores having carnivorous tendencies, they actually better absorb animal-sourced omega fatty acids than vegetarian sources.  So, when I feel one of my patients’ health conditions merits a fatty acid supplement I suggest fish oil-based omega fatty acids over plant-based sources like coconut oil.

It’s best that dog owners seek the guidance of their veterinarian before starting a course of omega fatty acid supplementation you ensure that an appropriate product is chosen and safe dosing occurs.


Joint supplements are very popular, and something we use as well. In terms of a joint protective, what are some qualities a dog parent should look for when deciding on which one to administer?

When striving to improve a dog’s joint health, it’s common to provide a chondroprotectant (dietary supplement that benefits joint health).

When choosing a product, it is best to use one that is recommended by a veterinarian and has been formulated specifically for pets. Occasionally, human products have ingredients that may be undesirable for overall pet health.

Additionally, make sure that the product meets Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), as such certification provides higher quality control over products.

Finally, I always suggest choosing products made with USA or Canada sourced ingredients over others coming from countries with questionable manufacturing practices, like China, Mexico, etc.

dog ACL brace

What is the difference with all of these fatty acids on the market and which one(s) do dogs really need?

There are many types of fatty acids.  The most common that we veterinarians focus on to benefit the health of our canine patients are at Omega fatty acids.

To make the situation even more complicated, Omega fatty acids are broken down into three, six, and nine categories.  Omega three and nine fatty acids are considered to be anti-inflammatory while Omega six fatty acids can be pro-inflammatory.  Omega three fatty acids are where I place my recommendations and recommend owners provide a supplement for their dogs having disorders of the skin, joints, nerves, or having any condition associated with inflammation (skin allergies, immune-mediated diseases, arthritis, cancer, etc.).

The total Omega three content of a supplement is composed by EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), and other omega threes.  EPA is considered to be most important in reducing inflammation while DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is the primary structural component of the brain and retina.

Since Omega 6 Fatty Acids are considered pro-inflammatory (lead to Arachadonic Acid synthesis) they can negate effect of Omega 3 supplementation and I don’t recommend their inclusion for omega fatty acid supplementation.


When choosing an omega fatty acid product, I recommend Nordic Naturals Nordic Pet line as the company regularly participates in “research in an effort to help correct the global omega-3 deficiency. To date, over 30 original studies using Nordic Naturals products have been published, and more than 30 are currently in progress.”

big dog

With all of this talk of supplements, how many is too many? It seems like there are hundreds if not thousands of supplements available these days.

There’s not an exact guideline for how many supplements is too many to give our canine companions.

My recommendation is for dog owners to closely work with their veterinarian to determine the need for providing dietary supplements based on current health status.  It’s important to provide a product that is safe and appropriate for pets.  Certain supplements like fat-soluble vitamins can be excessively given, stored in body fat, and create toxicity to the liver or other body systems (i.e. inducing illness in the face of striving to benefit a dog’s health).

If your veterinarian is not comfortable advising you on supplements, then I suggest finding another veterinarian who is by pursuing a consultation with a holistic veterinarian. One can be found via the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association (AHVMA).

Thank you for reading this article.  Your questions and comments are completely welcome (I’ll respond).
Please feel free to communicate with me through Twitter (@PatrickMahaney) and follow my adventures in veterinary medicine by liking Patrick Mahaney: Veterinarian Acupuncture Pain Management for Your Pets on Facebook.

Copyright of this article (2014) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format

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