Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants and More: How Do I Choose?

One of the most frequent questions I hear in my small animal integrative medicine practice is “Which supplements should I give my animal friends?”  There are so many pet foods, supplements etc. on the market it can be quite challenging for the nutritionally aware animal caretaker to know which ones they need and which ones to choose.  As the pet nutraceutical, supplement and food industry continues to boom, more and more companies are producing supplements and foods of questionable quality.  It is challenging even for veterinarians keep abreast of all the different companies and to know which ones are best.  Being a pioneer in this field for over thirty years, I have seen many supplements come and go.  It is not uncommon for a client to bring in a basket full of supplements that they have purchased either from other veterinarians, the internet or a pet food store.  They would pour them out on my exam table and ask me to review them for me.  Sometimes they will have even forgotten why they purchased them.  Sometimes they were out of date.  Sometimes they would not even list the ingredients!  As much as I love the natural health movement, I must admit, I have become somewhat disillusioned over the years as to how it has been usurped by profiteers, scam marketers, questionable companies and all the challenges of the marketplace. Amidst the onslaught of new companies and products, in order to assist my readers and clients,  I am in the midst of reviewing the latest products available.  Fortunately there are some out there that are of superior quality.  I will review these with you over the next few months.

A few general comments are in order now though.  The classic statement, “buyer beware” is appropriate for the field of pet foods and supplements as well.  If a product just makes claims on the labels and does not even list the ingredients, consider that one to go into the proverbial trash basket.  Know your manufacturer.  Quality is essential. It is not uncommon for a product to simply be labeled natural, healthy, or with a common title such as probiotic or arthritis supplement and have poor quality ingredients in them that somehow vaguely fit under those labels.   It is sad to say that even some veterinarians who have not received any additional training in nutritional supplements are not aware of all the challenges in choosing appropriate ones.  I must humbly admit that before I became more educated, I fell into that category as well.  It is beneficial for animal lovers to become more educated as to the quality of the products they feed their animal friends.  It is funny to hear sometimes when clients will begin to read labels for their animals supplements, they chuckle and often say “wow, I did not even know what to look for for my own supplements”.   It is a continual learning process.  I too continue to learn as I discuss supplements with colleagues, human nutritional supplement experts and review the cutting edge articles on nutrition.  We are living in a more and more polluted, toxic world and good nutrition and supplements are becoming more essential to maintain our health and prevent disease.  As Hippocrates said “Let your food be your medicine”.  I may spend more on quality organic supplements and some may question that benefit, but I believe judicious awareness and choice of appropriate quality natural nutrition and supplements is some of the best preventive medicine available.  It is so much wiser than treating disease.  The old cliche “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is more true today than ever before.

The entire field of nutrigenomics is becoming more widespread in veterinary health care as well as human health care.  Essentially, this is evaluating and recommending nutrition based on one’s genetic predispositions.  For instance, if you have a breed of dog that is prone to arthritis, it may not be unreasonable for you to begin nutritional preventive supplements earlier in their life, hopefully to prevent future progression of degenerative joint disease.  This is just one simple example.

Over the next few months I will share my thoughts on specific approaches to integrative health care and which supplements I find to be beneficial. In the meantime, do your homework, and do the best you can to keep your animal friends and you as healthy and happy as possible!

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