By Jean Hofve, DVM
I was interviewed for About.com on pet supplements. I was asked to choose my top four, and explain why I recommend them. (Click here to read the article on About.com)
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You know I’m a big proponent of Omega 3 fatty acids for dogs and cats. These are essential nutrients, meaning that their bodies cannot make these particular fatty acids; they must be obtained in the diet. The typical American diet is very unbalanced toward pro-inflammatory Omega-6s. Because pet food is made from the ‘leftovers’ of human food processing, dogs and cats receive loads of Omega-6s (from vegetable oils and animal fats) in their food, but little if any Omega-3s.
The fatty acids EPA and DHA are the most important Omega-3s for pets. EPA is a crucial part of every cell membrane; and it has potent anti-inflammatory properties. DHA helps develop and maintain the eyes, brain, and nervous system.
Some pet foods claim a benefit for Omega-3s because they add flaxseed or other vegetable sources of Omega-3s. But dogs and cats cannot convert plant-based oils into EPA and DHA. Therefore, the preferred best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids for pets are marine oils (such as fish body oil, cod liver oil, or my personal favorite, green-lipped mussel oil) containing EPA and DHA, which can be used directly by the body. Select a product from marine sources that live in clean waters, are harvested sustainably, and are independently tested for freshness and purity; it must be free from toxins such as mercury, PCBs, and dioxins, which pollute much of the world’s oceans.
2. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes help our pets to fully break down foods so nutrients can be efficiently absorbed and used by the body. When food is not properly digested, some particles may trigger inflammation, allergies, and other chronic health problems. Processed foods have had their native enzymes destroyed, so it is important to add them to your pet’s food. Plant- or fungal-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.
Probiotics, such as L. acidophilus, Bifidobacteria, and other ‘friendly’ beneficial bacteria maintain a balanced, healthy gut, and prevent “bad” bacteria, such as Salmonella, from gaining a foothold. A healthy intestinal bacterial population is also needed to manufacture B vitamins and Vitamin K.
For pets with gastrointestinal issues, such as chronic vomiting or diarrhea, hairballs, or constipation, probiotic supplements may be especially helpful. They absolutely required for animals who are, or have been, taking antibiotics. Give probiotics during the course of antibiotics (give 2 hours apart from the medication) and for at least 2 weeks afterwards. Probiotics also support and moderate the immune system so it isn’t so over-reactive.
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 excess free radicals can damage normal cells and create chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation and free radical accumulation (oxidative stress) are major factors in aging.
All pets will benefit from additional antioxidants to cope with the stresses of modern life. For pets eating processed pet food, which is typically high in Omega-6 fatty acids that promote inflammation, supplementing with antioxidants is especially important. Antioxidants work synergistically together, so look for a product that has a range of antioxidants in it, such as Vitamin E, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and lycopene), and flavonoids (such as Vitamin C and quercitin).
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