A recent conversation after training class prompted a lively discussion from my classmates on adding supplements to dogs’ food to help boost their nutrient intake. “I worry that Buddy isn’t getting enough vitamins and minerals!” “I want Brandy’s coat to look better” “How can I keep Molly’s immune system healthy?” were typical of their comments.
There is no replacement for a well-balanced diet, whether you buy it in a bag or can or prepare it at home, but adding a supplement or two, such as the ones discussed below, may give your dog a bit of a nutritional boost and help to optimize his health.
As always, make sure your vet is aware of any supplements that you give—or plan to give—your dog. While the supplement itself may be safe, it may interact with a medication that your dog is taking or it may be a factor in diagnosing a particular issue that your dog is having. Keep a list of what you are using and how much you are feeding, and make sure to take that information along with you to vet appointments.
It is also important not to over-supplement. Vitamins and minerals can be toxic at high doses causing your dog to become very sick. Check the label for any supplement you use and make sure you adjust your dog’s diet accordingly.
Note that all serving suggestions are for a medium-sized dog (30 to 50 lbs; 14 to 23 kg). If your dog is larger or smaller, please adjust accordingly. The suggestions are also intended for normal, healthy dogs. A dog with a chronic disease or which is undergoing treatment for a particular disease may have vastly different nutritional requirements.
NUTRITIONAL (ENGEVITA) YEAST
Nutritional or engevita yeast is yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiea) that has been grown under controlled conditions and then treated with heat so that it is no longer active. Often used by people who are vegetarians, this yeast has a slightly nutty or cheesy flavour. People use it as a flavour enhancer for foods, including as a topping for popcorn. It is very rich in B-vitamins, which play a role in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrate, and proteins and are critical for your dog’s health. Dogs do not require large amounts of B vitamins and many are actually made by the bacteria in the dog’s large intestine, so it is rare for a dog to be deficient in B vitamins. Try sprinkling a small amount (less than a teaspoon) on your dog’s dinner to improve palatability, or next time you make popcorn, use nutritional yeast instead of salt and share a light, healthy snack with your pup.
Brewer’s yeast (also Saccharomyces cerevisiea) is a by-product of beer production. This yeast is inactivated. It has a bitter taste and a different nutrient profile than engevita yeast. It is also a very good source of the B vitamins, as well as containing iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper. Deficiencies of these nutrients can cause problems with growth, weight maintenance, skin, and coat condition. Try mixing a tablespoon of brewer’s yeast with plain yogurt and sharing it as an afternoon snack.
Note: NEVER feed live baking yeast or raw yeast dough. The live yeast will continue to expand in your dog’s stomach and can make her very ill.
There are a number of plant seeds that are gaining in popularity as super seeds. These can be excellent sources of nutrients, especially fatty acids, but there is very little scientific research on feeding these to dogs. Although they have a history of safe use and appear to be non-toxic, you may want to limit your use of these super seeds. The calorie-laden fats in these seeds are another reason to keep consumption low.
Hemp products, from oil to seeds to fibre, are growing in popularity. A trip to your local pet store may even turn up hemp-based dog toys. But the real goodness of hemp is found in the seeds. These seeds are rich in fatty acids, providing a good balance between omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and are a good source of protein, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Fatty acids promote healthy skin and coat condition. Try adding 6 g (1 1/2 teaspoon) to your dog’s morning meal, or mixing with a bit of canned food and stuffing a Kong with the mixture.
With a reputation in the human health realm as providing sustained energy for runners and being great for hair and nails, chia may be a true super seed. These little seeds have an incredible capacity for absorbing water and are best soaked before consuming. This property along with their high fat and fibre content probably contribute greatly to a slow absorption rate, resulting in sustained energy release.
As a great source of fibre, chia may be a good supplement to add for dogs on a weight-loss regimen, but watch those calories: since chia is rich in fatty acids, a small amount is often enough. Chia seeds are much higher in omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 and may not be a balanced fatty acid supplement. Make sure your dog’s overall diet has another source of omega-6 fatty acids before adding chia seeds. The fatty acids in chia will contribute to a healthy coat and may be a good alternative source for dogs that are sensitive to fish and fish oil. Chia seeds are also a source of minerals such as manganese, copper, and zinc.
Try adding a teaspoon directly on your dog’s dinner if he eats a moist food, or soak a teaspoon in water or low sodium broth and mix with a dry food. Always make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water. Since chia is both fibre- and fat-rich, be careful to start with a small amount and test your dog’s tolerance, as some dogs don’t process this well.
Turmeric is one of the most promising cancer prevention foods and can be found in your spice rack. The active compound in turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to prevent the growth or spread of cancer cells in many types of cancer. It does this by acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and by encouraging cell death. Although there are no studies in dogs that prove a clear cancer preventive function, there are many studies done in other species and with cells that clearly demonstrate curcumin’s efficacy against cancer cells. For example, a dose of 80 mg/kg body weight was effective in preventing induced cancer in guinea pigs. While this may not be directly relatable to dogs, it does show that only a small amount should be required. Next time you make a batch of dog treats, add a couple of teaspoons of turmeric to the recipe. You’ll add a new flavour for your dog to try and will boost her intake of antioxidants.
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is frequently used by manufacturers as a natural preservative in packaged food. The body requires vitamin C to make collagen, an important component of skin, tendon, and ligaments. In addition, vitamin C plays a role in antioxidant protection in the body. Since a dog’s system can make vitamin C, young and healthy dogs have no real need for supplements; however, dogs with chronic kidney disease or geriatric dogs may need extra vitamin C. Note that if you are feeding a special diet formulated for a dog with kidney disease or a geriatric dog, there is usually additional vitamin C already added to this diet.
Recently, there has been a lot of press on the beneficial effects of antioxidants in slowing the progression of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), the canine form of Alzheimer’s disease. CCD starts in late middle age and can manifest as forgetfulness, panic, not recognising owners, and disruption in sleep/wake patterns. Research at the University of Toronto found that a diet very high in antioxidants resulted in slowing the progression of CCD. The ingredients used in this diet were high in vitamin C and vitamin E. If you are concerned that your dog may have CCD, talk to your veterinarian about treatment options, which may include feeding a special “brain diet.”
In the 1970s, some believed that adding vitamin C to a large-breed puppy’s diet would help prevent hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia. Unfortunately, studies were never able to prove that vitamin C was of any benefit in preventing developmental bone diseases in growing puppies. In fact, a more recent study found that supplementing 16-week-old Labrador puppies with 500 mg of ascorbic acid increased the level of calcium in blood, which may actually cause bone problems.
In humans, vitamin C has been thought to prevent bladder infections by making urine more acidic, and thus preventing bacteria from growing. In dogs, excess vitamin C is excreted in the urine as oxalate, the main component of calcium oxalate bladder stones, so if your dog is prone to developing bladder stones, consult your veterinarian before supplementing with vitamin C.
If you want to add some vitamin C to your dog’s diet, try feeding a bit of fruit such as apples and citrus fruits two or three times per week. The small amount of vitamin C in fruit is unlikely to cause any harm.
Spirulina is a type of cyanobacteria found in tropical and subtropical areas. High in protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, it makes an ideal addition to a healthy diet. However, spirulina also has some added health benefits above and beyond basic nutrition. In many experiments based both on animals and humans, it was found that spirulina supported heart health by lowering the amount of fat in the blood, as well as lowering inflammation.
The maximum dose should be 1 to 2 tablespoons for a 45 lb (20 kg) dog. As with all supplements and new foods, introduce it to your dog slowly over time.
Lecithin, which is found naturally in many plant oils such as soybean oil, is a phospholipid, a type of fat that the body uses to make cell membranes. There are billions of cell membranes in your body which makes phospholipid a very important molecule. Animals deficient in phospholipids may have delayed cognitive function, impaired wound repair, and skin break down. Modified lecithin (Phosphatidylserine or PS) may be helpful in improving brain function. In recent rat research, it was found that daily doses of PS given to geriatric rats greatly improved the rats’ performance in a maze. Human patients with senile dementia also had improved memory when they received daily doses of PS, and studies also show promising results in older dogs suffering with CCD. Several products with PS are available for dogs suffering from CCD contain PS; ask your veterinarian for more information. In addition, anxious dogs may benefit from supplements, since PS is thought to increase the level of serotonin in the brain.
Nori is a type of seaweed found in Japanese cuisine that is readily available in many grocery stores or specialty stores. Human consumption of nori is increasing, and it is only natural that people might wonder whether their canine friends might also benefit from a little crunchy seaweed. Nori is high in protein and low in fat which makes it a nice treat choice for the diet-conscious dog. The little fat it contains is mostly omega-3 fat which makes nori and other seaweeds a good choice for omega-3 fat supplementation. Fish, flax, and vegetable oils are still the best source for omega-3, but nori deserves an honourable mention. Nori has high levels of vitamins and minerals, but they are not readily available to the body.
While there is no research investigating the health benefits of nori for dogs, studies found that rats fed a diet high in cholesterol and nori had a significantly lower degree of fat deposits in their livers than rats fed the high-cholesterol diet without nori.
Unfortunately, nori can have high levels of heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic because of seawater pollution, so it is best to limit the amount of nori you feed to your dog. For a medium-size dog, limit the amount of nori you feed to 50 g per week; most sheets of nori are only five grams so a medium-sized dog could have up to ten of these sheets a week
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Apple cider vinegar (ACV), made from double fermenting fall and winter apples to produce acetic acid (vinegar), is often touted as a cure-all for many things including treatment of allergies and preventing diabetes. There are many recipes online for those who are interested in making their own ACV and it is also readily available from health food stores and most drug stores. In recent research, diabetic rats fed ACV had a significantly reduced level of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and a significant increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
When managing diabetic dogs, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s advice to prevent serious treatment complications, so if you would like to incorporate ACV into your diabetic dog’s treatment plan, talk to your vet. For non-diabetic dogs, ACV may provide some health benefits, especially for dogs attempting to lose weight. The dose of ACV should be 1000 mg per day for a medium-sized dog.
MODIFIED CITRUS PECTIN (CHEN PI)
There are few words that terrify us more than the word cancer. It terrifies us because we feel so powerless to do anything about it. Well, there are some things that we can do. We can try to keep our dogs as healthy as possible using safe and natural supplements such as modified citrus pectin (MCP). In multiple studies, MCP has been found to reduce cancer cells’ ability to invade healthy tissue. This is a fairly new nutritional support for cancer, so exact dosing for dogs is still not known. It is best to work with your vet to determine the right dose for your dog.