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Here are some of the most commonly used pet supplements and how to recognize if any of them are right for your pet.
Multivitamins and minerals. Most pets consuming a high-quality, balanced diet probably do not require additional vitamin and mineral supplements as all pet foods are regulated to provide the key vitamins and nutrients your pet needs to stay healthy. If your pet is malnourished, post-partum, lactating or has a specific health condition, short-term vitamin or mineral supplementation may be beneficial. In these cases, follow your veterinarian's recommendation to determine your pet's needs. Please note that if your pet has a specific disease or condition and is already on a veterinary prescription diet, his or her food may already be correcting the issue, rendering the need for additional supplementation unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are becoming increasingly popular. Studies have shown that EFAs can provide many health-boosting properties for our pets, just as they do for us. Not only do they promote skin and coat health, which is especially helpful for pets with allergies, but EFAs have also been shown to help in the treatment of pets with cancer, heart disease and arthritis. As a vet, I can say that these might not be a total necessity, but many pets can probably benefit from these supplements.
Essential fatty acid supplements can be found in both gel and liquid form. In my experience, most dogs will happily chew a gel capsule, but a liquid supplement is a better option for cats or finicky dogs. Some treats with added EFAs can also be helpful, but for maximum effects it's best to stick with a pure supplement whenever possible. While EFAs are a fairly benign supplement for most pets, be sure to check with your veterinarian before starting them if your pet has a specific disease condition.
Probiotics. We've probably all heard of probiotics, the good bacteria that help improve digestion and support immune function. They are often prescribed by veterinarians to aid in the treatment of short bouts of gastrointestinal upset or in conjunction with antibiotic use. Pets with sensitive gastrointestinal tracts or other digestive issues may benefit from either short or long-term use of probiotics. Although most pets don't require long-term probiotic supplementation, these products are fairly safe and newer research suggests that they may provide some additional health and immune function benefits.
A word of caution: When searching various pet medication websites, I saw a wide variety of products listed under the category of "probiotics" that did not belong there (probiotics and digestive enzymes are not the same thing). In the case of probiotics, it's definitely best to ask your veterinarian for specific product recommendations.